Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Happy Expat

If you're someone who plans on coming to Amsterdam and reads the Expatica forums, you might find yourself reconsidering your move to the Netherlands all together. It seems that a handful of people have found the Expatica forums a perfect place to vent all their little frustrations.

As I read the hostility in these people's words and their sweeping generalisations about the Dutch, I often find myself wondering if there is a certain type of person who is best suited to the expat life, the type of person who has learnt not to judge others, not to attribute one annoying trait of an individual onto an entire country people, the type of person who finds cultural differences fascinating rather than branding them wrong or constantly comparing them to their own cultures.

If you have never lived in a new country but are considering it, there are some very important rules to leading a happy expat life;

1. Do not judge or criticise others' way of life.
2. Explore and be curious.
3. Think of everything as a learning experience.
4. Remember that it's not always easy.

A happy expat knows that being an expat isn't always fun times, it's not always easy and it's not a vacation (like some people think of it). Being an expat means leaving behind friends and family, it means leaving behind everything that is comfortable to you, it means starting everything from the beginning, new sites, new smells, new tastes, new streets, new people, new banks, new doctors, new jobs, new everything... And what makes it so bitter sweet is that a lot of these things are what also make the expat life so damn rewarding too.


Anonymous said...

I very quickly gave up reading the expatica forums. They were so miserable and so completely different from my own perceptions of the country, not to mention that many of the things they complained about were things that I've experienced just about everywhere I've gone. I think my number one piece of advice for anyone who is even thinking of becoming an expat is to avoid the expatica forums at all costs. ;)

Emmy said...

It can definitely be tough but being an expat has to be a lifestyle choice. I hate the Expatica forums and never visit them. Without a doubt they are the most negative forums I have ever come across. I'm an expat because I chose to be, I actively sought this lifestyle and I am going to make the most of it. If I didn't want to do it I'd move back to my home country. No one forces you to be somewhere you don't want to be.

My only other tips for happy expats would be to be respectful of the culture you are in. You may think that things are downright bizarre but to a native of the country they are as comforting and familiar as fish and chips are to me (mmm... fish and chips...)

Also, try to say yes to things. Say yes to new experiences even if they scare you a little. Use the opportunity to really sort out who you are. When I went back to the UK for a while in between expat stints I got so sick of hearing "what? you lived abroad? why?" or "I could never do that" and I used to think, what a shame. What a shame that you are making your world so small when there is so much to see and do and try. Its going to be tough, you may cry with frustration on occasion and you are going to have to make some pretty tough decisions along the way but there will be days so exhilerating, so filled with excitement that you want to run around saying "did you know about this? This is fantastic!" Even on the worst days I wouldn't give this life up - I just can't wait to see what happens next.

amy said...

Amen. Unfortunately, I think that unhappy expats tend to feed off each other, and suddenly everyone starts agreeing that the normal hassles of life -- like somebody shoving you on the train, or a government office being inefficient -- is a "Dutch thing", and not just a thing that can happen anywhere. I had to give up on the Expatica forum after only a month or two, because it was too much of a downer.

Anonymous said...

Word to all of that sister. And the Expatica forums really suck.

Although I have to admit here that I have been known to throw a blame or two towards the Netherlands, it's usually just frustration at myself and the situation. The country is sometimes my scapegoat (as was Belgium when I lived there, and New Jersey).

We're all here because we love it! Anyone negative towards the Netherlands is just a negative person in general.

Oh....and Czech people are SO NICE! ;)

Invader Stu said...

I know what you mean about the expatica fourm. I just started looking at it again recently and found it was still as negative as when I left. I don't understand it. I know so many happy expats in real life but on the forum they all seem so depressed. Not to mention the amount of America bashing on holland topics that started showing up at one point. Let me tell you...

... Oh no. I'm starting to sound like one of the forum users... must think about happy kittens.

Anita said...

I have no idea of what Expatica forums are... I have to say I have never searched for other expats or even Brazilian fellows for almost one decade. Of course I blame on things, Brazilian ones or Dutch ones. Maybe as Amanda said because it is more due to a personal frustration... All those years I have learned that rich and organized countries have bad sides too - it is up to you to turn your focus into the good aspects and try to make the best life possible

~ Lopa said...

I second you on that...
not much experience on expatica forums though, if i come across one many times i just register there and then forget and chances i never visit it again.

