Repat voices: Bianca van Berkel on moving from the US to Haarlem
Having recently repatriated to the Netherlands from the US with her American husband, Bianca van Berkel sees the Netherlands with fresh eyes and shares her comparisons between Dutch and American life.
Name: Bianca van Berkel
Nationality: Dutch (repatriate from the US)
City of residence: Haarlem
Date of birth: 14 January 1969
Civil status: married
Occupation: health management specialist
Reason for moving to the Netherlands: I have lived in the USA for 5 years in Atlanta and Minneapolis. I was running my own business there. My husband is American and we decided to move back to the Netherlands with our children for family reasons.
Lived in the Netherlands: One year
What was your first impression of the Netherlands?
It was mixed. I had forgotten how many bikes there were. I still don't like the mostly rainy and unpredictable Dutch weather. It is hard to know what to wear or plan. I didn't feel at home right away. I remembered why we left the Netherlands in the first place.
But also I was happy to be with my family again and giving my parents the opportunity to be closer to their grand children.
What do you think of the food?
I love the large variety of bread and cheese. Also the wine is much cheaper.
I cherish the multi cultural kitchen and being able to eat food from whatever country I wish.
What do you think of the shopping in the Netherlands?
I miss the huge malls in the USA, but like the international and artistic shops in the Netherlands.
What do you appreciate about living in the Netherlands?
I appreciate having a larger social life with more open conversations about anything. And also that it is safer for me and my children.
What do you find most frustrating about living in the Netherlands?
What I find frustrating is the bureaucratic slow system, the controlling police state, the negative conservative attitude and way of thinking, the mediocrity in diverse art forms.
What puzzles you about the Netherlands and what do you miss since you've moved here?
It puzzles me that so many people don't appreciate what they have. But that is not really something that only Dutch people do.
I miss the space of the homes in the USA and also the real nature and more consistent weather.
Most American people believe in God or a higher power and they share that openly. This makes people stronger and they have faith that things will get better.
Most Dutch people don't believe, which I believe makes them lonely and lost. Instead of looking inside and ask God, they search and go after other alternatives.
How does the quality of life in the Netherlands compare to the quality of life in other countries that you've lived in?
I believe that in West-Africa as well as in Cuba, the quality of life is so much richer. Even though the people do not have much material wealth, they are rich in being a family and expressing their emotions with art. They share so much more than in the industrial continents.
In the USA I love the attitude of hope and a positive and supporting attitude and mindset to new ideas.
But there is also a horrible separation of rich and poor people.
I'm very happy with the safe environment in the Netherlands. I can send my children out to play outside by themselves and I don't have to worry. They and we have our freedom back in that way compared to living in the USA. And off course the financial safety net and the health insurance is more satisfying in the Netherlands.
If you could change anything about the Netherlands, what would it be?
I would change that the people think bigger, believe in themselves and are less selfish and negative.
There are some unspoken rules in the Netherlands, like: "Seeing is believing", "Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg." Which can be translated in something like: "Just act normal, that's crazy enough". You'd better not stand out in the crowd.
I would change also that Dutch people would say more ‘and' instead of ‘but' to a new idea. They have to be more supportive rather than destructive to one and another.
Racism is a real issue. There has to be more tolerance for foreigners (especially people of colour). And people have to be seen and accepted as equals. Only in that way we can cooperate and join our strengths and even learn from each other.
What advice would you give to a newcomer?
Stay positive and true to yourself and your beliefs. Find a group of like-minded people (of your culture or country). There are many expat and international groups in the Netherlands. Don't let the transition stress you out.
And otherwise; let me personally guide you. You're not alone. You do not need to struggle; there are many people - and one of them is me - that can help you and have been there where you are.
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