Ever since I came to the Netherlands, I started interacting with expats, about how they feel being in this country. Each one had a feeling of pleasure and pain. Interestingly for everyone, leaving their homeland was a big decision and it mattered a lot to them. Each one came with hopes and dreams about their new lives and they all had a unique story to tell.
Despite the excitement of living in a paradise, I was amazed, people still felt isolated. They felt pretty lost without friends and family and no job in hand. This was true not just for women but also men who were trying to settle down in this Dutch society. I could see them in identity crisis. This was a picture more on the side of educated expats who were not able to crack the job market. However, those who had been successful spoke their heart out loud. They loved the work culture and work life balance in the Netherlands.
I found loneliness in expats a prominent common feature, though in different degrees. Externally you may not be able to see that. Many people, with time have learnt to hide their worries, tensions under their make-up and sometimes under their laughter. I also got to know that many men/women, married local Dutch just to get the nationality of this country. Their initial life went well but then it failed.
Considering their kid’s future, few couples happen to stick together despite a broken relationship. They confessed that they were living with their partners because they felt indebted to them for helping them get citizenship. They were blunt in saying that there is no love today nor was earlier. This was hard to hear but it was the truth.
I met a lovely mom from United States who had a long professional career in Germany. This gave her no browny points and her past experience led her nowhere. She felt terribly isolated but finally she decided to study and is now busy gaining new qualifications. This was quite common to hear amongst women with non-IT experience. Ones with IT background in general have a better situation. I believe the reason behind this is lack of opportunities for the overgrowing numbers of educated expats. Don’t lose heart, because times now are rapidly changing especially because of Brexit. Number of companies requiring English speakers and jobs in non-technical roles have been on the rise. Yes, not everyone may get a chance but options still do not finish. Keep connecting and exploring.
No doubt, if everybody gets something to keep them busy, life will take a different turn all together. This reminds me of a mum from Turkey who had three boys. She described her exhaustion settling in this country as a nightmare. She would spend time as a “kids-taxi” or an “agenda keeper” but she wanted more from life. We ended up exploring her hobbies and interest areas. The objective was just to look beyond the rigid boundaries of seeking just jobs. Many new things clicked, but I was not sure if she would give it a serious thought. Amazingly, she did dwell on my suggestion. Meeting her recently, I got to know that she started giving yoga lessons and is now doing extremely well. Yoga indeed has a great future in this country. People have earnest desire to keep themselves fit through yogic ways.
Another Afro American woman who I met had a similar story. She had qualifications from an African country which recruiting agencies doubted. She had very bad experiences with the recruitment firms yet managed to find a job after seven years. Time passed and it took her few more years to make real friends. She feels that regardless of the country you move in, you will always face issues penetrating the social circles. She resorted to Facebook or WhatsApp circles and my tip to all of you is also the same. People find expat communities online. It’s a lot of work but is really rewarding once you find your ‘tribe’. Maybe you can find your tribe too.
Loneliness is quite a mixed feeling especially for the expats. They are not able to differentiate whether they are lonely, or is it their choice to be lonely. It is their own resistance to mingle or their lack of initiative which is not letting them integrate.
In a conversation with a few expats, I grasped that the weather was sometimes a big factor while feeling low. Many complained that the Dutch people seem perfectly content remaining bonded with their own friends and family. That is certainly true and I second this too. I find Dutch people generally friendly and helpful if you also make the effort. In the end, the quantity of Dutch friends is not as important as the quality. Don’t forget, they do not take the first step for friendships. This is quite understandable, though. It’s us who need to make friends.
I have realized that the agenda (appointment) culture has a deep impact on developing friendships. When you have to book weeks in advance, and see people once every three weeks, it is tough to become good friends. We can’t change the system but definitely can adjust to it.
A few retired expats painfully expressed their feeling of isolation. It hurt me because some did not even have kids, or the finances to have an active social life. They had to become more comfortable with being alone. Well, a few added, without the presence of social media they would have chewed their leg off by now. Three Cheers to the social media. It has been a lifesaver for many people.
It helped them to write, express, create forums, discuss pain areas and create support systems. They found meeting people like themselves easy through social media than in real life. Over the years, people in The Netherlands are coming together through whatsapp and facebook groups. This has helped them find and settle down with their community. No doubt it is easy to connect with your own community as there you can exclude the agenda system. Yet, I do not say appointment system is bad. I think it is just a cultural gap for many expats to experience. I do respect other cultures and that is how we learn the diversity in land and culture. In fact, adhering to the appointment system I have learned to respect others time and my own time too.
I find volunteering very rewarding, if done the right way. It keeps you distracted and takes away the loneliness as you start interacting with new people. It is definitely nice to volunteer at places like old age homes, orphanages or work at NGOs. This helps you contribute to the society that has accepted you with their open arms. You may get a job or not but as a volunteer you are welcome especially in The Netherlands. Data reveals this country is a very popular destination for volunteering. This not only increases your local circle but also makes you visible and eligible for future job opportunities.
Every expat will always go through the pains and pangs of settling down in a new country. Some will just give up as most likely they have to start their career all together afresh. Nevertheless, some daring ones keep going whatever be the outcome. Change of outlook, thoughts and expectations has helped many to happily move on… because feeling isolated or lonely is just a choice we make. In reality, we do have better options and definitely in the Netherlands.
I am an HR professional and a freelance author with more than 13 years of experience working in the areas of General HR, Training and Development, Recruitment and building start-ups. I now live in Amsterdam, The Netherlands and love to write about my experiences and of other expats in this beautiful country. My blogs, interviews and poetry are a pure reflection of my personal interactions, thoughts and experiences.