American in Europe

Oh, You Don't Speak Native Level Dutch....

This post is going to sound pessimistic, I don't mean it to be. Before you get all worried, this is just what I am experiencing right now. I have a plan, but since I try to inscribe as much as possible of my expat triumphs and struggles. Here it goes. 

It has been well documented over this blog my struggles to find something to do with myself, as far as a job goes here in The Netherlands. After several strongly worded rejection letters citing my lack of experience, education, or Nederlands language skills, I took a break from applying and started concentrating on what I could do to approve a few of these criticisms. Just a warning when dealing with the Dutch, they don't bullshit around trying to save your feelings. I think that  I am making headway on some of what I outlined, but more on that at a later date.

After about a month of emotional rest, I decided to give the job hunt another go last Friday. After lunch with a friend and armed with a Dutch looking Curriculum Vitae (resume) I decided to go to what I have named Temp Agency Lane here in Utrecht. There are like 10 of them all right next to another. I went into the first, and asked if they would be able to help me. No, absolutely not, we can tell that you don't speak very good Dutch and our clients only want Dutch speakers .Umm, err, thanks? So I went to the next, I got the same story, and it was the same at the next one. Each time getting more and more rude at the audacity I had to ask them for help. Needless to say, I stopped after 3, because I was about ready to punch the next person. Now before you dear reader, start with the well what were you expecting, you don't speak Dutch spiel. It was a Dutchie who suggested I go there because they worked through one that hired lots of Non-Dutch speakers, back when they were in University. 

I wish I could say that it is just me with these issues. It is true that some people have an easy time finding employement here. But it seems that I hear a ton of stories similar to mine. Just a warning. Anyway, I'm not done looking for a job. I just want a part time gig anyway. I have faith that one will come. It is just a long and windy road and part of my journey. 


Book Clubs Abroad

I am a reader. The written word is one of my raison d'etres, to borrow from the book I had to read for my first meeting of The Utrecht Book Club last night, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. I figured that since I love to read, a book club would be the perfect place to meet like minded individuals and make new friends.

This month, we read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I have to admit, I had my reservations. I had seen the trailer for the movie and it did not look like my kind of book. But it is written by Jonathan Safran Foer and Everything is Illuminated has been on my to read list for years, but I've never quite gotten around to it. I must confess that I know that I am an extraordinarily fast reader, so I didn't start the 300 pager until the Friday before.  I went to the meeting on Monday not sure what to expect. There were ten of us, all from different backgrounds. I have to say I was very nervous at first, but shortly felt right at ease. We had an excellent discussion on the novel. Everyone who had read the book really enjoyed it, so if you were thinking of reading it, do it. 

Next month, the book we are reading is Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. I hear good things about it. I have a few books that need to be read before I start, so it might be another weekend before read. 

I am actually really excited because in May I will be in two book clubs. A new one is starting with some blogger buds. We are reading Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots by Deborah Feldman. So yay for meeting new book lovers! 

If you want to friend me on goodreads, that would be awesome! Although, I will warn you, I signed up for their 2012 Reading Challenge and set a pretty lofty goal of 100 books this year. So, while there are some gems I've read, there are some crappy books in there as well. 

What are you reading? 


Fluidity of Goals as an Expat

To do list

Preceding a big move, chances are you are going to have certain expectations about what life will be like in your new home. These are important to have because they allow you to start forming goals about your new life. After you land, you will probably find that some of your ideas of how life would go are just not plausible in your new place or, they are going to require a lot more effort than you originally thought. I am of a firm belief that goals and dreams should be fluid as different circumstances change. You can probably surmise that after living here for half a year, I have very different goals and expectations for my new life here than before I moved. Below I am going to illustrate some old goals and how they have now changed, since I am actually living here. 


Career: I had this idea that since I worked in a growing field in The States, I would have no problem translating that into a job here. Well, six months later and I haven't had so much as an interview. This is for a variety of reasons: I don't speak Dutch, and even though I have work experience that is solid for a 25 year old, I didn't finish University and that is a huge deal here. ( I mean, tuition is less than 2,000 Euros a year, and students get grants as long as they are under 30, so everyone holds a degree of some kind). A funny thing happened though after being unemployed and receiving several not nice rejection letters, I realized how much I don't want to work in the field I was in for the long term. So instead of wallowing on my limited career prospects, I am taking advantage of this life changing time and I am currently looking into my Higher Education options here, which is why I haven't written a post in a week. More on this later. 

