As a foreigner in the Netherlands, I’m asked quite frequently what I think of this country — often by people who don’t seem to like it all that much themselves.
In fact, the question I probably get more than any other is, “Why would you want to live here?” (Usually accompanied by a raised eyebrow and that generally unimpressed tone the Dutch have when they speak in English.)
Normally, I just tell them my boyfriend is Dutch, and it seems to be a sufficient explanation for most; but actually, that’s only part of the story.
I left the US for New Zealand about six months after graduating from the University of Minnesota back in 2010. I was 22 years old and had no idea what I wanted to do, besides that, if possible, I wanted to do it overseas.
I looked into a few options — internship programs, being an au pair — but eventually settled on NZ’s working holiday visa because of its flexibility. After 17 years of straight school, I was ready to throw a schedule out the window and just “do whatever.” (Also, it was free.*) Being a US passport holder, acquiring the WH visa was incredibly easy; I applied online and was approved within 24 hours.
I didn’t go away planning to stay away, and I didn’t go away planning to come back. I just…went. I was lucky that I didn’t have to make a decision about if or when I would return. There was no commitment waiting for me in Minnesota, no ticking clock counting down; I had no children, no mortgage, no career ambitions that wouldn’t wait.
People told me I was “brave,” but I honestly don’t know what I would have done at that point that would have been any easier. The visa was practically handed to me on a silver platter, and it didn’t require any commitment besides “show up in the next 12 months if you want to use this.” Compared to sorting out my long-term goals, hopping on a plane was a piece of cake.
After a year of traveling around New Zealand and working various jobs (ranging from “caravan barista” to “Greenpeace fundraiser”), I began working at a cafe in Queenstown’s teeny tiny airport. My employer offered to sponsor another work visa for me, and since that job was a great fit–lots of hours, super flexible, and allowing for travel breaks–I took them up on the offer. (Yes! I was a barista, and I got a work visa out of it! Don’t ever discount what skills you have, guys. Anything could be your ticket.)
Anyway, so I found myself living in New Zealand, but I wasn’t really living in New Zealand. I spent the first nine months of Queenstown in a hostel. When I did finally move out and get a room, it was in a fully furnished apartment, and the only new thing I bought was a duvet set. I could do things like take three months off to go travelling to the US, Indonesia, and Western Australia, and come back if and when I wanted to (or, more accurately, when I ran out of money and needed to work again).
Most importantly, my life could still fit in a suitcase at five minutes’ notice–which was exactly the way I wanted it.
During year three in NZ, I met Simon. He was in the middle of his working holiday visa in NZ, but he’d already applied and been approved for his visa for Australia, and planned on heading there later in the year.
As things progressed, I quickly began thinking about joining him. We hadn’t been together very long, but as many people will tell you, relationships can be funny while you’re traveling long-term–whether they’re friendly, romantic, or anything else. Rather than the gradual cultivation I was used to, my relationships with others formed quickly, often intensely. Sometimes, you become best friends with someone for three days and never see them again. Sometimes, you have a passionate love affair with someone who’s last name you never know. And sometimes, you start casually dating “some Dutch guy” and then decide to accompany him to another country.
Aside from all this, it was also just plain timing. After three years in New Zealand, and more than two in Queenstown, I was becoming restless, and I was ready for a new job. Australians offer US citizens the same visa as NZ (though theirs sure ain’t free), so I’d always planned on going there at some point. No time like the present!
So, barely six months into our relationship, Simon and I left New Zealand and started living in Melbourne–though we’ve already covered what I mean by “living.” We worked in Melbs for several months; then we traveled through Tasmania, Western Australia, and outback Queensland, finishing the year with a road trip from Cairns to Sydney.
After Australia, we were kind of out of visas. Returning to New Zealand was an option, but one we quickly dismissed. To be honest, after four years of living with one foot out of the door, I was ready for a change. Travel bloggers are always on that “experiences over possessions” game, and I can’t say I blame them most of the time; but there’s something to be said for possessions. Namely, for socks without holes.
I don’t want to downplay the fact that I moved to the Netherlands to be with my boyfriend. I mean, unlike Australia, this is “the real deal.” I don’t have my own visa; it depends on Sim. If we broke up tomorrow, I would likely leave the Netherlands–both by choice and because I probably wouldn’t be allowed to stay. He was, and remains, the main factor in my decision to live here. How could he not?
But the choice to move abroad when you’re already living abroad is…different. It doesn’t feel like making a change; you’re simply continuing in the direction of your life’s current momentum. It would have been weirder not to come here. It would be a bigger decision to leave.
Of course, buying furniture was a whole other story.
*When I applied for my visa in 2010, it was free of charge for US citizens. Things very well may have changed since then, so don’t quote me on this. Also, don’t tell the British people. They get kind of upset.
Find more stories about my life in the Netherlands here.