The Expatriate Archive Centre: a second home for expats
The Expatriate Archive Centre in The Hague has been collecting expat experiences from all over the world since 2006. In the last 18 months the collection has almost doubled.
“Look, this woman sent us a file in which she had saved all the letters she wrote during her time abroad.” Elske van Holk-Van Eysinga, who joined the centre as managing director one-and-a-half years ago, is pleasantly surprised by the woman’s willingness to share her experiences.
During its short existence the Expatriate Archive Centre has collected material from around 1000 expat families.
The archive started out as the ‘Outpost Family Archive’ of the oil company Royal Dutch Shell and became an independent foundation in 2008. Its objective is to collect and store the experiences of expats across the world.
“Not just Dutch expatriates,” says Ms Van Holk. “Eventually we want to become an international archive. I have never heard of any other archive which collects this material. I think that makes us unique.”
The collection is available for historical, behavioural and genealogical research. It is located in a property once owned by former Shell director Mark Moody Stuart, who donated the building to the foundation.
Elske works with three other part-time paid staff and around 10 volunteers. One of their tasks is to digitalise the collection.
“Our work includes scanning documents, doing online research, finding expats who keep blogs and managing social meeting points such as Facebook and Hyves. Sometimes expats keep personal blogs about their lives. We ask them if we can download their material for our archive.”
What is an expat?
“The definition we use is: someone who only intends to stay in another country temporarily. Once the expat decides to take up permanent residence, he or she becomes an immigrant in our eyes and from that moment their experiences are no longer relevant to us,” explains Ms Van Holk.
“But we are not just interested in personal stories from expatriates, we also want to collect the stories of others who are close to expats, for example the people they leave behind.”
The expat feeling
Expats sometimes lose contact with their compatriots back home. Elske thinks expats recognise what other expats are going through regardless of nationality. “The shared experience makes it easier to talk to other expats.”
“As an expat everything you do is temporary. The choices you make are seldom definitive. That can be good, but it also has a downside. This gives you the opportunity to try anything. But if you start seeing friendships as a temporary thing... how deep do those friendships become?”
“Someone once said to me: ‘Live like an expat who never leaves.’”
What do expats have in common?
What is the general feeling you get from the stories in the archive? “In spite of the fact that the expat community complain a lot, 95 percent of them wouldn’t miss the experience.”
”Funnily enough everyone clings to their own national identity. People celebrate their own festivals, go looking for food and sweets from their own country. You see that with all nationalities, so it is not typically Dutch.”
“But in the end, with the exception of a few because there are of course less positive sides, such as divorce and relationship difficulties, everyone says it was worth it!”
And that is the story they want to tell and share with other expats.
The Expatriate Archive Centre
2585 GN Den Haag
T +31 (0)70 427 2014
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