It started with a girl...
My partner and I met in January of last year, on Tinder. Not much of a meet-cute, but it got the job done. She was in the final year of her bachelor’s degree at Cardiff University, and I had graduated the year before from the University of Southampton and was back living at home.
We were both in the same academic year but she had taken a very middle-class gap year, during which she had been a chalet host in the French Alps and volunteered in Central America, breaking rocks with a pickaxe and forging paths through the dense jungle forest with a machete, in order to build roads for a “sustainable tourism” development. She actually paid money to be part of what was, essentially, a chain-gang.
After a few more dates, we became what could be considered “a couple”, and soon after that she was accepted onto a two-year degree at Leiden University, whereas I was working in a dead-end job at a local cinema, cleaning spilt nacho cheese from under seats and sweeping-up a hydra-like supply of popcorn kernels from the deepest, darkest recesses of 300-seat auditoriums.
The mythical land "s-Gravenhage"
When August arrived it was time for her to jet-off on a budget airline flight to start her new life across the narrow sea, in a mythical land known as “’s-Gravenhage” (don’t worry, it’s not supposed to be pronounced), or, as it’s more commonly known: The Hague (there, that’s better)!
Initially, for the first two months, I would visit her every fortnight, catching the coach from London Victoria to The Hague, going through the Channel Tunnel, and stopping at Lille, Ghent, Antwerp, and Rotterdam along the way - a journey that would typically take 10 hours.
Sleep was a scarce commodity on that trip, primarily because of the capitalistically efficient lack of legroom to accommodate my 6’3” (about a 190,5cm, for all of you continental Europeans) frame, as well as the fact that the service seemingly doubled as a mobile sauna.
A couple of months passed but I was still no closer to beginning a meaningful career back at home and I felt as though life was quickly passing me by.
So, not having much to lose (apart from my pride), I decided that now was as good a time as any to take a chance and move to a foreign country with nothing but a pocketful of dreams. I moved at the beginning of November, soon after my 23rd birthday, both excited and anxious about starting a new proverbial chapter in my proverbial book in a literal foreign country (although the Dutch do have proverbs, I’m told).
Fresh off the boat
Job-hunting when you’re unemployed is always difficult, and this difficulty is exacerbated by being in a country in which you don’t speak the official language. Furthermore, what I’d seen online hadn’t filled me with optimism. As I’d expected, the vast majority of jobs stipulated Dutch as a prerequisite (which was usually just implicit by the simple fact of the ad being written in Dutch), but I was disconcerted by how few didn’t, considering the international nature of The Hague.
I’d been a job seeker in a sparse job-market before, so this was nothing new to me, but I’d never been under such a time-constraint to find employment. I had a limited amount of money on which to survive, and I had rent and bills to pay for at least the next year, so the wolf at the door was blowing quite hard - I was just hoping that I’d be able to move into a brick house before it was too late (both metaphorically and literally).
But it wasn’t just the lack of financial security that was difficult, it was the lack of meaning or structure to my day-to-day life. It felt like I’d moved countries, but the same problems had flown with me. I was young, skilled, qualified and eager to be put to use, but I didn’t have a job or any real social life to speak of, and, as a result, my self-esteem and sense of satisfaction with my life began to diminish.
I felt oddly embarrassed and incompetent and was angry at the world for not being fairer, and simultaneously angry at myself for not being more employable. The lack of any sort of consistent or deep social interaction was also difficult, particularly when contrasted with how thriving a social life my partner had, having made instantaneous friends through her degree.
For a while, I felt somewhat lost at sea, and admittedly quite depressed.
Finding my feet
After a while, however, things began to fall into place. Approximately a month following my move, I was fortunate enough to be offered a full-time position as a teaching assistant at a British junior school. I also joined a gym and started going most days, and my partner and I found a cosy (broom-cupboard-sized) newly-refurbished (Ikea show home) apartment to live in together, adjacent to such amenities as a scenic cemetery and a self-scan Albert Heijn (how convenient!).
Approximately eight months after making the move, I now have a stable job that allows me to be financially independent, and I’ve developed real friendships through work and through the gym, which has been huge for me, and though it was hard initially and occasionally seemed hopeless, things have worked out extremely well.
Moving to a new country and the overall experience that has come with it has been reinvigorating and has given me a confidence in my ability to adapt to new environments by pushing me out of my comfort zone and by giving me a tangible lesson in the benefit of taking opportunities when they arise.
Moving somewhere for your partner’s work or education can sometimes make you feel as though you’re living in their life, but carving out your own path and making the most of your situation is one of the most gratifying things that I have done, and I feel immensely thankful every day that I am where I am and doing what I’m doing. I certainly wouldn’t be writing this article for IamExpat had I stayed at home!
Did you move abroad for love? Let us know & leave a comment!