But i believe there are postives and negatives in everything you do, in any place, even in any person... it is just upto us how we take it.
Staying positive and being open to new experiences is a key, i guess!

Juniper said...

Well put, have lived in Asia, the farthest most tip of Scandinavia, Rainy England and now this small rock of Malta and much of what you say is key. Good to put it out there, it is not always easy and certainly not always a vacation but worth the adventure if you enjoy meeting new people and seeing new places (not to mention tasting new foods). Being curious and flexible is key.
Happy travels!

Angela said...

Alison, Amy, Amanda & Stu: Right on! I love that everyone here agrees with me that the expatica forums suck :D

Emmy: I like the saying yes to things idea! Saying yes makes for some fantastic experiences, actually I wish I thought of this and added it to my post :)

Anita: Good thing you haven't discovered them, they're pretty depressing :)

Lopa: I completely agree!

Juniper: Lucky you! having lived in Asia, that must be a fantastic expat experience, so out of our cultural sphere, how exciting! I am a little jealous :)

MEM said...

A pleasant surprise to find this little corner of optimistic expats...and yes, stay away from Expatica, you'll start to imagine that there are no happy expats here. Just remember that the happy ones are not spending their time inside complaining about shit, they're outside having fun.

Patrick said...

As far as I'm aware Expatica is 100% funded by the Dutch government. It's apparently run by salaried people none of whom are expats.

You can certainly see this in their news section, if you ever read their news articles. They make really dumb spelling and grammatical errors an English speaking person would never make. It's worth noting this has gotten better in recent times, I suspect because they now have computerized grammar checkers.

It's certainly the case that Expatica staff do not circulate amongst expat circles, and I have never met anyone who knows any of them.

Expatica has enough funding and influence (they are associated with the national journalist organizations) to ensure anyone who ran a blog or discussion forum with content that competed with them, would be buried in search engine results, and only a small number of people would actually see what was written.

Expatica also has enough influence to manipulate all of the statistics gathering sites on the Internet, to make themselves seem much more popular than they really are. A very small number of real people actually follow their site.

Especially at the beginning, when they created the forums, they themselves were trolls on the forums and ensured any real discussion that got started got side tracked and lost. They also posted huge numbers of bogus comments, making it seem like a lot of people were really using the forum. I haven't been there in years now, so I don't know what the situation is now.

The Dutch are very afraid of expats organizing themselves and of foreign cultures and communities establishing themselves. The Dutch government would like to establish their own 'truth' and want the expat community to follow this, and in particular they would like to see it lacking in cohesion. They don't want an independent blogging community to establish themselves. The Dutch government is particularly afraid of English speaking expats, who by in large are very well educated.

Whatever you might see on the Expatica forums now is simply a result of almost no participation from real expats! It's not any deeper than that.

A real discussion forum with expats would probably consist of no more than 30 active participants, most of whom would know one another and chat amongst themselves. There aren't enough Internet savvy English speaking expats in the country to support many more people on a forum than that, and expats normally have a sense of cohesion that doesn't exist on the Expatica forums.

On the subject of being a happy expat, mostly I think that's great. I'm not particularly, and that's really the main reason I don't have an expat blog. I often don't have a lot positive to say, and no one wants to read a blog written by someone who doesn't do anything but bitch.

It's not that you shouldn't be a happy expat, but at the same time I think it's worth realizing most expats come here with that attitude, and the Dutch know this and often take advantage of it. Also like I've explained here, not everything is as it seems.

Anonymous said...

I also learned quickly to stay away from the Expatica forums. But, having followed other forums for other groups/events/teams, I think the stinging negativity just comes with the territory when you have a forum - no matter what the topic. As far as Expatica, I find the site itself very informative and their expat fair was just brilliant!

Anonymous said...

I just looked at the Expatica web site, and my heart went out to the people there. Many were experiencing the same things we have gone through. It's fantastic that you are all enjoying it here, but it's very difficult for the people who don't have much choice. I'm here because I couldn't get work at home and I was offered a well paid job here. My husband has been a perfect brick, although he's really struggling here and can't find work. We're trying to make the best of it and enjoy the good parts, but it's a difficult place for two committed hillwalkers to live! The best thing for me has been my wonderful colleagues, their amazing children and fact that the difficulties have brought my husband and me closer than ever. We're hoping to go back to Blighty just as soon as I can find work, but we're trying to find things to enjoy here in the meantime.