When I moved to The Netherlands, just under three years ago now, I never planned on it being a long term thing. I was moving, quite literally, for my degree and on a bit of a whim. I’d been to the a few times before – for Castlefest and for my interview – but I don’t think you can call either one of those things really visiting a country. Beyond that The Netherlands was a bit of a mystery to me – something about flowers and everyone keeps joking about my moving there to smoke weed and visit prostitutes. Okay, I exaggerate but you get the idea.
I moved to Amsterdam in July 2014. My flight was cancelled due to wind at Schiphol so I arrived a day late and we stayed in an airbnb in Hillegom while I sorted everything out. I got the most horrific food poisoning going and my mother thought she was going to have to get me to hospital at one point. Somehow we managed to get everything done – and still go to Castlefest – regardless. My dad and my neighbour drove over with my furniture and stuff. Ali used to live here and it was a good excuse for him to visit, and useful for me too. He speaks Dutch and is happy to drive on the funny side they drive on over here, you see.
Moving was hard. People don’t tend to let others see when they are struggling and so they think they’re the only one. I remember, in my first week of induction, having to pull out of a bike tour because my vision thing doesn’t allow me to cycle easily. I felt so embarrassed and came back to my room and cried. I did that a lot in the first six months. I was having such an amazing time and had met so many brilliant people but I was sorely homesick. I didn’t want to go through the applying for a degree all over again and I didn’t want to take another gap year at this point (I’d already taken two) so I decided to stick with it. I felt trapped and it was horrible.
This all sounds really negative and, in a sense, I suppose it is. Many brilliant things happened too. I had great adventures and I had my first encounters with people I would now consider dear, dear friends. I tended to write these bits down in the blog as they happened. So this account isn’t so much a negative one as a supplement to existing documentation. It’s realistic and not rose tinted. Those first six months were some of the hardest I’ve faced thus far.
But something clicked. I don’t think it was sudden – indeed, I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened – but without any warning ‘home’ became polarised. England was where my parents were, where the tea is, and where I came from culturally but The Netherlands felt like where I belonged.
It’s unsurprising, really. I’ve spent all of my independent adult life here. I’ve grown so much as a person, learned so much about myself over this time (and still know next to nothing!). I’ve faced some pretty big challenges along the way. I joke that after some of the rubbishy bits that have happened here – and in a language and system I don’t know my way around – I can deal with any bit of adulting that I have to do in the future! The truth is that they have been manageable because of some of the awesome people I have had by my side.
And it’s those people who really have made this a special place for me. It sounds cliché but the bonds that I have made with some people here are special and almost familial. I don’t want to name names – listing people belittles both the people included and the people who are neglected – but I think you know who you are. Odds are, if you’re reading this, and have got this far, you’re one of those people. Or someone from another point in my life who I love all the same. Or just a bit voyeuristic and interested in other people’s lives. Hi guys!
It’s harder to write about this bit because it’s less defined so if it feels like there’s an illogical balance in this post, that is why. I can tell you about the hard moments but I can’t put into words the “rightness” of being here now for me. The Netherlands has become my home and I am grateful to it.
My choice to move back to the U.K. was not taken lightly. In fact, I’m going back figuratively kicking and screaming. I mean, come on, the country’s got itself in a bit of a mess in my absence! I leave them unattended for three years and look what they go and do! However, for someone who has a literary and art historical bent, and focusing on English literature, art, and history, the best courses are in the native English speaking countries.
In my head this is me going and studying abroad for the year. I keep telling myself I’ll be back. I will be back for visits, certainly. And frequently, I hope! Maybe in a year, maybe a bit longer, I’ll be moving back. It’s my hope right now and my plan. Who knows what will happen in the future. Who knows if I’ll actually make it. Who knows, I may just find my feet in my own country once again. But I’ll be enrolling in some Dutch classes in just in case!