Citytalk #12: "Expats Rule!"

Citytalk is Sebastiaan Capel's fairly new initiative that aims at collecting "Ideas for Amsterdam."

Citytalk / Stadsgesprek

The main discussion topic of Citytalk #12 (Stadsgesprek #12) was expatriates' experiences of and ideas for Amsterdam and participants with different nationalities, backgrounds and areas of interest attended:
› Greg Shapiro | stand-up comedian and presenter
› Louisa Wright | Htel serviced apartments
› Nikos Nakos |
 Allison and Sean Cody | Joy Ride Tours
 Fraser Warren | DesignBridge

Welcome to Amsterdam
Amsterdam is proud to be considered as a "welcome" city for people and companies from all over the world. But how do expats themselves perceive this?

Fraser Warren is enthusiastic: "It was easier than when I came from Scotland to England."

The Expatcenter gets good reviews as well, though Louisa Wright has noticed that the central IND office in Rijswijk can work faster: "We work with the Expatcenter in The Hague as well, and it is better. Here ... the decision-making is non-transparent."

Sean notes that the city can do more to get expats (more) involved: "The city did nothing; it was me banging down the door. There are many expats that want to do things, want to get involved ... they are high skilled people doing nothing."

Expats' partners have limited opportunities to work in Amsterdam too. For example, Scot's wife became really frustrated when she could not find a way in to start a business.

Greg Shapiro perceives this as an opportunity for Amsterdam: "Many expats are entrepreneurial, they want to start something. Make that easier! For instance, work with the Chamber of Commerce."

Louisa adds: "There are many expats who come here to start a new life; starting a new business can be a part of that."

Kids, Families & Local connections

I will always remember what an expat told me once: "The partner can make or break the stay of an expat." Indeed, that is something that all participants agreed on.

Language is an important factor if we want expat children to feel like home. "The best thing for kids would be to go to a school and learn Dutch. Their parents will follow too. And through their school contacts, expats can really join the Dutch society," Allison stated.

All participants see people coming here to stay, which makes integrating even more important, and the issue of education (for international children) should be a major point for Amsterdam's officials. Kids cannot go to a local school, because of the waiting lists and due to the fact that the fees for international schools are too high. Thus, families will not (easily) join the local community.

The connection between expats and the local community is something to be worked on. Nikos Nakos sees a fully-functioning environment for expats in Amsterdam, an "expat ecosystem" where there is almost no contact between expats and locals.

Sean calls it "two Venn-diagrams with a sliver of overlap" and thinks it is a pity, both for expats and locals.

Is Amsterdam a city of tolerance?

Amsterdam is a strong brand abroad. That is why so many people want to visit, stay for a while or even reside permanently. But is our image still as good and strong as it used to be?

Fraser Warren kicks off the discussion: "The Amsterdam brand is tarnished; it really needs a buff and shine!"

Nikos Nakos mentions the restrictions he sees around him: "These make the subculture impossible. In Berlin there are far more opportunities; here in Amsterdam they are slowly vanishing. The sub-culture is what makes Amsterdam cool! The coffee shops are a major part of the image of Amsterdam, even if you are a non-smoker. It stands for something expats are attracted by."

Greg Shapiro points to the bad publicity Amsterdam gets and how easily bad news may spread: "Internet changes everything; every page on the net is read by so many people and everything may become a real story no matter how exaggerated. Non-stories disappear quickly here in Holland, but they get picked up online and by US media. Take the ban on coffeeshops or integration and religion for example; these kind of news alters the image Americans have about Amsterdam."

These remarks are bad news for Amsterdam, because it becomes more and more important to attract creative and highly skilled professionals from abroad. These individuals add to the overall city atmosphere and (local) companies may follow the "talent" and create new ventures.

Sean Cody points to the difference between "classic" expats and "freemovers." The first are sent by enterprises and have everything arranged for them by their companies or relocation agencies. However, the second group have nothing arranged for them and just come to Amsterdam to see if they can find a job and rent a house. Especially the second group consists of creative, highly educated expats. The city should be aware of this difference and act accordingly.

Sean states: "The "classic" expat will probably still come, but Amsterdam can do more to attract freemovers and make them feel welcome. They are attracted by the culture and the arts, the liberal attitude and the nightlife. They have the freedom to get on, to do what they want ... that is why they come. Amsterdam must make sure these stay intact, otherwise such people may stay away."

Expat ecosystem in Amsterdam

All participants feel right at home in Amsterdam and even though they are all here to stay, they see - just like all Amsterdammers do - some problems in our city and state that these problems, especially those concerning atmosphere and tolerance, may shake Amsterdam's reputation as "the place to come to" for expats.

Nevertheless, all participants agree that an "expat ecosystem" in Amsterdam already exists; this is a good thing, but it would be much better if expats and Amsterdam's ecosystems could be mingle more.

The past few years I have put forward a number of proposals concerning expats, and I will continue to do so as a city councilor. I would also like to stress that all participants support the "Amsterdam House" (#AmsterdamHouse, Twitter), my vision of uniting the services of the Expatcenter, information on business and a meeting-place.

Participants (clockwise from top left):
 Nikos Nakos
 Sean Cody
 Greg Shapiro
 Louisa Wright
 Fraser Warren
 Allison Cody

Sebastiaan Capel


Sebastiaan Capel

Born and bred Amsterdammer, worked in various ways for and on the city, now city council member on economic affairs and housing, advocates more attention to expats, plays cricket

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