“I dislike feeling at home when I am abroad.”
George Bernard Shaw wrote these words in his play, Widower’s Houses. I get it. The whole point of travelling is to experience what is unfamiliar, that’s what makes it such an enriching experience. I feel that there is a time limit on such sentiments, however. When it comes to relocating—a long-term or even permanent move to another country—then feeling at home is probably a good idea, maybe even essential. The question is how to feel at home without simply waiting a very long time. Well, here is the answer, 5 answers actually, based on my personal experience.
1. Join Delft MaMa (duh!) and feel at home
Of course, this was going to be number one! Delft MaMa is a ready-made, multi-cultural community of people with shared experiences—of moving countries and/or becoming/being parents—so it’s easy to meet people and make friends. There are opportunities to socialise, with and without children; Delft MaMa hosts a regular, weekly playgroup and a monthly night out that is always lots of fun. Various seasonal events are held throughout the year such as potluck lunch, high tea, charity walk and Halloween party. You can benefit from the combined wisdom of people who have already figured out how everything works in the Netherlands and are more than happy to advise. You can also increase your local knowledge by reading the resources and blogs on this site and participating in workshops organised by Delft MaMa. These cover all sorts of topics from parenting to job seeking/career advancement.
2. Get a bike
There are apparently 22.8 million bikes in The Netherlands: there are more bikes than people! It’s so embedded in the culture: the Dutch bike to the supermarket, office, train station, anywhere and everywhere, for business and pleasure. They bike with their kids strapped into seats on the front or back of their bikes, or load them into a ‘bakfiets’. They drag suitcases along the ground beside them, or stabilise crates of beer on the baggage rack with one hand. This is all supported by fantastic infrastructure; a vast network of bike paths complete with their own traffic lights. Biking is the Dutch way and therefore owning and using a bike will make you feel more Dutch. The first time you experience ‘rush hour’ on a bike can be intimidating but give it a few months’ time and you will also be yelling at the people who fail to give you your right of way. And, if this all sounds like way too much physical effort, you could always consider investing in an e-bike.
3. Learn Dutch and feel at home right away!
The benefits to learning a new language are numerous and well documented. Not only will it help you get by in a practical sense, it is also the key to understanding the psychology of a particular population. And, the more effort you put in, the more you will get out of it, the gift that keeps on giving! To start you off, here are the most useful Dutch words, according to me, with the broadest application: “lekker” meaning tasty and “leuk” meaning fun. To make either word negative, just add “niet” (not). It’s “niet” only food that can be tasty, you can also use “lekker” to describe the weather (lekker weertje), your quality of sleep (lekker geslapen), or level of engagement in a task (lekker bezig). See, language learning is “leuk”! Oh and not forgetting “dus” meaning “so”, to be uttered when you don’t know what to say, to fill a silence, or to express surprise. (Looking for ways to learn Dutch? This Delft Mama’s post can help you find some alternatives).
4. Join a local club or class
Now this one might require guts for I am recommended joining a club/class with a predominantly Dutch membership. It’s easy to make friends with fellow expats but you will never break out of the expat bubble if you don’t try and meet some local people. That can be challenging because local people don’t necessarily have the same motivation to make new friends as you do. Language is obviously going to be the biggest barrier to begin with but shouldn’t be too much of a problem. There’s bound to be someone who is happy to translate, if not the instructor/leader. If you are going for something movement based e.g. yoga, zumba, any kind of sport club etc. just do what everyone else does. You might always be ‘the foreigner’ but you won’t always be the ‘new person’. Eventually, you will become an accepted, valued member of the group. You might even meet your future romantic partner there.
5. Embrace your new home
This doesn’t mean forcing yourself to eat salty liquorice (although personally it has grown on me). It is more about having a positive attitude and taking an active interest in your host country and its culture, than any single, definable action. For example, that could be something as simple as wearing orange for King’s Day, joining a street party, or supporting the Netherlands Elftal, the Dutch national football team (unless they are playing against your home country, of course). Or, maybe it’s following the local and national news and learning what issues are important. It could mean buying a rain suit to wear on your bike because you accept that you aren’t made of sugar. Or, visiting some museums and learning more about the history of the country. You are sure to discover things that align with your interests and this will connect you to your new home. Finally, you are on your track to feel at home, far away from home.
Full disclosure: my husband is Dutch so I have an advantage when it comes to integrating; however, I would not have met him had I not been brave enough to join a local running club back when I spoke barely any Dutch.