Though I am rapidly approaching my 28th birthday and can remember to change my sheets on an (almost) weekly basis, there are a few “not a girl, not yet a women”-era traits I find myself clinging to. Holdovers from the university and backpacking years of my late teens and early twenties that I just can’t seem to shake (not that I’m trying all that hard). One of these is a magnetic attraction to anything “free.”
Fortunately, while the attraction is still there, it’s faded somewhat, and my responses have evolved. I no longer collect scores of ugly, ill-fitting t-shirts to use for “painting,” or flimsy canvas tote bags that provide free advertising for companies I know nothing about. And, as it happens, another holdover from my backpacking days is an almost problematic reluctance to own more possessions than I can stuff into a suitcase — even though I’ve got a wee bit more space these days.
Now, free events that clutter up nothing but my time of day? That I can work with.
When I heard about the I Am Expat Fair being held in Amsterdam in the beginning of March, I wasn’t convinced it was for me. After all, the fair corresponded with my year-and-a-half anniversary (is too a thing) in the Netherlands; my language skills are increasing at a pretty solid rate; and, of course, I’ve got Simon. Having a Dutch partner is a pretty big asset, and I’m lucky to have that advantage.
But at the end of the day, I’m still a foreigner here, and I can use whatever help I can get. Plus, I’ll take any excuse to go to Amsterdam. Also, did I mention it was free?
The annual I Am Expat Fair gives foreigners living in the Netherlands an opportunity to learn more about all kinds of services, from childcare to dental work to mortgage advice: things that we as immigrants may have a hard time with due to language barriers, cultural differences, or simply not knowing where to begin. Attendees can sign up for newsletters from Dutch media outlets, try a fresh stroopwafel, or find a chiropractor — all in one room.
There are also several workshops taking place throughout the day, covering topics like career transitions, buying a house in the Netherlands, and basic Dutch. Each workshop is presented by someone who is also running a booth at the fair, so if something they say piques your interest (or really pisses you off), you have the chance for further questions or discussion later on.
As I expected, the fair is definitely targeted towards new arrivals in the country. If you haven’t sorted out your visa or enrolled in Dutch classes, it’s a great way to check these items off your list (it is, as the Dutch say, “twee vliegen met één klap”). But if you’re past that stage already, there will be quite a few booths you can skip.
The fair is also best for people living in or around Amsterdam. Many of the businesses represented were local to the area, and for obvious reasons — a large portion of the Netherlands’ immigrant community lives in or near the capital. However, as someone who resides on the opposite side of the country, there were a lot of services I couldn’t make use of, even if I’d wanted to.
The day wasn’t a total bust. For one thing, I love getting the chance to see different parts of Amsterdam, and we’ll definitely be back to explore the Westerpark neighborhood more. (If you’ve got any recommendations, send ’em my way!)
For another, the fair showed me just how much progress I’ve made since coming to the Netherlands a year and a half ago. It’s easy to get bogged down with all of the requirements and paperwork; it’s easy to feel like it’s not happening fast enough. Sometimes, I need a reminder to give myself a break. (To anyone else who lives abroad and is reading this right now: give yourself a break. You’re doing all right.)
The I Am Expat Fair was a free event (yes, I know I’ve said that a thousand times), but we were required to pre-register online. If you want to attend any of the workshops, you’re required to sign up for those separately. (They can fill up quickly, too, so get a move on if you see something you’re interested in!)