Chris Kirk lived in the Netherlands for two years and studied Dutch with TaalNetwerk.
Things I wish I'd known sooner about the Netherlands15 January 2014, by Chris Kirk
Living in the Netherlands for any significant period gives you a real taste of the culture of the country. I spent two years in the Netherlands before moving back to Scotland and it was an experience that was both enjoyable and enriching.
Being an expat in the Netherlands is something I’d recommend to anybody, although there are some things I would have dedicated more time to sooner if I had my time again.
Below are some things you should keep in mind if you’re planning on living in the Netherlands as an expat. If you make the most out of these you can be sure you will enjoy a full and rich experience in your new home country.
Learning the language will improve your experience more than any other skill. Yes, you will find many Dutch people speak excellent English, but to immerse yourself in the culture, being able to use their language too is a boon.
I took language courses here and really enjoyed the whole experience. It enriched my enjoyment of the Netherlands, as I was able to get stuck in with an intensive course to get me started, but then follow up with weekly lessons to keep on top of what I had learnt.
As well as developing a skill I could use throughout my time in the Netherlands, I made some great friends with whom I’m still in regular contact.
Experience Dutch food
You’re missing out if you don’t at least sample some examples of Dutch cuisine. It’s very easy to stick to "safe" food like pizza and burgers, but try some classic Dutch food whilst you can. It took cooking them myself for me to realise the potential of the cuisine.
I bought a Dutch cookbook and gave traditional dishes a go. Soon I was enjoying erwtensoep (pea soup), poffertjes (puff pancakes) and andijviestamppot (potato mash with endive lettuce). I’d definitely advise you avoid the dubbelzoute drop (double salted liquorice) though!
If you’re too busy to shop for food, then consider ordering groceries online through Albert online or even order hot food direct to your door with Thuisbezorgd.
To make the most out of your Dutch expat experience you need to get to know people. It’s hard to make friends in many countries: just like Brits, the Dutch keep themselves to themselves.
One great way of getting to know people, though, is by joining a sports club or getting involved with volunteer work (see below). I also recommend getting in touch with expat social clubs that organise events too.
Volunteering in the Netherlands
As well as the chance to meet new people, volunteer work can make your experience in the Netherlands especially memorable.
Photo by Flickr user 6x9=42
You can make a real difference to a local community, experience things you’ve never done before and it’s not always necessary that you speak Dutch to get involved.
I suggest you visit Den Haag Cares where you’ll find hourly and daily voluntary jobs advertised for a range of different organisations.
The first thing you should do when you arrive in the Netherlands is buy a bike and the necessary locks to keep it safe. Without the right security you could be as unlucky as me - I had three bikes stolen in just two years.
The Netherlands has great public transport connections, like much of Europe, and you can benefit from great prices by investing in a rail discount card via NS.
With just 40 euros a month (for example) you can travel on all trains completely free during the weekends and with a 40 per cent discount during daluren (off peak) hours, which in the Netherlands are between 9am and 4pm, and 6.30pm and 6am, Mondays to Fridays.
The Netherlands is a fantastic place to be an expat. I enjoyed my time there thoroughly and if I were to do it again, I’d ensure I ticked off all the boxes on this list as soon as possible to get the most from my experience.
Chris Kirk is a software developer who lived in the Netherlands for two years. He studied Dutch with TaalNetwerk, who offer courses in more than 10 languages in The Hague! For more information, please comment below or visit their website.