Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Dutch Decade... Ten Highlights of Ten Years

This week I celebrate the milestone of ten years living in the Netherlands. There have been highs and lows. There have been tears and laughter. Here are my top ten highlights from a decade in the land of the Dutch - in no particular order.

Birth of my First Son: having a baby in Holland is not like having a baby in other Western countries. Almost 30% of births here are home births compared to 1% to 2% in the US and UK. More than a third of Netherlands based women plan home births but end up in the hospital for medical reasons. I am one of those women. Despite this, planning for a home birth was a memorable experience and one that I would not have had if my son had been born in England. His arrival into the world is most definitely a highlight to cherish, regardless of where it happened.

Birth of my Second Son: There was no home birth planned the second time round - there was no choice. The experience though was a great one - with a doula on hand, an amazing maternity nurse and a birth plan followed to the letter. Within a few hours of the birth we were all at home as a new family of four.

Kraamzorg: What made both births particularly special in the Netherlands was the postnatal care from the kraamverzorgster. I am in no doubt that this is the best thing to come out of the Dutch healthcare system, or any other Dutch system for that matter. For someone who doesn't have their direct family and best friends round the corner, such support for the first week after a birth is invaluable.

Photo: Anouschka Rokebrand
My Dutch Wedding: we married in the Netherlands in a beautiful setting in Hauwert where the houses have thatched roofs and you can still picture horse and carts on the quiet roads of the village. My brother flew over from the US, my family and friends came over from England and the Dutch contingency made the trip upwards for a day that could not have gone better. It even stayed dry, which for July in the Netherlands is proving to be a miracle........

Starting my Own Business: There is nothing like a complete change of career to test your character, nerves and wallet. But in 2008, that is exactly what I did when I set up The Writing Well and left the world of human resources behind. It was the best career move I ever made and I have never looked back. Without my expat life this is a move I would never have made so I have my Dutch surroundings to thank for a happy, creative work life.

My Husband's Career: It's not only my career that changed because I moved to the Netherlands. My husband also made a challenging and daring career move to an international organisation where the principle language spoken is English. His English has obviously developed astoundingly over ten years, so much so it became his working language. Thankfully, his Dutch is still quite good too.......

Mastering Dutch: Of course, whilst my husband was improving his English, I have spent ten years coming to grips with the Dutch language. It has been a real highlight to move through the journey of the eight steps to learning a language:

  1. avoiding eye contact and refusing to speak
  2. admitting you have to talk to somebody at some point and speaking English everywhere 
  3. getting through the mumbling 'dank u wel' and nodding enthusiastically stage,
  4. saying 'wat zegt u?" a hundred times a day with a blank look on your face
  5. reeling off automated responses to set questions you know you will be asked (such as "Wilt u koopzegels?" or "Wilt u een tasje?") 
  6. reaching the stage of being able to hold a basic conversation
  7. realising you can read Dutch newspapers, watch Dutch films and talk to the neighbours quite confidently as well as accepting Dutch grammar for what it is and no longer asking why there are so many exceptions.
  8. feel practically like a native if it weren't for that accent you have whilst speaking Dutch......

My 30th Birthday: Without a doubt one of my best birthdays ever - the highlight was a flight over some of the Netherlands in a Cessna C172. The event was a total surprise arranged by my husband, who wanted to show me a little of his homeland from another viewpoint. I should also mention that I find having only the floor of a little aircraft between me and a drop of up to 800 feet a little daunting. However, fears of death aside, it was an amazing experience. 

My Flight Certificate - a record of 
my survival
We took off in Lelystad with an experienced pilot and flew over the Ijselmeer to Texel where we stopped for hot chocolate (though a stiff drink may have been more appropriate). We then took in the view of Friesland, took a tour over Zwolle and headed back to the airfield in Lelystad. I even had a go at flying the plane myself, but freaked out after seven seconds so passed the control back to someone who knew what they were doing. My husband however, revelled in flying the plane for most of the flight back to the airfield - he had ambitions to be a pilot in his youth but the fact that he can't see past his nose without contact lenses put an end to that dream.  To say it was cloudy and bumpy that day is an understatement - however the view I saw from the back of the plane over a paper bag was beautiful.

Expat People: During ten years living in another country I have met people, both in real life and virtually, who have had an enormous impact on my life - people who have guided my career, inspired me to reach higher, become trusted and treasured friends and supported me through the lows. An expat life forces you to look for a network in places you wouldn't look back in your home country. The result is a colourful and rich group of contacts.

Nurturing Bilingualism: Realising that your offspring can speak two languages by the age of three is a rewarding experience. Hearing a little voice switch languages depending on the audience is truly amazing and one gift of expat life that is priceless.

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