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Riding bikes in a park space in Calgary. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.

Living abroad gives you new angles

This year Kerry and Arne have been married for eight years, but the story of this couple started already back in 2006 in Turin, Italy, where they both traveled as part of the National Speed Skating Team of Canada to join the Olympics. They returned home as national sport heroes and most of all – in love. Kerry and Arne married in 2008 and being in their late 20’s, the couple retired from sport and were given the chance to pursue other goals in life.

Time in Delft

Arne wanted to do his PhD, so the couple decided to move abroad for that and to start a family. In the end, TU Delft was a great fit and he was accepted there, so they made the move across the ocean. The couple arrived in Delft in April 2010. Despite Arne having dual citizenship, thanks to his parents who emigrated to Canada from the Netherlands over 36 years ago, it was the first time for both Kerry and Arne to be living outside the borders of their native land. It’s no surprise the sense of space was one of the first things that initially gave Kerry a slight feeling of not entirely fitting in. She was after all coming from the second biggest country in the world to the 134th biggest. To put this in perspective, you could fit the entire country of the Netherlands over 240 times within the borders of Canada.

 

Skating on the buitenwatersloot in 2012. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.
Skating on the buitenwatersloot in 2012. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.

 

In Europe, things were much more compact. “We were put in an apartment by the university and my first thought was that I could not live there. It was so small and it didn’t even have an oven. On top of that I had a really hard time finding foods in the grocery store that I was used to from back in Canada, because I like to cook with multicultural ingredients. Eventually I was able to find all the of the foods I like to cook with at Turkish stores and a wonderfully well stocked Asian market on the edge of Delft. We were living with very little money and I was shocked and pleased with how cheap the groceries were. Through the four years that we lived in Delft, we moved to a typical Dutch house that worked great for our family and I got used to living in a smaller space. Large houses just stopped making sense to me. “ she explains.

YaneLopes_Houses_GAB_8479
Typical Dutch houses. Photo: Emilie Yane Lopes.

Canadians are world-famous for being polite, so undoubtedly the Dutch honest and direct way of communicating was something to get used to. Kerry found the people to be a bit abrasive and less polite and she couldn’t understand the customer service, which is something a lot of expats repeatedly agree on. “I remember a friend that was visiting and I had a coffee on the terrace of a café. We sat for almost an hour waiting for them to give us our bill! After a while I realized that Dutch people were very straightforward. I also learned that it was not rude to wave over a server and ask for the bill – which is not something you do in Canada.”

Luckily, not everything about the culture shock was hard work. Kerry found many things fascinating from the first moment, as she instantly fell in love with the bike culture, the beautiful old city of Delft and loved how convenient the train and tram systems were. “We arrived in the spring and the weather was wonderful. I went to the beach a lot. We never bought a car; I truly became a bike person and carted the girls and groceries and even furniture from IKEA on my bike!”

"In front of our house in Delft." Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.
“In front of our house in Delft.” Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.

The language barrier and how to knock it down

Kerry was very keen to learn Dutch and tried practicing when she was at the market or in the shops. She already knew some as they used to travel to the Netherlands for World Cups frequently. After that phase wore off, Kerry got discouraged because it seemed like no one could understand her attempts at Dutch and they would always quickly switch to English. The couple was living on a single wage of a student, which made it harder for her to find a language course that was affordable. “Finally after two years and little improvement, I found a class through Delft MaMa and learned much quicker after that. By the end of our four year stay, I was pretty good and could carry a simple conversation and could read the paper.”

Both girls, Blythe (5) and Simone (3) were born in Delft and as a result of Arne’s dual citizenship, the girls got one too. Blythe attended a Dutch preschool and learned quite a bit of Dutch during the years.

The sisters meet for the very first time after Simone's born at Reinier de Graaf gasthuist. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.
The sisters meet for the very first time after Simone’s born at Reinier de Graaf gasthuist. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.

From Delft back to Calgary

Moving house is no picnic, let alone moving across the Atlantic with two small children. There are many ways families arrange their moving from letting companies take care of everything to leaving everything behind and starting all over in the new country. Kerry says with hindsight they could’ve left it all behind, but they ended up using a moving company that shipped their belongings back to Canada by boat. It was about $3000 CAD for three cubic meters. They sold most of their things and only shipped back clothes, toys and some small household things.

In front of their new home in Calgary. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.
In front of their new home in Calgary. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.

The family moved back to Canada in June 2014. Kerry and Arne expected Blythe to have the hardest time moving back, but in fact, because she remembered what Canada was like from visiting every six months, she had very little problems. “One weird thing that started up was that she talked in a made-up language for about six months. It was a mixture of Dutch, English, babble and baby talk. I think it was her expression of what she viewed in the change of language around her.”

