Moving to a new country is exciting and scary at the same time. It’s a complete change from everything you’ve ever known. You’d think having lived in five countries, I’d find the process easy by now but emigrating to the Netherlands has been my most difficult move so far. It was the first time moving to a country where I wasn’t going to be a student or an intern. I moved to Leiden not knowing a single person and it made my first summer here a really lonely one. Luckily, things have started to pick up and I’m looking forward to seeing what my second summer in the Netherlands will bring. Here are five tips from me to anyone who’s having a little trouble settling in.
1. Get sorted
So you’ve finally moved. Congratulations! Now’s a good time to get all that initial admin stuff figured out. Get yourself registered at the local council and buy a prepaid SIM card for your phone. Perhaps you’ll even need a new bank account. These are the things you only need to do once and you’ll be set up for good.
2. Make yourself at home
So now it’s time to take a look around your new surroundings. Find out where your nearest supermarkets and grocery stores are. Go out, turn left down that road, where does it lead to? If you’re not a wanderer, that’s OK, be a total tourist and see what your new city has to offer. Visit museums and cultural centers and other places of interest. Soon enough, you’ll find that cosy café that’ll feel just like home.
3. Get local with the lingo
It’s impossible to be immediately fluent in your new country’s language, unless of course, you already knew how to speak it before you set foot on land. While you’re not expected to know every word in the dictionary, it’s a good idea to pick up some key words and basic phrases. I find that knowing how to say ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ can take you quite a long way. Over time you’ll recognise particular sentences and know how to respond to them. I still don’t exactly know how to say ‘Would you like your receipt?’ in Dutch, but I know to respond ja, alstublieft. My friend Nikita has written some great tips on learning a new language. Check them out.
4. Try new things
I recently visited Portugal with a couple of friends and one of them insisted on being served an English breakfast [not on the menu] in one of Lisbon’s most popular eateries. It drove me absolutely crazy. Now I don’t expect you to embrace the snails in your soup, but do consider trying out a local delicacy. It doesn’t have to be extreme, it could even be a simple staple food, like ‘vla‘ in the Netherlands or ‘spätzle’ in southern Germany. This also helps with your grocery shopping as you’ll find alternatives to the favourite foods you left back home.
5. Make friends
Having moved around a lot, I’m quite used to being ‘the new girl’. But it took a lot longer than I expected to find a social circle when I moved to the Netherlands. This was mainly because I really didn’t know how to meet people outside of university or an internship. First I turned to social media. I checked Facebook for ‘New to the Netherlands’ pages in the area, came across Leiden Expats and attended a couple of expat meet-ups. From the Facebook group I found a weekly pub quiz, invited others to join me and eventually created a regular group to fail pub quizzes with. The next thing I did [and the bravest!] was sign up for a dance class. Not just any dance class, but a dancehall choreography class. I was terrified of tripping over myself to music I never listened to, but the class was free and I needed the exercise so what did I have to lose? It turned out to be one of the best things I ever did. I still can’t dance to Sean Paul but I’ve found myself a new circle of friends – even a few with two left feet like me!
It’s now been 10 months since I upped sticks to live with the Dutch and I’m only just starting to settle in. Hopefully this advice will be as helpful to you as it has been to me. Perhaps you’ve got a tip or two – feel free to share!