One of the reasons that I became an expat was because, and I understand that I am not alone in this kind of yearning, I wanted to look around a backyard that was not my own by birthright, and get better acquainted with the unfamiliar. Although daunting, this type of adventure can be both rewarding and revealing.
I chose to move to Gouda after a short stint in Singapore. When we returned from Asia to the Netherlands, I desired to live someplace beautiful, central and fairly inexpensive. I find it somewhat ironic that I have bought a house in a city which has a bit of an "outsider" reputation in the Netherlands.
The significant Protestant Church features the magnificent "Catholic windows," and historically speaking, Gouda has straddled a few political and cultural fences with whiffs of stubbornness, tolerance, isolation, and abandonment.
But all this wasn’t clear to me in the beginning. After a few months and living just a few blocks away, I finally stumbled into the St. Janskerk one summer afternoon, and took a look at the famous stained glass windows.
Gazing in astonishment at the incredible colours of the scenes, I thought for a moment that I’d somehow landed in Italy. How could it be that these windows are still hanging in the church?
I set out to discover why and ended up writing a book...
Recently, on a trip to Haarlem, I took note of the church (very few stained glass windows remaining), the fish market (not situated in such a lovely spot as Gouda’s), the Halle (well, it’s now a museum and is, I admit, more impressive than Gouda’s Halle under the Gothic City Hall), and the Waag (not as historically important a piece of architecture as Gouda’s).
Nowadays I inspect these buildings carefully when I visit other Dutch cities. Because of what I know about Gouda, I have a better understanding of the parallels to be seen in other places in Holland.
The language barriers, the cultural barriers, the why be an expat in Holland? What is there to discover that is not just travelling around "blindly being there?"
In truth, an awful lot of time we spend as expats consists of not being included in our environment with the understanding that we aren’t really anywhere, or in a kind of nowhere or communication limbo-land. But when seized, it’s a wonderful opportunity to break through the barriers, discover your own backyard and become a keen observer armed with a wider perspective.