Meet Audrey: An Expat from the Netherlands
Where are you from? Where have you moved to? And how long did you spend in each country?
I’m Dutch and was born in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I have moved to 17 locations on 4 continents (sometimes several moves within one country). I have lived in The Netherlands, Tahiti, Australia, Saudi Arabia and the United States. I spent anywhere between 1 to 7 years in each country.
Where did you become an adult?
In the United States and in the Netherlands.
What do you do now?
I am the owner of a niche Relocation company called Expat in Amsterdam® and I live in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Challenges of Being an Expat from the Netherlands
What were the specific challenges you faced after moving to The United States from Australia?
I often find that locals put you in the nationality box of the country you last lived in. When I moved from Australia to The United States, I was considered an Australian, when I moved from The United States to the Netherlands, I was considered an American.
When moving to the USA, I wasn’t used to the ‘everything’s possible’ mentality. Everything really was possible! Everything was available. You could take your car through the drive-thru of the bank, and could grocery shop until 10pm at night. There were 100 different cereals. And the weird thing was that you needed your car to go everywhere. I lived in Florida and never took public transportation there, since everyone has a car and it wasn’t considered safe.
We came to Florida where I started high school. My parents were thinking about Miami, but said that the security system would cost about as much as the house. We ended up moving to Clearwater, FL, near Tampa. I went to a small Greek school in Tarpon Springs which was an amazing but fun culture shock! My dad was a banker and when he was transferred, we would move to wherever his new assignment would take us.
So, to start at the beginning, we started in Tahiti, an amazing tropical island in the Pacific Ocean, where I went to a French school and had to learn the language. Then we moved to Australia, where I went to a private international school and later to a private boarding school. Then we moved to Saudi Arabia, where girls at that time were not allowed to go to the international school. I had the choice of going to a boarding school – by myself – or moving to England and living with friends of my family. What did I choose? I decided to stay and go to the boarding school in Australia and would visit my parents and younger brother in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
A few years later we met up again in Florida. Before arriving, I thought the USA was like Mork and Mindy. I felt like I was in one of those (High School Musical) movies. I don’t know why we chose Tarpon Springs but I ended up loving it. Very interesting to have a high school with a strong Greek Orthodox history. European culture in Florida? Anything is possible.
In high school, all of a sudden there were these groups – during lunchtime they would sit together – the Greek kids, the cheerleader/football group, the African American group and the LGB(TQ were not yet acknowledged) group. There was even a group of intelligent kids, which people then called the nerdy kids. Note: I found this to be a very strange word! They would sit with ‘their own group’, but they would also stay with their own group outside of the school. It was the first time that I experienced segregation of different types of people and backgrounds.
I have family and friends from all over the world with all types of racial backgrounds, from light to dark skin. I have always been raised to be comfortable and accepting with everyone.
In terms of being an expat anywhere, especially as a kid, what I notice is that when you don’t live in your own house, you’re often not allowed to hang anything on the walls or move any furniture and are therefore limited. People often see the glamour of the expat life, but not the other side of it. For example, not knowing how long you’ll be staying in the country or suddenly moving to another country, which is difficult and not glamorous at all. There’s a whole other side to this life of constantly having to leave your loved ones.
How did you prepare for your move? Any tips for others?
Call a Relocation expert or talk to locals (if you know any) in the country that you will be moving to. Always get expert advice.
What did you expect when moving to The United States that didn’t turn out to be so?
I didn’t expect people to be so open in the US. People in the check-out line would chat with you and you could even get a dinner invitation so easily and quickly! But once invited, would the friendship grow? That wasn’t so sure.
Whereas in the Netherlands, it may take a while to get the dinner invitation, but once you do, you can expect to be invited for a lifetime.
Also, I didn’t expect the news to have such a big impact on my life in the US. Seeing bad news stories being repeated over and over again on the TV or in the newspapers. The bad news has such a big impact in the US. And every channel represents a political power – and each one has a different point of view.
What did you NOT expect that did happen during one of your big moves?
I did not expect a bucket of red/white/blue paint to be poured over my head in the shower once arriving at boarding school in Australia. I was told that this way everyone knew where I came from (i.e. the Dutch flag is red/white & blue).
Once you moved to Amsterdam later in your life, what was most challenging personally and most challenging as a family?
When I arrived in Amsterdam (quite some years ago) strangers who would hear my heavy (then American) accent would actually tell me “go back to the US.” That was quite a shock, seeing I was actually a local Dutch native.
The most challenging part was making new friends, finding a job, a home and finding out what the rules and regulations were within the Netherlands.
Do you have a funny expat story? Or another funny language story where something was misunderstood?
These days we actually buy/sell/rent homes to and for our clients. But the first year I would walk around in the homes during viewings and realtors would think I was one of the American clients trying to buy a home – no one knew I spoke Dutch. This came in quite handy when it came time to bid on behalf of my clients, as I always knew what the competition was thinking!
That first year in the USA, from 1 to 10, what would you score it?
By the time you left, what score would you give it?
Being a Successful, Long-Term Expat
What are the three top characteristics needed to be a successful, long-term expat?
- Mingle with locals asap.
- Learn the language.
- Find out what the locals appreciate and what they stand for…
What role did language play in the success of your moves?
A big part.
In Tahiti I had to speak and learn French as a child. In Australia and the US I had to learn English but two different types of English. British – English and American – English (both countries have their own words).
Fluency Corp is passionate about expats having the very best experience in their new country. More than anything, we believe that language is the key component to ANY and ALL successful relocations internationally, both in business and personally. If you or your team are interested in ensuring highly effective collaborations and communication in your second language, or are interested in improved communication training for your multilingual teams, reach out to us here.