Dutch: I have written before about how my old job told me that they couldn't keep me a week before I moved here. Because of this, I am of course not in the financial situation I had imagined. The good news is that I might get to freelance for them, so hopefully this will improve slightly. But, before I was planning on being able to pay for Dutch lessons. I was going to take a super expensive and intensive Dutch class at the University here so I could get a head start. This hasn't worked out, but I am currently waiting on the results of my Inburgering Placement Exam, so hopefully I will begin classes soon! 

Fitness:  I thought that sans car, the pounds would fly off of me. This was partially true, I have lost two pants sizes! But I also thought I would pick up bike riding again with ease. This was not the case, I found that I was quite uncomfortable on the old spare bike that we had, and I am the Queen of freaking myself out! The seat has since been lowered and after being pushed to ride in Amsterdam by my dear friend, I am now much more comfortable on my own bike. Although, I am still really slow. This week, I kept thinking that I would go for a long walk, but the weather has not been cooperating. I have given myself a firm goal of health and a deadline, as opposed to leaving it open ended and I have a support system. 

Apartment: It is going to take some time to get it perfect. It feels like home, but it isn't gezellig yet. We need some art! And pictures of friends! Oh and we should probably do something about the cursed wall that is now terrible looking. 

Friends: This is actually going better than expected, I have had an explosion in this category and couldn't be happier! 

The Verlo-: Honestly, they don't come better than what I got. 


The point is, being an expat is really hard. If you hold on to your preconceived notions about what life is going to be like, you miss out on the good stuff it actually has to offer! You should always be in flux, because life is anything but constant. That's my little piece of advice to those who venture out into the unknown.

What goals of yours have you changed?



Springtime on the Canals

One of the things that I wasn't expecting to love about The Netherlands is all the canals. I, unfortunately have a deep seated fear of boats. I blame my mother, although when I was a teen I was more adventurous. Basically, there was an incident when I was about seven in which my canoe was capsized in alligator infested water,then I sunk at jetski when I was 15 or so, and I am named after my mother's childhood friend who died in a boating accident. All these things combined together is traumatizing! Needless to say, I tend to avoid situations what require me to be on a boat. But, here in Holland, there are canals everywhere,  some people even make their homes on houseboats. I have to admit, seeing kids kayaking in the canals by my house when they get out of school, does look pretty cool. Maybe this is one phobia I will have to get over. 

Anyway, here in Utrecht, we have a bi-level canal that runs through the center of the city. (The Oudegracht) Lately, it seems like almost every time I come to the Center, there is some sort of performance by boat in the canal. Yesterday, I met my friend Gabby from Holland Daze to help her out with her Master's thesis. (She is still looking for a few volunteers to help out here in The Netherlands, so if you have any spare time, it would be cool if you could help her too) We met at the Coffee Company and I had a super yummy Frozen White Mocha. After we left, we decided to walk around a little bit. I noticed some fire boatsin the canal and had just wondered aloud what was going on, when a band started to play. I don't know why, but for some reason performance by boat in the middle of The Oudegracht reminds me of how special it is that I get to live in Europe and experience things like this regularly. Hopefully there will be more performances this summer! 



9 Songs I'm Listening to Today

And now for something completely different...

I'm still sick, seriously this is getting old! So, all my plans were today were ruined. Instead, I am stuck at home. That doesn't mean I am bored, I've been listening to some of my favorites today! Here is what I have been rocking out to lately!​

  • The Next Messiah, Jenny Lewis: I love this lady, everything she does! No matter what band or solo stuff she is doing chances are I will be all over it. 


  • Does He Love You: Rilo Kiley. Jenny Lewis again! But this time with her old band Rilo Kiley. I'm still heartbroken they broke up! 


  • The Mariners' Revenge Song: The Decemberists: Probably my favorite band, the use of accordion in this song is amazing! A music journalist once described Colin's singing as being "Donkey Voiced" I think he should take this as a compliment! 



  • Make You Pop: Diplo & Don Diablo: Zanger Rinus and Debora are our youtube sensations here in The Netherlands. Diplo & Don Diablo sent them their next single and this is what was made. Still would rather watch this than Justin Bieber! 


  • Mama Said Knock You Out: Alyson Greenfield: When I first discovered this song thanks to RubyFruit Radio, I tweeted that it was like LL and Tori Amos had a baby. Ms. Greenfield read the tweet and responded that she really liked being called that. While looking for the Youtube video I ran across a matchup of LL Cool J and Dexi Midnight Riders.

  • Crazy in Love: Antony and The Johnsons: Guess it is just a cover kind of day. But seriously the voice of an angel. 


  • True Affection: The Blow: Perpetually stuck in my head! 