To their surprise, Simone, who was a toddler around the time, was the hardest. She was extremely clingy to her mom for about six months after the move. Luckily Kerry and Arne themselves didn’t have much difficulties adjusting back to Calgary, which is the city where they left and returned to. To make the transition easier, their friends welcomed them back with open arms. “We expected to have a hard time moving back to our home country. I read a very interesting article about expats moving home. It goes like this: when you are at home you are a circle. When you move to a new country, you are a circle among squares. Slowly you develop some angles, but never truly become a square, but you do change into something different – a triangle. When you move home, you are a triangle living among circles. Although we did change, mostly in openness, directness, our idea of space, Canada and the Netherlands are quite similar in the end. Canada is also not a country filled with only one shape, so you never feel different as there is not only one type of Canadian but a very multicultural society.”

Blythe and Simone enjoying an indoor playground in their new hometown of Calgary. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.
Blythe and Simone enjoying an indoor playground in their new hometown of Calgary. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.

Back in North America

The four years cycling around the city of Delft had definitely left a mark on Kerry. It was a big step getting back behind the wheel for everything and she describes transportation as one of the most difficult parts of getting adjusted to their old lifestyle. “I despised how far away everything was! Even though we lived very close to a grocery store, it was still somehow difficult to get there by bike or walking. I felt like I was in a car most of the day.” But at the same time Kerry also felt completely at home and very comfortable, since life tends to be easier in your native language.

It was one thing being able to communicate in your native tongue again, another trying not to sound all ostentatious: “One of the most difficult things was trying not to sound pretentious, because every story you have to tell is about living abroad! I sorely missed my friends and support network from Delft. I missed the center and the sense of community I had built up through the years. I missed exercise that was build into the lifestyle with biking and walking. And I missed muisjes and Crispy M&M’s!” But the greatest thing about being home was family and old friends. One of the biggest things that Kerry will never take for granted again is the nature. “You can leave the city and find places where you are all alone very easily. We frequent the mountains in the summer and winter and can see then from the city.” 

Hiking in The Rocky Mountains one hour from their new house in Calgary. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.
Hiking in The Rocky Mountains one hour from their new house in Calgary. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.

Looking life after two years of being back

The family hasn’t been back to Delft yet ever since they moved away two years ago. They are constantly thinking about it, as they still have many good friends here and Arne remains to have family in the Netherlands. Kerry and her husband also want to show their daughters where they were born and where they come from. “We have been back two years this summer. I now see Canada from an outsiders point of view. It is not with rose-colored glasses that I see it anymore. I see politics in a different view as well.” Kerry explains.

Despite the few years, she hasn’t still given up some Dutch ways or sayings. “I still say little things in Dutch like, Oje! when a child falls. I call my daughter Simoontje and we eat pannenkoeken and stamppot.” Blythe and Simone love the rain and the whole family rides their bikes more than others. Kerry also is very thankful for being exposed to the Dutch parenting style. “Canadian parents find it very hard to let their kids be independent and do things on their own. As when some parents here maybe think I am ignoring my children, I know that I am letting them play on their own and learn independence from me, which I learned from Dutch parents, and find to be extremely important for them to grow into strong and creative adult.”

Riding bikes in a park space in Calgary. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.
Riding bikes in a park space in Calgary. Photo credits: Kerry & Arne Dankers.

Just like any big changes, moving abroad puts a lot of stress on a relationship. Since Arne was working a lot, Kerry found herself at times lonely and bored. With hard work and luck, the couple entered the country as two of them and left it with smiles on their faces with four of them. “It could have gone either way, but it truly solidified our marriage and relationship. We know each other so well and count on each other without a doubt. I am a much more outgoing person and will now talk to people on an elevator. I know that reaching out is something that can find you true friendships. I am more independent and capable as well. I think the kids have a broader world view, which is invaluable. I’m afraid that we have instilled in them the sense of adventure and travel and they, too, will move very far away from us when they get older!” Kerry wisely sums it up.

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Tarja Van Veldhoven

Finnish-Delftian mom of three, married to a Dutch man with a decade long blogging history.
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    Ildikó says:

    Although we haven’t met too much, Keery, I really liked this article to know more about you and the differences between Canada and Holland. It’s funny how you experienced the directness of the Dutch, or the distances in each countries. I think that both of those are coded really so deep in the people, their attitude towards the situation… It’s really apparent, and they don’t even notice it.
    And the idea about what shapes we are, is really fitting I think ( I suffer from it myself when we visit home). Thanks for sharing!

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