Dana Marin is from Romania and has been writing about her life here since she arrived in the Netherlands. In this entry from her Amsterdamian blog, Dana writes about six years of living in the Dutch capital.
It’s been six years since I left my home country, Romania, on a very early and foggy morning, with a big suitcase and a small cat, and a crazy heart mixed with joy, hope, and worry.
It was a December day that happened to be my official moving day to the Netherlands, although my significant other had moved here a few months before and I had visited him a few times during that period, and all the papers I needed for my stay had been issued in November.
Travelling with a cat was a stressful business but worrying about the cat, however, proved to be a welcome distraction from all the other thoughts I had in mind: leaving behind a quarter of my life, my family and friends, the start of a good career, a country whose language I knew and loved. All this to move to an almost unknown country, where I knew only one person (a very important one, nonetheless), where I didn’t speak the language and I needed a residence permit.
The unknown was full of promise, as new beginnings usually are, with so many possibilities to be explored and possible futures at hand. One of my biggest wishes was to live a more bohemian life, and by that I meant not work like crazy, doing overtime every day of the week.
Instead, I would dream and live more and find a job which I liked and that would made me happy. My first months in Amsterdam were very positive ones. I didn’t have a job and suddenly I woke up to a lot of free time. I was happily exploring the city, even if it was during the cold months, taking pictures, enjoying its beauty.
No concrete plans
I didn’t know, back then, how long I would stay. I had no concrete plans, I was going to let life do its thing. And here I am, six years later, in the same country, the same city. How did things turn out? Well, a lot changed in these years. My life changed, I changed, probably much more than I would have if I’d stayed in Romania. People often say to me, ‘If you’ve stayed here for six years, you must like it!’. It’s not that simple. Or maybe it is. I’m still in love with Amsterdam, even if there have been moments of doubt in these years. I guess it’s like any relationship, you can’t be happy all the time.
I would like to say I feel at home now in Amsterdam, and that would be very true. But — and there is a but — life as an expat does something weird to you. It makes you feel at home in all the places you’ve lived, but at the same time feel like you no longer belong anywhere.
After six years, I am still a stranger in this country, but I’ve become a stranger in my home country as well. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time, to have more than one ‘home’. I feel blessed to have friends in two parts of the world — not too far from each other but so different in so many ways — , to have my favourite foods in both countries, my favourite places and words.
I feel cursed in the moments when I feel alienated, or when I can’t be next to my family and friends for the most important moments of their lives. But I guess these are things that give my life more meaning, makes it more interesting, and that’s why I don’t regret the path I’ve chosen. A boring life is what scares me the most.
Some days I feel so connected to this city that I think I must have lived here in a previous life, reclaiming land from the sea or wearing clogs. On other days I just wish I was back where I’m not asked how long I’ve been living there and how do I like it. A land where I dream, think and speak in the same language and I understand every word of it, where the smells are so familiar that can take me back to my early childhood.
I had to adapt to this country. To learn its customs, songs, smells – and the process was a fun one! I still can’t understand or relate to some cultural aspects under any circumstances, but that’s the case in my home country as well.
For some people it’s hard to find a culturally perfect match, I guess, and that’s OK. I feel the need to also point out that Amsterdam is quite different from the rest of the country, and I don’t know if I would’ve had the same pleasant experience if I had lived somewhere outside this very international and expat oriented Amsterdam!
I had to learn to deal with the very capricious weather, two seasons in one day, the less warm summers and the winters. Oh, the winters! They should give a mandatory course to all the people moving to the Netherlands: How to survive the Dutch winter.
Taking vitamin D supplements was never something I had to think about before moving here. How to deal with the grey, dark winter days is a thing I’ve learned the hard way. The Dutch winters may not be very cold, but they can be very mean. I’ve also learned here how to fully enjoy each moment of sun like there is no tomorrow. When it’s sunny, you drop everything and enjoy the sun. That is a must.
I’ve struggled with homesickness and I still do, some days. This will probably never stop. But if I moved back to Romania tomorrow, I’ll be homesick for the Netherlands. I have learnt to accept it and live with it. Luckily I’m not very far, the plane ride is about three hours and there is Skype to the rescue, and cheap European mobile fares.
I’ve met so many great people here, I think this is what I cherish the most. All the new friends, all the great moments we’ve had and still have together. I’ve rediscovered myself, I allowed myself to be more creative. You could say that I didn’t need to move countries for that, but maybe I did. Maybe this was the right place for me to be inspired, to grow in the direction I did.
The symbol of Amsterdam, the one that sticks in my mind from my first visit here, is still the same: a woman and her daughter on their way back from kindergarten, jumping and singing together on a path made of bouncy, wooden planks that covered work done being on the road. They looked so happy and relaxed, and I said to myself that that’s how I want to live my life. And that is what I’m trying to do.
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Read the full version of this entry and more from Dana Marin on Amsterdamian.com.