A year ago today I landed in Amsterdam to begin a new life here. It seems like an appropriate time to reflect on the year and my experiences in this strange new land.
Before I moved over to Amsterdam I thought that the expat experience would provide a lot of inspiration for my blog, but that hasn’t really been the case. Partly because of the demands of a job and trying to learn Dutch, but also because I’m not really interested in writing about expat life. I could have written blog posts about clogs and cheese, about stroopwafels and the strange national holiday that is Sinter Klaas. I could probably have found something to say about windmills (and possibly still might!) and bicycles (well, I do love cycling). But in truth, these are not the means through which I have come to establish roots here, through which I have begun to feel at home and a part of this country.
Instead, I have walked and explored my way into the place, though I realise there is still a long way to go. I feel a part of a literary tradition in England, I am familiar with the literature of the landscape and I’m aware of the works of others that have shaped my concept of beauty. Not so in the Netherlands. Perhaps the polders full of cows are beautiful, perhaps I haven’t read or walked myself into this landscape completely yet. Perhaps four years won’t be enough time.
I also haven’t blogged about being an expat in Amsterdam because I don’t really feel like an expat here. Perhaps because Amsterdam is so full of other people just like me, who have left their own country to live here, mostly for jobs or to study, some because they felt drawn here. This was never a place I felt drawn to, I’d never even visited before I moved over. I can’t even claim it was love at first sight. There were many long months of homesickness, times when I despaired of ever finding a job or feeling settled. But as spring came around, as the days got longer and we started to explore (and I started a new job) – I started to fall in love. And that’s probably how it should be. I’ve never really believed in love at first sight anyway, but rather, it is something that takes shape over time.
This weekend my mum came to visit and once again I got to see the city through fresh eyes. I felt proud as I showed my mum around my neighbourhood and through the quaint canal lined streets of the city centre. This is my city – and what a beautiful place it is. How gezellig.
Looking back at a year is supposed to be an opportunity to summarise and make pithy remarks, but I honestly can’t. The year has flown by and yet a year is a long time, time enough to experience the whole spectrum of grief and love. A year is a messy, complicated thing too. I feel as though I should be able to look back and say this has been an amazing year, a fantastic, wonderful year. But I feel that such statements would paint a false picture. Whilst I am very happy now and I love my new home, that wasn’t necessarily the case at first and there are still times when I see a picture of home or I think about my family and friends and I feel suddenly homesick. Perhaps no amount of time can ever erase that.