It’s kind of blowing our minds that we’ve been here in The Netherlands for half a year. It’s been a while since time has moved slowly enough for us to enjoy it, and these past six months have been some of the richest of our lives.
The impetus for coming here was an eight-month whirlwind of brain cancer which sadly took Brian’s mom away from us, far too soon. It’s an experience that changed who we are. It showed us how lonely and dark this world can be, and how precious the light. It forced us to question what we were doing with our lives. We will never be the same. We have come out the other side with stronger armour, but marked by disenchantment and sorrow nonetheless.
Edmonton had been our city, our work and our life for many years but it just didn’t feel like home anymore. So we did something brave, out of desperation as much as valour; we dismantled our life and tried starting over in Haarlem, Netherlands.
It still seems a bit surreal, but we sat down to put some thoughts together around what it’s been like and what we’ve learned so far.
What I didn’t expect to find after abandoning my life to live in a foreign land where I don’t speak the language or follow the local customs: freedom and gratitude. Now I choose what I do every single day, and it might sound silly, but I actually found that difficult at first. I spent so long before this move doing just what I thought was expected, and I got into an ugly habit of overthinking everything until I felt I had no agency whatsoever. I’ve broken the pattern and it’s left me feeling more in control of my own life.
It’s also been a pleasant surprise to wake up feeling so grateful each and every day: for my awesome husband next to me, for our cat cuddled at the foot of the bed, for the sunlight streaming through our stained glass windows, for the airy space of our modest apartment, for the best shower I’ve ever had, for this city that is both cute and bustling, for my trusty and cool bicycle, for the windy beachfront, for our favourite Albert Heijn grocery store, for homecooked meals, for the shining Grote Kerk steeple we can see from our windows at night, and for the hoops and hollers of people enjoying life after dark as we’re drifting off into sleep.
Not to say there haven't been challenges. It's hard to fit in when you don't know the language. It's a bit weird to float around without a job to be anchored to. And, it has been, shall I say, a unique experience to adjust to being together as a couple 24/7. We always loved to spend every spare moment together, and through the challenges of last year we didn't get to see each other nearly enough, so if we now argue a tad more than never, we're still over the moon to be with each other. We've just become very skilled at navigating every petty, non-problem that comes between us (usually with food and patience) and make sure to give each other a few hours of me-time now and then.
We don’t have a lot, besides each other, but it is enough. That is truly a beautiful feeling.
When we first moved here, everything was new and somewhat foreign, having only spent a few hours in Amsterdam during a flight layover a few years ago. I only knew what it was like to be a sudden tourist here: walking along canals, looking up at the guild houses and eating a McKroket at McDonalds at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning. That was all I knew of this place.
Now it’s more clear to me what the Netherlands is, and we are fitting ourselves into it as best and respectfully as we can. That is, I believe, the only way! We are riding bicycles for almost every commute, learning to speak beautiful saliva-infused Dutch, jaywalking, and not feeling guilty about the occasional beer in a public park. There is not necessarily a scofflaw attitude here, but an attitude of doing what you want, when and how you choose. I am finding it liberating because there really are more important things in life than rules.
We have moved past the paperwork and buearucracy of settling in here, and are now feeling more like ourselves again. Our routines are what we make them; if it makes us happy, we are doing it. This freedom is giving us room to breathe while our strange and interesting life continues to unfold. We didn’t need to move to The Netherlands for this to become possible, but it sure helped. The huge leap of faith we took got our blood flowing, stressed us out and dared us to rise to the challenge of being immigrants.
Erica and I ride to the sea on our bicycles every chance we get, and our sense of positivity and happiness grows. We’re eating healthy and staying active. We’re in control now and it’s great!
The Travelling Shus
Nougat wanted to add that while the initial move was quite the shock, he enjoys being a European cat very much. There is always something exciting to smell, watch, chase and croon at, and his trusty humans have kept his belly full and his favourite napping spots warm and inviting. He worries about nothing, but always finds a nap and a snack useful for calming the mind and spirit. Sage advice across species, we think.
The next six months is going to be an adventure in discovering purpose. We’ve just barely gotten used to explaining that we’re in a “mini-retirement,” and that probably means it’s about time to transition into the next phase of re-embracing adulthood. We’re looking forward to the challenges ahead as we look for work, wrestle with this crazy Dutch language and embrace everything dutch as we find our place in our new community. The adventure has scarcely begun.
~ Erica ~ Brian ~ nougat