  • One More Cup of Coffee: Bob Dylan: The first song I heard of Bob Dylan's when it wasn't my parents forcing me to listen to him. It holds a special place for me. I saw Bob in concert two years ago, somehow he's still got it.



What are you listening to this week? 



11 Things I Love about My New Home After 6 Months.


I can't believe I have lived here for half a year! It feels like just yesterday and years ago, that I was waiting with Atticus at Hartsfield International to board our flight to take us to our new home. I'm still having the time of my life, but being an expat is not all dinner parties with diplomats and trips around the continent. It is real life, just on the other side of the world. With that in mind, here is my list of 11 things I still love about The Netherlands after living here 6 months. This list is going to be different than my things I love after 3 months, although all those things still apply. In no particular order: 

1. The lack of dubbing: The Netherlands, unlike most countries, does not dub films and shows into its native tongue (unless the show is designed for little children) This is amazing, it means that I can go to a movie here and hear Woody Harrelson's voice when he's playing Haymitch. (Hunger Games again, I know!) It also means that I can watch American and English shows and read the subtitles to try and pick up basic words and sentence structure of Nederlands.  

2. Inburgering, yes I know, I said no more posts about this for awhile! But, I think it is really cool that the government will pay for me to learn the language of the country I now live in. 

3. The Bibliotheek: With branches spread throughout the Gemeente, thousands of DVD's to borrow, hundreds of English books, and tens of thousands of Dutch titles, all for 40 euros a year. What's not to love? I am at one branch or another at least once a week. More about this in another post.

The Central Branch

4. Speculoos Spread: Cookie spread that I am obsessed with and it is all Lily's fault! Seriously though, this stuff is ground up cookies combined with oil and made into a spread roughly the consistency of peanut butter. It's magical! 

5. The Cheese Mongers: In a country known for its cheese, Gouda is actually a city here, you don't have to look far to find people who's whole shops or stands are devoted to cheese! These are also the places I can find cheddar the easiest. In Utrecht, we have a Farmer's Market every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday, there are normally at least 5 different cheese stalls set up.

6. The fish stalls: Available at the pre-mentioned markets and spread through out the cities here, these are stands were you can buy both cooked and uncooked fresh fish. Where the Dutch can get their haring! I prefer kibbling. Tiny pieces of deep fried fish, it is sooo amazingly good!

The markets are even active in the snow

7. The cheap booze: Go on call me a lush, but the booze prices here are incredible. You can get beer for under a Euro in a grocery store, a six pack for under five. Perfectly good wine for 2.50. And it is cheaper to order a beer in a restaurant than a coke!

8. Ontbijtspek, dutch bacon: For those of you who know me well, know that I don't like most products that come from a pig. I accidentally tasted bacon a few years ago and became hooked! The dutch version is much saltier than it's american cousin. For a person who prefers boiled peanuts to cake, this is heavenly.

9. Free Education: Tuition here is on average around 1770 Euros per year. In the US, it is more than that each semester. Add that to student grants and travel cards that you can get here if you are under 30 and that you can pay most schools in installments and the Dutch can go for basically nothing. Of course, you do have to pay living expenses, so you might have to get a loan. But trust me, it is nothing compared to the amount of debt the typical american student acquires. 

10. It is totally acceptable to not have your shit together in your 20's: In the States, we put so much pressure on ourselves to finish University as soon as possible and start on our career. It seems more acceptable here to not rush yourself when you are young. People also aren't having babies or getting married nearly as young. I would say that about 1/2 of my friends are married and 1/3 have a kid. The Verlo is five years older than me and I would say less than 1% of his friends are married or have babies. There is no rush here. 

11. I have friends! After 6 months, I can finally say that I now have more than one friend that lives here, I have a few! Friends go a long way towards making a place feel like home! 

What do you love about where you live? 


