The American couple Lisa and Dan VanBuskirk moved to Delft in 2008, about 350 years after Dan’s ancestors left Holland. The couple have been married for 12 years and dated nearly four years before that. They met when they were both in the U.S. military and it was Dan’s military assignment that brought them to the Netherlands for four years. “We had both lived in the United States our entire lives, though we did travel internationally, including to the Netherlands for work and pleasure. We thought Delft was beautiful when we arrived and for our entire stay.”
“The people in Delft were wonderful, everything was a short walk or bike ride away. The city had a history, a charm and a small-town feel even though everything on Earth is nearby. Being close to so many students, expats and working professionals led to a wide range of discussions,” explains Dan. Lisa agrees with the loveliness and liveliness of the city and years after moving, still reminisces the market days on Thursdays and Saturdays. “I also loved Delft MaMa and the friends I made there, and I miss them all the time as it took me a long time to find new friends in the US. I am so thankful that a longtime friend who worked with Dan recommended we live in Delft and showed it to us the first weekend we were in the country!”
One plus one is four
Moving to Delft gave the couple the opportunity to grow as a family, and so in 2010 Daniel was born, followed by his little sister Melissa two years later. Lisa was no longer working, so she could dedicate herself to pregnancy and motherhood. Since they knew their stay in Delft was relatively short term, working and often spending time with other internationals and locals down at the pub who had a world-wide mindset, fluent Dutch wasn’t on the top of their list. “The default language of Delft MaMa playgroup being my mother tongue made it extremely easy for me to participate in the playgroups and take over the toddler playgroup for a year,” Lisa says. She also helped research pregnancy and baby related websites for the 2012 Delft MaMa website update.
Daniel was two and Melissa was five months old when the assignment came to an end and the family moved about an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C. to the state of Maryland, which is one of the smallest states of the US; about three quarters of the size of the Netherlands. The children don’t remember anything of their time in Delft, other than the stories they have heard from their parents. “Daniel loved kibbeling, he loved playing at parks or at playgroups and riding his loopfiets around town – he had an excellent sense of direction on his Skuut.”
Reuniting with their dream house
Moving back was made easy by the U.S. military as they arranged all the logistics of transporting their car and household from Delft to Maryland. “The hardest part was timing. We flew across the Atlantic in less than eight hours, but our furniture took eight weeks. We were and still are excited to be back. With the military we’ve moved quite a bit, so the four years in the Netherlands was Dan’s longest assignment in one location. We had bought a house two months before we found out we were moving in the Netherlands, so we were excited to move back to it. It has a large front and back yard and it is surrounded on three sides by nearly 30 acres (12 hectares) of environmental offset property that can’t be built. We have deer, turkey, a fox, squirrels and big variety of birds,” Lisa lists and continues to explain how she found happiness in other small things: the best thing about being back in the US was being reunited with her beloved American-sized washer and dryer.
The four years Lisa and Dan were gone from the States coincided with the downturn of the recession. “America lost its eternal optimism, which I don’t think it has regained in the years we’ve been back, either. And the politics have gone crazy this election cycle,” says Lisa. She further explains what they instantly missed from living in Delft: “We missed the parks and playgrounds and how they were tucked into little alcoves all over town and some bigger ones, like Bomenwijk and Delftse Hout, too. Our closest playground now is a kilometer away, but it was hard to reach without a car and frankly it wasn’t very good; think of a single metal slide in the heat of 30 degree summer with no shade! So we built our own sandbox and bought a large swing set for our back yard right after we moved back.” Apart from the larger variety of Belgium beers and kibbeling, Dan missed being able to walk everywhere and – surprisingly – he missed hearing Dutch. “You can ignore a conversation in a foreign language and let it become part of the background mosaic. When people are talking and you can understand them, it is a distraction.”
From a bicycle society to an automobile one
31,2% of Dutch people list the bicycle as their main mode of transport (as opposed to the car by 48,5% and by public transport by 11% ), whereas in the United States, which has the world’s highest rate of per capita vehicle ownership in the world, with 865 vehicles per 1,000 Americans, only 0,61% commute to work on a bicycle.  While things are changing in the United States and riding a bicycle is gaining status in certain regions, Dan explains the difference between these two countries: “Even if I wished that more Americans would ride bikes to work, I realize that the conditions that make it possible in Holland are not present, nor will they be, in America. It is difficult, if not impossible to take best practices from a small, homogeneous country and apply it to the huge melting pot of America.”
The family embraced riding bicycles during their stay in Delft and ended up bringing back their trusty Cabby Gazelle bakfiets, but found it very challenging to use it once they were back in the US. “The school playground wasn’t great, there is no shoulder on the road to safely ride in our semi-rural area, and most importantly, no expectation from the drivers of anyone riding a bike, so we stopped using it. We eventually sold it to a family with a young child that lived in Washington D.C. where it could be used. We had a car in Delft, but only used it when feeling very American or traveling for work or pleasure.” For Lisa, the biggest challenge was the transition from a walkable, bikeable and mass transit environment to a completely car-centric society. “The closest grocery store is now about six kilometers away, vice a hundred meters in Delft. Loading two young children into our second vehicle to go grocery shopping remains the biggest challenge. The physical side effect of not walking, pushing a double stroller or riding a heavy bakfiets everywhere, is that I gained five kilograms in the first year we were back.”
The Netherlands on their minds
It has been four years since the family moved away from the Netherlands, but to this day they keep on embracing their time in Delft. With a Dutch friend, Lisa and the kids visited the Embassy of the Netherlands last spring for an Open House day to maintain the connection to the country. In April to celebrate King’s Day, they did a presentation for Daniel’s kindergarten classmates on the Netherlands. On top of this, about 30 minute drive from their home is a house museum from a 19th century Flemish family, where they do a Saint Nicholas breakfast on the first weekend of December. “It’s not quite Sinterklaas’ arrival by canal boat, but it’s close enough to convey the message that different people celebrate holidays differently.”
Dan has taken two trips back to Delft to use up expiring KLM miles since the family has been back home. “Living in Delft was a wonderful once-in-a-lifetime event and we are both glad that we did it. We are both more understanding of other viewpoints than before. Our family was able to grow, because of our time in the Netherlands. We do have a plan to take the kids back to Delft to show them where they were born in a few years. Delft would be a great place to return and live as a pensioner; there is so much history to absorb in the Netherlands and in neighboring countries that it would be impossible to be bored,” the couple thoughtfully points out.