Four years. That is precisely how long I have been living in the Netherlands. My days are pretty routine, just like any other day in any other country. I wake up, spend majority of the day working, exercise, eat and sleep. Sometimes I mix in social engagements or other leisure activities. Every so often it feels as if I’m in this dream-like state, where any moment I’m going to wake up in my childhood bed in Detroit. I’m not where I grew up, though. I am not in the United States. I am in Holland.
I still remember the day I arrived like it was yesterday. My plane landed the morning of February 14th, Valentine’s Day 2011. Matthijs met me at Schiphol, roses in hand. Romantic and cheesy, yes, but definitely the best way to arrive especially at eight o’clock in the morning.
In the beginning, much like what I hear from other newbie expats, I had my ups and downs. I would stay inside hiding away from the rest of the world trying to forget I was 4,000 miles (6400 kilometers) away from my family. When I stepped outside, I realized I could not ride my bike six kilometers (almost four miles) without stopping to catch my breath and was at a loss for words, literally. I could not speak the language. I felt lost and alone, wondering how to make friends. It was still an exciting time, living abroad and all, but I remember wondering how I ended up here.
Over time, expat life slowly became easier. Work helped me form a routine and provide structure. I found my place in the city, immersed myself in the Dutch culture, started learning and speaking the language, and branched out socially.
In four years, a lot has changed. I used to think people were insane for biking six kilometers (almost four miles) one way just to go to somewhere. Now I bike at least eight kilometers (five miles) one way. I eat with my fork in my left hand, opposite of how I held it as a little girl. I have made friends originating from all over the world – Spain, Indonesia, Romania, Hungary, United States, Canada, Mexico, and Italy. I am also working on my first book, something that was once a far-off aspiration but is now a reality.
What do I miss most? My family. I am very fortunate to have Matthijs’ family around and call them my own, however, I do miss Wednesday evenings with my Dad, sushi dates and Gilmore Girls marathons with my Mom, and lying by the pool with my step-father Bob. Even after four years, it’s weird to think my family is so far away. Yes, we can Skype (thank goodness for this invention – what would we do without it?) or visit every so often but it’s not the same.
If you asked me ten years ago if I thought I would be living in Amsterdam, I would have said you’re crazy. It’s been a long-time dream of mine to live in Europe, but I didn’t know how and when to make it happen. After visiting England for the first time in 2000, I remember telling my mom I wanted to move there, and when we went to every other European country over the years, I repeated my ambitions. She always responded the same: if you want it, make it happen. Clearly, I did.
At the end of the day, I’m happy with my current situation. I am working on an incredible project, meeting entrepreneurs from all over the world, hearing their stories and getting to know them on a personal level. I have a wonderful partner who supports me and my endeavors. I am eternally grateful to be surrounded by such inspiring people, friends and family alike, and appreciate all the exciting encounters life throws my way. It’s funny the path we take and how things work out. All this time I feel like I’ve been dreaming, but no. It’s really happening. I’m living the dream, my dream.