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This week for Humans of Ptownlife, I interviewed a Pleasanton local who had spent a year (that’s right, 365 days!) living abroad in the Netherlands – a beautiful country in northwestern Europe known for its canals, tulips, windmills, and cycling routes. But there’s more to traveling abroad than simply packing up and taking a flight. Here are a couple of the tips and tricks she shared on how to successfully live abroad (Part I).
8 Tips and Tricks for living abroad:
1. Stay long enough
“I think you need to stay long enough that you actually experience the culture. So if you just travel for the summer, that’s great too, I love to travel, but it’s tourist, it’s not being a part of the culture so much. So we stayed for a whole year and that was enough. We were sad to leave when it came time because in a year you develop friends and habits and things like that.”
2. Take language classes
“My husband got a partner in the language, “taal” is the Dutch word for language. So it was just a partner for him to speak the language with because I wasn’t very good at it and he developed a friendship with that person and he would go have coffee and things like that.”
3. Pursue your interests
“The other thing I would recommend is do whatever you’re interested in that gets you involved in the culture. So for me, I took language classes and I tutored. So I really had an opportunity to work with students, which is what I like to do and then I also kind of got to learn the language, and once I learned the language then we made more local friends. I also was involved in an international book club, so they spoke English and they read English books, but they were all different nationalities. So as an adult it wasn’t hard for me to find opportunities to meet women that were in the same situation as me – being plopped in a country where you didn’t really speak the language and you had to figure it out.”
4. Go to cultural events
“We liked to go to events. Because we weren’t working, which was a great advantage, we looked for events to go to. It depends on what you’re interested in, so you might go to an art and wine festival, or for us it was beer. So that’s what we did; we went to beer festivals. We ended up meeting a lot of great people that way. For us, our goal was to learn the culture and so whenever we could find the opportunity to meet people in that culture, it was what we wanted. We got to practice speaking the language and then we would see them two months later at a different event and they would remember you and it was very fun.”
5. Buy a train pass
“We had bought a train pass so we could go anywhere for free on the train. We bought the one where you basically couldn’t travel during commute hours, but any other time you could go for free. So we went a lot of places. We made sure we covered the entire country, which isn’t a very big country, but we didn’t have a car. We only went on bikes. So we would bike to the train station and then get on the train and go anywhere. And even within the country there were so many cultures. As you can imagine, in California, it can be very different all over. The Netherlands has 16 million people, which, compared to California, is a very small country. But still, it was really great to see a lot of the country.”
6. Bring your dog
“Another thing we did is we brought our dog, which is such an amazing way to meet people because everybody who is a dog person wants to come up and talk to your dog. So it gave us opportunities to speak the language and meet new people. The people we ended up being the closest with who were Dutch we met through our dog. We still talk to them regularly and go back every year to the Netherlands to visit, mainly to see them. So, we made some really close friends. It was an interesting choice, bringing your dog on an 11-hour plane flight, but she was a trooper and it worked out really great for us.”
7. Have a down day
“Don’t be afraid to have a down day. We called it a down day. There’s so much to do and so much to see that we could’ve just gone 100 miles an hour all the time. So we realized pretty quickly that we weren’t going to have as much fun if we didn’t occasionally stay home, check our email, go to the grocery store, sleep in, and not have to go all the time.
8. Have a “place”
“The other thing we did was we had what we called a place. So we had one location that we would go to regularly to have lunch or dinner or whatever. It kind of became our place, so you get to know all the people that work there. We had a local, it’s called a “kroeg” in Dutch, and we had a bartender that befriended us and the owner of the bar, and those are people we still visit every time we go back, and if they ever came to America, they would stay with us. It was such a great part of the culture to be in that atmosphere. They would have events where they would play Dutch music and we would learn those songs since it was part of the culture and it helped us learn the vocabulary when we tried to sing along. They would have these sing-alongs and it was really great.”
Stay tuned for more great information on how to live abroad!