Unemployed expat for love's sake

Back in America, before I became an expat, I was a lot of things. A dependable friend, a vegan cook, a high school teacher, a member of the arts and crafts community, a writer. All of those identities converged to make me who I am... or rather, who I was.

When I moved to the Netherlands

Since moving to the Netherlands I have been learning how to find my new identity. I know the experience of becoming an expat is different for every person, but for me it has come in waves.

The first few weeks were like a vacation, the ones after that were filled with homesickness, but I now seem to be moving into a more stable place of my own.

The biggest challenge I face in trying to feel more like myself is accepting the role of "unemployed partner" to my partner Thomas. My work was such an incredible part of my identity in America that I felt empty without it, which had me headed straight for depression.

So, often I think people, particularly Americans who often work year-round without much vacation time, become their work and cannot disconnect from it. This time as an unemployed person has given me a chance to find out who I am underneath the teacher and writer hats.

Sure, there are times when I feel overwhelmed by the fact that I am not "doing" anything.

Waiting for a residency permit is like waiting for a pot to boil - the more you think about it, the longer it takes. When I am in my Dutch class introducing myself and I explain that I am waiting for a residency permit and the teacher asks in that endearing Dutch accent "So you are a housewife, eh?"

When people ask what I have been doing and laugh assuming the answer is nothing. Those moments are frustrating, but I consider them all part of the process - like an expat hazing.

Take advantage of your time

I am trying to embrace the time I do have and take advantage of it. I have been writing a great deal more than I used to.

I have been trying out new recipes - the ones I avoided before because they took entirely too long to prepare on a weeknight. I have been exploring my new home and trying to bike with no hands like a real Dutchie. I have been studying Dutch, of course.

And I have been reading up on journal articles and other education literature to keep me up-to-date in my profession. I have even been working a little on freelance projects with clients back in the states. And before I realise it, I am busy again.

Embrace your funemployment

When you go to a different country, as Bill Bryson so hilariously explained it, you are like an infant that has to point and cry to get his point across. I have taken that metaphor and extended it to my life as an expat. It is like I have been born into a new existence and, like a child, it takes time for me to grow up and understand it.

So embrace your funemployment while it lasts and use this time to explore or network into your way into a new career. Unearth those hobbies you had shoved away for a time when you had more time. Learn the language. Find a cause and dedicate some volunteer time.

And do not be ashamed of your new role, whether it is temporary or more permanent. It is who you are right now!

Mary Worrell


Mary Worrell

Mary Worrell is a teacher and writer from Virginia living in The Netherlands. When she\'s not discussing symbolism in The Great Gatsby with her students, she writes and edits professionally...

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