From the Netherlands to Macedonia: Living Abroad
Hi! My name is Lise and I was born and raised in the Netherlands. It has been 2 years ago, when I moved abroad to live in the capital of Macedonia, Skopje.
1. Why did you move abroad?
This sounds so cheesy, but I moved abroad for love. I met my boyfriend in 2010 on the island of Corfu. After three years of having a long distance relationship, I quit my job and packed my stuff to live in Skopje with him.
2. How do you make a living?
The first year I was unemployed, which was nice. I could get used to my new surroundings and meet a lot of new people. I found a job in a Dutch textile company, near Skopje. After a couple of months I got a better job offer and the opportunity to work something in my own field of expertise. Now I work for a Dutch software company, which has an office in Skopje and in the Netherlands. I am the only Dutch person in the company, all my co-workers are Macedonian. Even my boss from the Netherlands is actually half Macedonian. But I think I’m lucky to have found a good job here in Skopje.
Working here with Macedonians is very different from the work mentality of the Dutch, and I can still get frustrated about it. Overall I notice that they don’t rush, they take their time… for everything. In the Netherlands they are always rushing, everything has a deadline and people are running to get to their destination. Although I have to add that this is especially in the west of the Netherlands, where I come from.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
Every day I talk to friends or family, we often communicate via Whatsapp. And Skype comes in handy sometimes as well. I try to visit the Netherlands every 4 months, but with the salary standards and free days from work, it can be difficult.
4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in Macedonia?
The experience that I gain now is something special. None of the people who remain in their own country will have this experience. I think a lot of expats can agree how much more open-minded they are than the ones who don’t move abroad. When I look at the lives of my friends and family, they all have the same tunnel vision. The ‘perfect’ life for them is: relationship – marriage – baby – two cars – nice house. And that is just not for me.
My favorite part about Macedonia is the life here. I can probably describe it like this: in the Netherlands you live to work and in Macedonia you work to live. Dutch live more inside and Macedonians more outside.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Macedonia?
The worst part for me is not being fluent in the language. It is somehow a very difficult language for me. I didn’t have any knowledge about Slavic languages, so I had to start from 0. Which is not bad, it just takes a bit more time.
6. What do you miss most?
Missing out on your friends and family. I have the age that everyone is buying a house, getting married and have babies. So I’m missing out on all of the crucial parts of my friends their life, and that makes me sad. Besides that, I miss the super organized infrastructure and the food. I don’t miss the nasty ‘Stampot’ (cooked potatoes, overcooked vegetables and a meatball) I miss the Snackbar and the cuisine choice. In the Netherlands you can decide every day of the week to eat from another cuisine. In Macedonia it is: Macedonian or Italian. There is a taco place and a Chinese, but that’s about it.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
The Dutch Embassy is very active here in Skopje. And the summer I arrived the Netherlands played in the Euro Cup. So they had organized all the Dutch to gather up in the café and watch the game together. So that was a great way to start meeting new people. Also every month there is a Dutch gathering, and I meet new people there as well.
Besides the Dutchies here, I met all the friends of my boyfriend. Which is pretty logical. The funny thing is, no one can ever replace the friends that I have back home in the Netherlands. I grew up with them and they know me sometimes better than I know myself. And for that reason, integrating here was difficult for me on an emotional level. But when I came back to visit friends and family in the Netherlands, I didn’t felt that much at home anymore. I couldn’t call it my home, my home was Skopje.
8. What custom/habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
There were a couple of things that were strange to me in the beginning. The first one is that they use Rakija for everything. Rakija is the national drink in Macedonia (and other Balkan countries as well), but it is not only used for drinking. Is your nose stuck? Sniff Rakija. Mosquito bite? Put Rakija on it. Clean the windows of your car? Use Rakija. You have a small wound? Put Rakija on it. So that was a bit odd, but now I see how good it actually works. Then there are the carpets, they put carpets in every room and sometimes it covers most parts of the floor. Also the little knitted white carpets, they put on all the tables and tv’s in the house…
Then the costum here is to give two kisses to people when you meet. In the Netherlands you give three kisses or a handshake (depends on the situation) and there is definitely no hugging involved in the greeting. But here they give kisses and hugs. Also the men hug, which you won’t see two Dutch guys doing. But overall everything that I thought was strange in the beginning, I’m pretty much used to it now.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
One myth is that Macedonia is cheap. It might be cheap for the western countries, it is not for the Macedonians.
Another more political myth is that Alexander the Great was from Greece, but he is from Macedonia. The Greeks just took a huge territory after they (and all the other countries) defeated the Ottomans, and took the part of Macedonia where Alexander was born. And named that specific part ‘Macedonia’, so here is also the name issue and that’s why Greece is blocking Macedonia from entering the EU.
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?
I don’t think you can compare the two countries. The average salary in Skopje is around 400 euro, in the villages it’s even lower. The average salary in the Netherlands is 2200 euro. Groceries here are cheaper and so are the
bills of my apartment. But clothes and electronica’s are the same price as they are in the Netherlands. You really can not compare it, the difference is huge.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Be realistic. Of course you will go through rough times, you will feel lonely from time to time and feeling homesick is all part of being an expat. But the experience you get in return is priceless. I always think of the whole reason why I moved to Macedonia. I fell in love with the country, its culture, the people and the food. Plus I have my boyfriend by my side.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started my blog in November 2015. I always wanted to start blogging, but I couldn’t really find my niche. But then I remembered that when I made up my mind about moving to Macedonia, I couldn’t find any information about it. So that’s why I started it, to inform people about moving abroad, the procedures and the beautiful country.
Lise's Blog, Living Abroad
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