From outsider to team player: My Dutch integration through handball
When my husband and I moved to the Netherlands, I found myself enveloped in an unfamiliar symphony of life. Between motherhood, changing careers and settling into our half-finished house, I felt like an outsider, distant and disconnected from my community, feeling foreign even to myself.
Where it all started
It was during a gloomy afternoon that I reflected on the memories of my youth and recalled the sunlit handball courts in Portugal. My teenage years were spent around “The Handball Life”, forming friendships which have lasted to this day and working with mentors and coaches who left a big mark on who I was back then and even who I am now. I then asked myself: Could handball bridge my past and my present here in the Netherlands?
Joining a Dutch handball team
After discovering a handball team near me, my initial contact was with Marion Meijer-Janson. She recalls, "Carla found my email address on the HVZaanstreek website. She played handball in Portugal when she was younger and wanted to pick it back up, partially for the social aspects.”
But life was busy at the time and it took me almost 18 months to reach out again. This time, circumstances were different. My kids were a bit older and life was more stable.
Becoming a part of a Dutch team
Stepping onto the Dutch handball court for the first time, a flurry of emotions overwhelmed me. I keenly introduced myself, attempting to bond with my new teammates.
Though my Dutch was broken and conversations sometimes turned into hilarious guessing games, their warmth and patience were palpable. One memorable evening, we played "30 Seconds." With the ticking clock, I found myself gesticulating wildly, drawing out laughs and creating shared memories despite the language gap. I felt an immediate sense of bonding.
At first, it was the subtle nods of support from individual players on the pitch that boosted my confidence. As time passed and my skills honed, that encouragement transformed into collective team cheers. The euphoria of feeling integral on the field soon permeated off the court, making me feel more connected and integrated in this new chapter of my life.
Sports are a great way to integrate
For any expat navigating the challenges of integration, local sports clubs can be transformative. They offer not just physical activity, but also connections and a community. As Marion summed up, "Communication is everything."
The Handball Life
I’m still playing handball with this team and I intend to continue even when my life gets chaotic. Recently, I managed to convince the goalkeeper from my former youth team in Portugal, who happens to also live here in the Netherlands and who is my oldest friend, to join us. When we exchange a pass on the handball court, for a moment we are 14 again and navigating our teenage years together in the Portuguese summer.