US expat in The Netherlands
Interview date – March 2013
What is your name? Farrah Ritter
Where are you originally from? Born/lived in Michigan most of my life, moved to South Carolina 6 years ago.
Where are you living now? Oisterwijk, Netherlands
How long have you lived there? My family and I moved here the beginning of November 2012.
Where did you live before that? A small (but lovely) town in South Carolina
What made you decide to make the move? My husband and I have been wanting an assignment with his job abroad since we were dating- so possibly 10 years.
Why did you pick this country? We picked The Netherlands for the language factor (much English spoken), the location in Europe and the weather. We were obviously wrong about that last one 🙂
What are your future plans? Not sure! His initial assignment is for 2 years and that is speeding by. We hope that he is offered an extension or another expat assignment comes up in another country. If not, we need to think about where we want to go back in the US.
Did you bring family and/or pets with you? How have they adapted? Our children. They’ve surpassed my expectations with how they adapted. We also had two dogs, both large labs that we sadly left behind. One is now with my sister and the other was taken to be a service dog for autistic children. As much as we miss them – I know they have a good life and are with people who love them.
How many kids do you have? Three
Were they born in your ‘home’ country or in your adopted country? Or elsewhere?! They were all born in our ‘adopted’ home state of South Carolina
How have your children adapted to your move? Fantastic. My boys have thrived on the new ‘main’ modes of transportation: walking, riding in my cargo bike and train. They all are in some sort of traditional Dutch school and I can’t believe how well they’re doing.
Do you speak the local language? If so, how long did it take you to learn it? I do not. My husband took lessons before we left the states and recently took an extremely intense week long course in Tilburg at Regina Coeli. My boys all pick it up at school and I am left to try and figure it out from them… so my Dutch is probably not very accurate!
Have your children learned the language? What method of language learning worked best for them? They are in the process. My twins are only 2 and my oldest is 4 – they are immersed in a traditional Dutch classroom so it’s just learn as you go. Being this young- that’s all we really want for them. They do not take ‘extra’ lessons.
What three personality characteristics would you consider are necessary for a success expat life? Sense of adventure, willingness to adapt and open minded tolerance and understanding for other cultures.
What do you miss? Clothes warm (and actually dry) from the dryer 🙂
What were the biggest challenges you faced when you moved? Adapting to the logistics of everyday life! I didn’t know how to get groceries, we were down to 1 car – I had no idea how to call a doctor or wash our clothes in the machine. The stove was/is also a big issue for me.
How do you keep in touch with your friends and family in other countries? Easily on Facebook. It feels the same as before we left (except for the time change) because we moved away from our family and friends in Michigan years ago. We’re used to being on our own and having occasional visitors.
Where do you take your holidays? So far France, Germany and Switzerland. Not bad for five months in the winter!
Please share a debunked myth or stereotype about your host country. “The Dutch are rude/cold/unfriendly”. This is absolutely NOT the case! We moved to a smaller village and wherever I go – people are always asking me what I think of their town/country. They want to know about me and where I came from – and are always willing to offer suggestions (not a stereotype to debunk but confirm! The Dutch love to tell you their opinion).
What customs do you find most unusual about your adopted culture? Some of the holidays are interesting. Carnaval was crazy – and for such a seemingly straight-laced people – they sure did like to party. Their food is interesting – all meat and potatoes but from what I can tell nothing absolutely specific to the Dutch.
Tell us about local food you and your children love or hate. We enjoyed the ‘ollieballen’ at New Year’s very much – delicious pastries. Their cheese is fantastic as well, but I really miss a good, sharp cheddar. I am not a fan of the liverwurst and other sausage dishes though as well as the bitterballen. Not a fan of the texture.
Is there anything that is ridiculously cheap or expensive compared to where you used to live? Much to my surprise, food seems to be much less expensive – and the online grocery delivery is amazing. I can get mine delivered for around 4 euros which is worth it when you have three kids to drag along with you to the store! Gas is, of course obscene compared to where we came from – but for the most part we’re thrilled with the affordability of air and train travel as well.
What do you most appreciate in your new country? I have a sense of belonging – they haven’t made me or any of my family members feel like an outsider. I appreciate that The Netherlands has welcomed us and wanted us to feel at home and happy.
How did you make new friends in your new home? I met some through school, but also through blogging/Twitter/Facebook groups as well.
How to your spend your time? Have you taken up any new hobbies in your adopted country? I spend the majority of it with my boys. When I’m not doing things with them I am writing on my bog or exploring my new interest in Instagram. I would say that this is a new hobby of mine as I am in love with the beauty and architecture as well as the history of Holland. I love taking shots of buildings, streets or places that friends and family can’t see every day and posting them on my IG account. I must be doing something right as I’ve really taken off with the number of people I interact with and those who enjoy my posts.
Tell us a bit about your own expat blog. How long have you been blogging? I started the blog in the summer of 2010 when I was on bed rest with the twin pregnancy. It has really morphed over time and I’m more serious about it now than I’ve ever been before. It started to turn into more of an ‘expat blog’ and place for me to document this experience a little bit before we arrived.
Why did you start blogging? I started blogging (surprisingly) because while I was on bed rest I was bored out of my mind. I needed something to do so even though I wasn’t talking to anyone specifically, it was helpful for me to put my feelings and fears down somewhere. I’m so glad that I did – as now I can look back on those days and smile (since everything turned out ok!). I knew I had to do the same with this expat experience as well because I want the boys to read about what this was like. Their minds are going to be blown away.
Has it contributed to your well-being in any way? Absolutely. It’s offered me sanity, friendship, commiseration and so much more. My husband knows that it is ‘my space’ to brain dump everything that I’m experiencing – and it also improves our own communication lines. He reads it and if there’s anything I mention or discuss that he wasn’t aware of- we talk about it. Also it alleviates any of the guilt I might have over not calling our families as much as we might. They know what we’re up to since they can easily check the blog.
Thank you for sharing this with us, Farrah!