This month marks my 7th anniversary as an expat in the Netherlands. Ten years ago, I’d never have thought I’d move abroad for such a long time. And if I imagined it, it would certainly not have been Holland, a country I never even visited before I met a certain Dutch guy..
I was born and raised in the city of Zurich. From the moment we moved to a neighbourhood closer to the centre (which promised better schools), my life basically took place within the same safe radius of a few kilometres: my elementary school, my secondary school and finally my university all were located within a radius of 1 km. When I moved to live on my own, I was even closer to university and worked in the centre of what I believed to be the perfect city.
Zurich offers the beautiful lake of Zurich and river Limmat, where we used to spend our free hours in summer. If you want nature, you can find yourself in endless woods within no time. There’s also plenty of places to go out, and it has two big universities. Zurich offered me a student life that will always hold the dearest memories for me. At uni, people from all over Switzerland – cities and villages – and from abroaf came to study in Zurich, the city they had chosen to spend their twenties in (I’m from the pre-Bologna-reform-generation that spent the major part of their twenties getting their degree, sometimes more, sometimes less efficiently 😉).
While it was a choice and a conscious move for many of them, I just continued a life I had started at birth – the hospital where I was born was literally a 100 metres away from my university. But still, I didn’t feel the urge to change that. Sure, I loved to travel. Being half Peruvian, my mom and I spent five months in Lima when I was a baby, and we continued visiting her home country throughout my childhood and youth. I started to work in my teens and most of the money I earned was spent on traveling. I loved every minute abroad, my longest and most adventurous journey being eight weeks of backpacking through India. But I always loved to come home, too. Why leave a city that offered anything you need for a good, even a great life? A city many people want to move to and only few want to leave?
When I met my Dutch husband in 2007, I had never visited Holland. Not even Amsterdam, one of the favorite city trip destinations of many of my fellow students (one of the reasons being that they legally sold neatly rolled joints in cosy coffee shops while you could only get weed using secret code words in some undercover shops in Zurich). But even after falling in love with a foreigner who lived in another country than my own, I was not thinking of moving straight away.
It was my Erasmus semester in London in 2008 that changed that. Moving and living abroad, even for half a year, was scary, exciting, exhausting and extremely enlightening. I left my safe haven where I knew every corner and could rely on a solid network of family, friends and colleagues. I had to start at zero to make new friends, create a social life and find a job. It’s not my nature to be super outgoing and socialize with everyone. Living in a city where I didn’t know a soul had a positive impact on that. You learn to be whatever you need in order to get out of your shabby tiny student room and create a fun life and make the most of your semester abroad.
London was also full of expats who inspired me to think of a more permanent life in another country as an adventure I needed to experience. Living abroad was the normal status of so many of the people I met. That influenced me greatly. Moving abroad, and in my case Holland was an obvious (first) choice, was not scary or crazy. It was the most logical thing a young person with a multicultural background and ambitions to work in an international environment should do. If I failed to be happy outside of my hometown, it would still look good on my CV.. After all, any life and work experience abroad was highly recommended by anyone within the field of HR and recruitment I had ever spoken to. And so there it was, the argument I needed – in addition to having fallen for a Dutch guy of course – to move to the Netherlands and start a an expat life.
And here I am, many years later. No regrets, just countless precious experiences so far 😊