Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Dutch Decade: Q&A with Kate Berger

As part of the Dutch Decade week I threw the floor open to you to ask any question you liked about expat life or life in the Netherlands.....

Kate Berger* asks:
For an expat living in Holland for ten years now (!), I am wondering about your socio-cultural participation within Dutch society: how have your social groups (and participation in them) evolved during your years in the Netherlands? Have you integrated and/or assimilated? Do you find yourself interacting with mainly Dutch people or English-speakers/people from your home country? And, how have you found that your involvement with different groups has changed at all over time? Do you see your children experiencing similar evolutions in social participation?

My answer: There has definitely been a change in the groups I seek interaction with over the years. As a newbie in the Netherlands, not speaking the local language, the tendency was to target social interaction with English speakers or other expats. Going through culture shock and knowing that those around you can relate to how you are feeling is a big comfort. In the beginning, I interacted in a number of expat groups but was so affected by one particularly negative social expat get-together that it put me off trying any others. I actually loved living here, even at an early stage, but the rest of the group obviously didn’t..... I came home, from what I thought would be a fun night in a pub, shell-shocked, and in the words of Forrest Gump “that’s all I have to say about that”.

The reality is that expats live abroad for many reasons and there are different types of expats; being an expat does not automatically mean you have anything in common with every other expat you meet. Those that have moved abroad on a permanent basis to be with a partner face different issues than those that are transferred temporarily overseas with their family. Obviously, this doesn’t rule out social interactions but it does mean you look in different places (more locally in my case) for relationships and not necessarily through the traditional methods of established expat groups.

As my working life changed and my language skills developed, it became easier to socialise and network with Dutch people. As my writing career developed it also led me to new social interactions – meeting others first virtually through networking groups and through this blog. I now have a good bond with some people I have never even met in real life!

The biggest motivator to get out and socialise locally was having a baby. I participated in an expat mother and toddler group for a while but there was a temporary nature to it as others moved back home, or moved on and a huge culture gap in some cases. Suddenly it was no longer about being an expat, a foreigner in the Netherlands, but about being a mother so the relationships with those I am now closest to came about through the common bond of motherhood.

In one case we met through an expat forum, in another case it was through a Dutch mother’s site – both are English speakers though. Having children definitely widens social interaction in the local community. My son has a varied pool to socialise in: Dutch children in pre-school; the daughters and sons of friends who are themselves expats but bringing their children up ‘locally’ (i.e. local schools, speaking Dutch and a long term plan to stay in the Netherlands); children of friends back in England.

How has your social circle evolved whilst living abroad?

*Kate Berger, MSc Psychology, offers emotional health services for expatriate children and adolescents in the Amsterdam area through her practice, The Expat Kids Club. Individual and group sessions are offered, and target issues including anxiety, family & peer conficts, and socio/emotional adjustment to non-native lifestyles & cultures. For more information visit, or contact Kate directly at: +31614832702.

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