Dana is a Romanian, living in Amsterdam since 2010. She’s passionate about the city and everything it has to offer. On her blog, she shares her discoveries, experiences and thoughts with everyone who’s interested in Amsterdam, the Netherlands or travel in general.
There is a Romanian expression: “Cu fundul în două luntri“, which means ‘sitting with your bum in two boats’, or in other words not being able to make up your mind about something. For the title of this article I decided to use “feet” instead of more interesting body parts though (also, because I remembered this saying wrongly, and only after researching it on the Internet I recalled the correct version).
Imagine trying to maintain your balance while having each of your feet in a different boat — when the water is still, that might work, but when the waves come… well, good luck to you! This is how I feel at the moment about my life here, in the Netherlands: me, a Romanian who didn’t have a burning desire to live abroad, but ended up doing so nonetheless.
I think I am bipolar when it comes to my expat life. I love it one day and hate it the next. During the eight years I’ve been living away from my home country, I went through all sorts of phases of adaptation to the new life — as many expats (or immigrants, or whatever you want to call them) do.
It’s just that not everybody has a diligent shrink in their head, invariably doing her job, asking ‘how does that make you feel’ and giving meaning to every action. I said before that it’s a blessing and a curse to live in another country than your native one. Some days I go with the blessings, other days I go with the curse. This article is more about the cursed aspects of my expat life.
‘Do you feel at home here?’, people would ask me even after one year of living in Amsterdam. And my answer would vary, year after year, season after season.
Yes, I do feel at home sometimes, when I ride my bicycle along the cute streets and canals, inhaling the fresh air of the morning or in the evening, my purse in the basket, going about my business in the city where I managed to create a new life. But other times I feel so distanced from it, so out of place here, where everything is familiar now but still so strange in certain ways.
Sometimes I feel weighed down by too many feelings: the difficulty of expressing myself in a different language (being frustrated when I don’t think I managed that or when I make mistakes); the cultural differences; constantly missing people from what I call now ‘my previous life‘, the annoyance of having to deal with yet another ‘innocent’ joke about Romanians; the dullness of explaining why I grew up without certain toys or TV programmes (well, d’uh, I grew up in a communist country in the 1980s), the feeling of being an exotic specimen for some, and so on and so forth.
There are days when all this seems a bit much for me and I wish to just move back to my native country and make my life less complicated. I know not every expat struggles so much with it, but I also know there are many who do.
Many of you reading this, Romanians or not, will totally feel what I’m talking about, while others will just consider me a cry baby and will tell me to toughen up or do more efforts to integrate. But that’s exactly what this is about: I am tired of the permanent effort (visible or not). I miss my life from before Amsterdam, not lacking in struggles and effort, but lacking these particular ones.
The problem is, my feet are in two boats now and me jumping to one of them won’t make everything better. Putting both my feet in the Netherlands boat is impossible, because of my Romanian roots, while jumping back to the Romanian one after eight years of living abroad will require a different kind of integration and other roots left behind, missing other people.
There is no win-win option and I am so annoyed with it today. I might be thrilled about it tomorrow, thinking about how my life was so enriched by this experience, about how many things I’ve learned and how many interesting people I got to meet. I might even be grateful for it. But today I second-guess my life choices.
Is there a point I’m trying to make with this article? I don’t know. I think it’s just me feeling the need to muse about the subject, trying to put my thoughts into order. What is there to do about the two boats? I don’t know. Does anyone know? If I’ll figure it out, I’ll let you know. Until then, I can only hope for calm waters.
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