Becoming an expat is my first big adventure and is the first time I have done anything bold. It was also the first time I wanted something so bad that it pained me. That feeling drove me, it pushed me through the planning, the packing, and the goodbyes.
But, really, what happens when you land in your new home?
Our introduction to becoming an expat
We were somewhere new. Somewhere we did not have any connection to. We didn’t know anyone except a friend from over 10 years ago in high school. There was no support system and no help. What we did have was determination, hope, and the comfort of each other. Somehow we had a little bit of luck too.
Life-changing events – like selling everything and moving to Europe – can really make you figure out who you are. We love it in Amsterdam. It feels right. It feels like home. And I know that our family does not want to hear that at all. But the thing is, we have been yearning for a place to feel like home…not just a place that we settle in that we made a home. Yes, I loved Harrisonburg and the people in it. I still miss it, and my life there. But it didn’t feel like we were supposed to stay forever. Sometimes you just know, you know?
Anxiety on starting a new life as an expat
I am a worrier and a planner. I plan and plan, and hope for the best. There may have been a backup plan or two, but none of them were ideal situations. Moving to a new place has its own set of anxieties: Finding housing, creating friendships, finding a job, etc. Selling most of your belongings to move to another country adds more to that list. How do you get rid of so much stuff in a short time?
Housing is different here, the language is different, people don’t drive, they bike or take public transportation. There’s a different tax situation, health care, and of course immigration procedures.
This kind of life is something that you have to really want. You have to be able to change with the tide. You have to be able to ask for help and take it. I have had to deal with so many unexpected issues that had me more frustrated than I’d like to admit. Moving money to and from the U.S. was something I had never done before and didn’t think it would be a big deal. It was. It took forever and I had to prove I wasn’t laundering money to Paypal. After that fiasco, we learned to use Wise, formerly Transferwise.
Challenge after challenge we figured it out together. We constantly have to decide what is best for the both of us to get the outcome we want. I do feel lucky that I have a partner who helps take away that anxiety by talking through the issues as they pop up.
Adjusting to our new norm
I wasn’t working for the first few months for many reasons. Sean has been working which obviously helps pay the bills, but there have been a lot of things to handle while he’s at work. We had to find an apartment, find and fill out paperwork for my residency card, deal with all the situations that arose which usually involved calling various places in the U.S., and then packing and moving again to our intermediary apartment until we bought a house.
For a little bit each week I also worked with Yelp and biked around the city which helped me become more familiar with my surroundings. Many people think of Amsterdam as just the center…that is only about ⅕ of the city as a whole. In addition to riding around, we attended various festivals, markets, Meetup groups, and Yelp events to meet people and find friends. There is more than you’d think that goes into making a place feel like home. You know when you go to a college and they say “it’s what you make of it”? That same principle applies here. We had to work at it to feel settled.
It might be stressful, frustrating, and sometimes angering to work everything out. But when you get to a certain point, turning back feels like a failure. Not that we’d want to turn back, but I’m just saying that you have to push through those times to get to the fun stuff!
We live in Amsterdam! It’s easy to get to all of Europe by plane, train, or automobile. Amsterdam Centraal is a great hub for many types of trains, from NS International, I.C.E., and Thalys trains you can travel directly to many places and connect to so many more. We love that the discount airline EasyJet uses Schiphol Airport as a hub! Ryanair uses smaller airports that are about a 2-hour train ride from Amsterdam, so EasyJet or the local KLM airlines are usually a great bet for flying around the continent.
We tend to fly a lot and have used the trains to travel to London, England, Cologne, Germany, and Paris, France. And the Intercity is a great way to get to the other cities in the Netherlands quickly for fairly cheap. We’ve visited Utrecht and The Hague this way and it is so convenient! I love having my OV-chipcard just ready to go.
There are many adventures ahead that we are looking forward to enjoying. We plan to make our way around the country a bit and explore more of Europe as well this year. With so much to see, do, and eat, it should be a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see where we end up!