Monday, January 13, 2014

Feeling at Home in the Netherlands

With the exception of two weeks over the holidays, I have been living in the Netherlands for exactly five months.  This transition has been different than my previous transition to life in Ukraine, namely because I am married and studying from home, not single and teaching full-time.  Of course, Dutch culture is different than Ukrainian/missionary culture, so there is that dynamic too.

Fortunately, I stepped into a world where I was able to meet my husband's friends -- and their wives -- rather than stepping into a realm of complete strangers and starting from scratch.  Having some of these friends has provided a bit of a starting point, but I have to also build my own relationships and not piggyback on his.  Admittedly, I still crave deeper connection with people, and that's why it helps to Skype with my close friends around the world.  What also will hopefully help is that these past 2 weeks included visits with friends I've known for years, and having that shared history helps even if you are just making small talk.

For the first month or two, I felt like I was in my own little world, staying at home and working on my seminary degree online.  I had approximately two or three people that I could spend time with locally, but beyond that, I didn't have many close friends.  I felt frustrated because by my first Thanksgiving in Ukraine, I was close enough to the other missionaries that I didn't mind being away from my American family.  It's taken me quite some time to feel at home in the Netherlands -- beyond simply feeling at home with my new husband, which has been a fairly smooth transition -- and here are some things that I've discovered.

I've discovered the local library, as well as a friend's bookshelf, and look forward to reading fun books once spring semester (and my degree!) is finished.

I've met a couple of my neighbors, and have chatted with them on a couple occasions.

My Dutch lessons are twice weekly, and I hope to soon invite classmates to visit museums or come over and play games with me.  There isn't too much time to chat during the break or after class, as we all just seem to go our own way.  The nice thing is that we all know what it's like to adjust to life in the Netherlands, and hopefully from there we can find some more common ground.

We've joined a small group Bible study for couples, and will attend our first regular "meeting" this week.  I've also been attending a women's Bible study, though none of the women are in my generation.  ;) Regardless, seeing them in church and at least just saying hello reminds me that I am slowly getting to know more people!



This song reminds me that as I allow God to lead me, God will shape me and change me into the woman He has created me to be no matter where I am.  As the song says, God's mercy will "light the path before me" and His presence will never leave me.  If you are also an expat (and even if you're not!), remember that God's with you no matter what!

~*~

Three tips for others living far away from home:

1.  Explore your new neighborhood and meet new people.  But don't leave it at that -- invite them for tea/coffee, to visit a museum with you, to spend the day walking around and exploring together.  Don't be afraid to try something new.  You may not be able to be involved in the exact same things at the exact same language levels as you were before.  Take this as a challenge to force yourself to speak the local language.  Helping others -- with or without using the local language -- also helps you feel accomplished! :)

2. Make your own routine.  Mine includes language study twice a week, plus church every Sunday and Bible study 3-4 times a month.  Regular contact with the same people is definitely helpful, as it leads to familiarity and shared activities.  When I was in Kansas City, it took me about 4 months to say that some of my classmates were also my friends, since I only saw them once a week.

3.  Go outside as much as possible and don't stay at home alone.  Obviously you still need to be at home to do chores and relax, but fresh air and sunshine can do you good.  In the Netherlands, there are few sunny days, but take these sunny days and use them to the fullest!  Even if it's cloudy, you can still wander around, cycle, whatever, and get some exercise -- but rain is no fun!  If you're like me and enjoy reading a good book, find a park bench or one downtown and read in the sunshine.

Related link: Transitioning Well.

This blog post was part of a blog link-up found here:

The Move to America

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