Inburgering Placement Exam

Today I took my placement exam for my inburgering classes. I arrived at an old office building to take my foretold four hour exam at 12:45pm. I joined some other girls who were also there to take the exam, a mix of Nederlands and English was spoken between them, since I am still feeling sick, I didn't join in. I gathered however, that some people had been in The Netherlands for a very long time and one girl had been here a month, but she had incredible Dutch! I am not quite sure what her story was. We were then greeted by a very friendly proctor. We went into a tiny room with cubes and then sat in our respective cubicles. I noticed that the girl next to me was given different instructions then the rest of us for her exam. ( I would later find out that it was because she had been here longer and the first test is strictly for newbies.) 
For our first exam we had 30 minutes. Mostly it was reading comprehension with some really elementary writing thrown in. I finished with over 10 minutes left to go in the exam, the first one as always, I've never been a second guesser! It was a lot easier than I was expecting because if you read carefully, you could find the answers elsewhere in the exam.  Because I don't have an extensive vocabulary, I was a tad nervous that I didn't answer some of the questions correctly. I was then instructed to begin my IQ test while the others were still finishing their initial exam. The IQ test is to ensure that a person possesses the cognitive power to learn a new language quickly. It was the easiest test I have ever taken! All sequences and analogies. It took me 10 minutes. Then the proctor asked to speak with me privately... I was a little nervous, convinced she was going to tell me that I am horrible at Dutch and have no hope of ever learning it!  To my astonishment, she told me she was quite surprised with my results since I had told her I never had a Dutch lesson in my life. But she wanted to know if I had a reading comprehension problem. They way she asked made me think that I did bad because I didn't understand what the questions were asking me. I felt super defensive for a second because well, I don't speak Dutch yet! I thought I was here to learn! She then told me that if my comprehension of Nederlands was an issue then I would have trouble with the rest of the exams and wanted to know if I wanted to continue. Determined to prove myself, I told her that I wanted to at least try the rest! She then informed me that I got three 3's on the first test, but didn't explain what that meant. I was allowed to go get some coffee while the others continued working. 
After chugging my coffee, I came back in the room while the others were still working on their IQ tests. I was then told to begin the written part of the exam. It wasn't too terribly tough, I understood the directions, but because of my limited vocab I am sure I did not do amazing. I finished in 15mins. Then came the listening. I was hooked up to a headset and told to listen to t the scenarios and answer the questions. You are not allowed to pause or repeat the tape. During this exam, everyone else finished their IQ test and proceeded to talk loudly while the proctor was in the restroom.  I missed about 6 of the questions right away because I couldn't hear over them . Next came the reading exam, about halfway through the proctor came for a chat and asked if I understood what I was reading or if I was just looking for the words that matched in the questions. I was honest and said it was about 50/50 and was told I could stop if I wanted to because since I am so new, only the first test was actually required of me. Determined to see the end of the tests, I continued. Finally, it was time for the speaking. I only got halfway through, I kept on saying "Ik heb geen idee", so she allowed me to stop. Again, limited vocab will out. The proctor then told me that I impressed her by scoring three 3's on the first exam because people who have been here as long as I have shouldn't score that high. You are graded on 3 parts and 3 is the highest you can get in each category. Combining that with getting every question correct on the IQ test,  she was very interested in what I would get on the other not required for me exams. Only a few of the original group tested as long as I did, because if you don't get a good enough score on the first test, you don't take any tests past the IQ. After verifying that my Gemeente contact put me on the Staatsexamen II trajectory, she told me again how impressed she was with my scores so far and sent me on my way.
I am sure that my first score was a fluke, only passable because if you looked hard you could find the answers or correct spelling for things later on in the test. I will admit however, that being told I was impressive was something I needed to hear after 11 rejection letters for jobs here in The Netherlands! Let's hope my continued success on the multitude of things that I will be evolved in the next few months. 
I am not sure if my experience is typical for every Gementee or testing facility. This will be my last inburgering post until I get my results back and have my second talk with my Gemeente contact. 
Was your testing experience like mine? I would happily answer any questions you might have. Apologies if this post doesn't make an sort of sense, I should really be in bed! 
hinnamsaisuy /


I Think It Went Well! Inburgering Initial Interview

Yesterday, as many of you know was my final interview for the inburgering process. I arrived at the Werk en Inkomen Office in De Meern 30 minutes early because I am a nerd! I was offered coffee and told to sit down and wait. I felt so bad for the guard because I proceeded to hack up my lungs in the waiting room. Finally, it was my turn to meet with my Gemeente Representative. I was really nervous because I heard that some of them refuse to speak English to you, and I was alone. Luckily, this was not at all the case. She was more than happy to explain things in Engels and I tried my best to use my Dutch when I could. After a short interview to see if I was supposed to begin inburgering and my intentions for my life here in The Netherlands. It was agreed upon by both of us that since I eventually want a career that will require me to converse fluently in Nederlands, I would be taking the Staatsexamen II. The most intense of the four exams you can take for inburgering, when I pass the test I will get a diploma stating that I will be fluent in Dutch and can work in a Dutch workplace as well as attend University classes in Dutch if I wanted to. 

This is really the best track for me and will mean that I will be more focused on learning the language then learning about the culture. It also means I will not be allowed to do the portfolio option I was wanting to do, but an actual exam. I have 3 years to pass the exam. The government will pay for a year to a year and a half worth of classes.

