Saturday, 31 May 2014

Excelling as an Expat: 'Home' in a new country

May I just preface this post with: "I do not have all the answers to being an expat très excellent."
However, I do know that the trick to being a good expat in the Netherlands is becoming an expert cyclist. I am very proud of the fact that I cycled through the centre of town this afternoon, on a Saturday, through the market and no one died. I was also a bicycle passenger yesterday and survived with my legs (just) in tact. I will not hasten to say I'm "getting it", but I am hopeful.

I will have been in Groningen five months tomorrow, and what fantastic months they have been! I'm starting to feel a bit more at home, which is a clue for any expat that something is going right. Firstly, I should however point out, that no matter how long we expats live in any one country, we will always be foreign. This used to bother me greatly when I lived in England, because, dash it all, I have a British passport and I feel English. Somehow, my odd accent and optimism usually gave me away as "not being local".

Here, people don't mind where you are from. Groningen has a massive international population, mostly due to the University. I love it. Meeting people from all over the world everyday is a wonderful thing, and from what I've seen so far, a very positive thing here - the colliding of cultures in the best way possible. I'm a foreigner here, an expat, a traveller, and an observer all in one. I have the advantage of knowing the local lingo so I can get away with sometimes being one of the crowd. This brings me to my second point: getting to know the local language is another good thing as an expat. It brings you that much closer to the culture of the country and let's be honest, who doesn't like to eavesdrop? I was sat at the Grote Markt in the sun this morning, overhearing a wonderful conversation about a new film. Local insights, another good thing!

Sunset after a week of rain, as seen from the attic room
My third point that would perhaps be useful for excelling as an expat is taking that leap towards new things. In a new country, everything from the supermarkets, music, roads, clothes, and pubs are different. It is both exciting and frustrating when having to figure out what food to buy at the supermarket - especially in a new language. Figuring out what things you like takes time and some trial and error, but that too is exciting. Try new things all the time and you'll soon find what it is you enjoy. I'm still finding things that are new to me, and that makes my time here all the more interesting. Recently, for example, I've found a pub that serves about 100 different types of beer. That should keep me busy over the summer...

So cycling, speaking appalling grammatically incorrect Dutch, trying new things and accepting the fact that I will always be 'foreign' have made these few months interesting. It has been a whirlwind of languages, new people, teaching, writing, and playing music. The music community here has been so supportive and encouraging. As I said in my previous post, I'm often so happy I'm fit to burst. Now that the summer has arrived and everything is in bloom I'm a) suffering from allergies, but more happily b) I'm seeing the beauty of the north of the Netherlands from the ground up.

Life here in the attic room is grand, and Groningen is abuzz with summer sounds. A non stop party; life.