From South Carolina to the Netherlands: The Three Under
Farrah Ritter, originally from Michigan - but an expat in the Netherlands by way of South Carolina. We live in a small village just south of Tilburg.
1. Why did you move abroad?
My husband and I have always wanted to experience an expat assignment- so after years of waiting (having kids) we went for it. We wanted to experience Europe as residents- not just travelers. We wanted to share this experience with our very young boys in hopes that they will develop their own love for travel and appreciation of other cultures. We most certainly did not do it for the weather
2. How do you make a living?
My husband works for a global company with the world headquarters in Germany. I am home with our boys- ages 4, 3 &3 (twins).
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I call my family about once a month (I know. Aren't I awful?) but keep tabs via Facebook and emails. We also Skype once in a while. My husband calls home more frequently. We use free long distance apps on our phone that run through the wifi so don't pay any kind of crazy fees.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in the Netherlands?
We're far away - I know that, but I don't FEEL far away. We're constantly learning, appreciating and experiencing. My favorite part about being an expat here is that we live in a culture very different than our own- but we don't feel like foreigners. The people are friendly and they speak our language. For the most part.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in the Netherlands?
The shock of the weather has been something to get used to. Coming from South Carolina after 6 years- it was an adjustment to get used to all of the RAIN. However, considering the summer was better than anything I've seen in a decade- I'll gladly put up with the rain.
6. What do you miss most?
Sometimes it's just the 'ease' of life in the US. Nothing is a challenge, nothing is a production. I knew what to expect wherever I went, and could at least figure it out rather quickly if need be. Being here- you have to stay on top of it all, all the time. Yes, sounds like I'm lazy- but sometimes, just sometimes- that's a relief.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I was really lucky to meet other expats through our local expat club right from the start. Also, I had made some contacts on Twitter prior to our arrival- so had those people as well. Most importantly though- our expat relocation company helped the most. They helped integrate us into our new home by assisting in finding a village that was comfortable and had a good school. I've met parents, teachers and classmates of my boys and feel very welcome. I can ask all kinds of questions from where do I find this cooking ingredient to what is this festival coming up. People are always very happy to help me understand or answer my question- it's great! I really hope to take this feeling home with us and when we're in a new place I want to be there for someone else.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The food is a little different for me. I am not used to things in so much sauce- or mayo (!). But for the most part, I appreciate their customs and don't find them strange. They're just ones that they have adopted.
Usually if I ask the reason (the Sinter Klaas/Zwarte Pete thing for example) I am given the reason. It might not make sense and I might even find it downright offensive- but this is not my country. I am entitled to my opinions as they are to theirs.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
That the Dutch are cold, unfeeling, frugal or rude people. They're direct- not rude. Once you understand that you have a much less chance of being offended! As for frugal- possibly. However the Dutch that I see are all very well dressed, have nice cars and take excellent care of their homes. Maybe they don't throw their money away on cheap stuff like we do in the US? I think they're always prepared and take pride in being useful.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
The cost of living does seem a little higher here, but I feel like there is more value for our money. Homes are of better quality- road conditions are exceptional, and education is highly valued. At least in our experience, we see these things in our area as compared to our town back home. Food is also of a better quality- it does tend to 'go bad' sooner, but I think that's a good thing. We don't mind paying more for the better things in life. It has made a difference in my life because my children are thriving, happy and living in a society I am proud of- one that puts focus on the right things and isn't as caught up with some of the US's 'silliness'.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Every experience is different. I have a friend in Germany- and while I am loving every minute and sick at the thought of going home, she is counting the days to go back. For you to have a successful assignment you have to be prepared. It's NOT going to be 'just like home' so don't try to make it that way.
Expect the worst! Really! I expected it to be miserable from the start- and hoped it would get better. Well, we had a great start and it just kept getting better. I read quite a variety of expat experiences and told myself it was all a roll of the dice. It was up to me to make the experience work- not the other way around. Be open minded and tolerant. Understand that the world is a big place and not everyone is going to think the way you do. It also helps if you already have a sense of adventure- aren't intimidated easily and can deal well with long distance family/friendships.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog in 2010 while I was on bed rest for three months during my twin pregnancy. I had some preterm labor issues and a whole lot of time on my hands. Since starting it has evolved and grown with my family. I am so happy that I have found it gives me a voice in the expat arena. I've 'met' people from all over the world, shared experiences, learned a lot and traveled all over Europe with it. The best part of all is that (hopefully) this electronic documentation will be around for my family to look back upon and read in the future. My kids are so little right now- I can't wait for the day when they read something and say 'Mom- I can't believe we DID that!!!' because really, how cool is it what we're doing?
Farrah's blog, The Three Under
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