*Important* if you haven't signed up for the Inburgering yet, get a move on, in the next year or so it will still be required but no longer paid for! After we made our decision about what path I should be on, I was signed up to take the initial placement exam.

So, tomorrow I get to go into the South of city and take a four hour exam for placement beginning at 1pm. I am extremely nervous about this. Mostly because I spent all day in bed today with a debilitating sinus headache! I told my contact that I reckon that I am still in level one. I think probably Level 1A, but The Verlo- thinks I am probably at Level 1B. I guess we shall see after the exam. After my contact gets my results back, she will get in touch with me and then I will find out where and when I will be taking my classes. I actually can't wait to begin taking my first Nederlands class!

So, that is where we are right now. Wish me luck for my test tomorrow and if anyone has any surefire get rid of a cold fast tips, I need to know them!  

samarttiw /



The Anniversary of My First Visit to The Netherlands.


It seems rather apropos that the date of my initial interview to start the inburgering process is on the anniversary of my first landing at Schiphol, a year ago today. Almost six months to the day, I would land again, but this time to make The Netherlands my permanent home. I'm actually quite pleased with myself that I managed to save up enough to move in such a short time. 

When I first came to visit, there was a lot of pressure as to whether or not I could see myself making this country my home. I think The Verlo- who was just the boyfriend then was quite nervous. Luckily, my suspicions were confirmed and I fell in love immediately with the country. That first trip, we wandered around the streets of Amsterdam, went to Lisse,the Keukenhof,(and Keukenhof Kasteel) and hung around Utrecht. I ate a ton of frites and bami's. I met some people that are an integral part to The Verlos- life and most important, I got to hang out with the man I love and be amazed at the swirling dervish of bicycles.

Fast forward a year later and I am starting to really feel like I am making my way slowly but surely into my new life here in The Netherlands. I look to my interview today as the first step to becoming more a part of society here in The Netherlands. I just really wish I wasn't hacking up a lung every three minutes because I am sure that will make a grand impression on my contact! I'll be sure to let you guys all know how it went tomorrow. 

Any last minute tips on the interview? 

So much has changed in a year, including my hair! Egads, not my favorite look of mine. 





On Friendship: Concrete vs Circumstantial

Above is Hayley, Christy, and Me! My besties since I was 11! 

Thoughts on friendship have been racking my brain lately! As an expat, friendships are an integral part of your life, but forming new ones can be a incredibly difficult and pressure filled. I think I might just turn this concept into a series this month. Today's topic: Concrete friends vs circumstantial ones. What I mean by that is, people who will always be in your life no matter the distance, and those people who are in your life for a bit because your circumstances match up but as soon as either of you has a life change, you never hear from them again.  

Some people just can't handle any sort of long distance relationships. In college, I was incredibly close to a girl and when I decided to move back to Atlanta, she never spoke to me again. No matter how hard I tried to stay in touch. Believe me I tried! It really hurt for a bit, but eventually I realized that, we were just friends because of the circumstance of both finding ourselves in a University town we both didn't really belong in.On the other hand, I have friends who have moved away, gotten married, and various other life changes that you go through in your 20's, but who I could call tomorrow and we would instantly fall back into the groove.  You don't necessarily have to talk to them every month, but you both know that no matter what you will always be in each other's lives. 

When I moved from The Netherlands, I had decently large group of friends back home. A lot of them were co-workers from my job, so they could have very easily become circumstantial friends who dropped me as soon as I was on the plane. I am glad to say that for most this isn't the case. This time, unlike one of the 11 times I've moved in the past, it feels like I really haven't lost anyone, yet. Sure, occasionally we miss our connections, but I have made a concerted effort and so have they to keep our friendships alive. Will it be the same in a year or three? Who's to say, but right now I feel incredibly blessed that my friends have been keeping tabs on me. I do make it pretty easy for them with this blog!

So, what makes this time different than all the others? I honestly think I was pickier about who I allowed to stay in my life. When you become an adult, hopefully you get over the idea that you need to be liked by everyone and you concentrate on finding people who like you for you. Stronger friendships when you start out means you are more likely to continue on with them.

However,now that making new friends is a whole different ballpark during my expat life, will I make more circumstantial friends out of necessity? I don't have an answer for you yet, but the next part in the friendship series will be about the challenges that face a newly arrived expat when it comes to making friends. 

Me and JT one of the first times we hung out

I love and miss all these ladies! 

I couldn't include all the ones I love, so if you aren't pictured it doesn't mean I love you any less! It probably just means that I don't have a picture of us, I was really a photo slacker the year before I moved! 




Subscribe to RSS - American in Europe