My life as an expat in Amsterdam, between culture shock and slow living

Although nothing predestined her there, Fanny decided two and a half years ago to abandon her life in France and settle in the Netherlands. She discovered a new language and a new culture, love, friendships, work… she tells us about her life as an expatriate in Amsterdam, among the joys and hardships of everyday life.

I grew up in Loiret, France. I did all my studies in the same city and didn’t travel much when I was younger. My parents weren’t big travellers, we stayed in France for holidays. Yet I have always wanted to go abroad. I don’t know how to explain it, but it has always been a very present desire, ever since I was little. I remember reading travel blogs, I even asked my parents to take a family trip around the world.

When I was a student, the opportunity to do Erasmus arose, but I didn’t take it. I think I wanted to but I was scared, I was in a relationship and I didn’t necessarily see myself leaving everything behind to move away from home. So I stayed in my little town in France.

I graduated in 2020, during Covid. Then I had the idea of ​​going abroad after the Master’s degree, but obviously, due to the pandemic, the borders were closed. For several months, after graduation, I didn’t look for work in France, I didn’t want to give up the idea of ​​going to work abroad. So I had a first experience in January 2021 as an au pair. I found a family in Austria who needed a French woman for two months, to look after the children and help around the house. I didn’t hesitate, I told myself “leave, it’s your only option” because we were still in the Covid period. In the end, I really enjoyed the experience. Not necessarily as an au pair, but because I was immersed in another country, discovering a different culture.

When I returned to France, I had only one desire: to go abroad again. I’m young, I don’t have a job, I have a diploma, whether it’s now or never. So I looked at my options: where I could go, what would be easiest for me to start with. I wanted a European country, where English was spoken. I already spoke English but I was far from being bilingual and from a country that could appeal to me in terms of lifestyle.

I came across the Netherlands, even though I had never set foot there. But I told myself I might like it. I started researching the country, Amsterdam, its capital. I discovered that it was a very international city, with a fairly young population, who spoke English very well, who cycled a lot…

Read also: Typology of anxieties of a future expatriate

The great departure into the unknown and the installation

I decided very quickly: in June 2021 I arrived with my two suitcases at Amsterdam Central Station. I had no accommodation, no job, I didn’t know anyone. I discovered everything there.

To help me, I joined Facebook groups of French people living in Amsterdam a few months before leaving. I had posted a message there saying I was looking for shared accommodation – rents are quite high in Amsterdam. A girl replied to me and, by a stroke of luck, she offered to visit me in a free room within an hour of my arrival in Amsterdam. We hit it off right away and I was able to move in with a roommate immediately. I realize how lucky I was.

I lived the first few weeks in Holland living off my savings, I took the opportunity to visit the country. And at the beginning of the school year I applied for several jobs, including a company in Amsterdam that hired me. I worked there for a year and a half as marketing manager for the French market. It was really great, I was able to develop my English skills enormously. But in recent months I have felt the desire to start my own small business growing within me. I ended up resigning in June 2023 and launched in the fall. I felt it was the right time: I’m young, I don’t have children. Today I no longer live in a shared apartment but with my partner, who is Dutch. Our rent isn’t very high, I have some savings… I really had all the indicators in green. Since autumn I have been working as a freelancer in communication and digital marketing for the French. This specificity allows me to maintain a connection with my country of origin.

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France and the Netherlands, a culture shock

However, even though I am enjoying it to the fullest today, I also had to face some difficulties. When you move to another country, everything isn’t always rosy. At first the administration gave me a lot of problems. I found myself having to manage many situations alone, without references or anyone to help me. It was a real challenge to pick up the phone and have to explain that I didn’t speak Dutch (yet).

Even with my roommate it wasn’t always easy. We lived together for a year and a half and towards the end our relationship deteriorated a bit. After arguing with her about the rent, I found myself alone with my problems in this country that isn’t mine, with my family a thousand kilometers away. There were times when I found myself crying in my bed, wondering what I was doing there, why I had forced myself to go so far.

Living in the Netherlands was also a real culture shock. We don’t find the same products in the shops as in France. I had to adapt a lot. For example, lunch here consists of a slice of bread with cheese, there is no hot dish. Here everything is different: opening a bank account, paying taxes… And of course everything is written in Dutch. This sometimes creates loneliness, even if I am well surrounded.

Read also: Understanding ordinary racism in six lessons

Expatriation, a true human experience

However, I don’t regret moving to the Netherlands for a single moment. Life is sweeter here than in France. I don’t need a car to get around, I have a bicycle, like most people. Amsterdam is certainly a capital but on a human scale. I never feel overwhelmed there like I do when I’m in Paris. And at the same time everything is accessible: I can return to France in less than three hours by train.

I also like the fact that it is a very international city. I have met friends and colleagues from all over the world: from India, from Spain, from England, from the United States, from Honduras… It’s really fantastic, all these meetings open our minds. In general, Amsterdam is a very open and tolerant city, I feel really safe there. When I go out in the evening I am not afraid, even if I am alone on public transport or on a bicycle.

What struck me here too were the differences in the professional world. In France I have always found that relationships are very vertical with the hierarchy, that everything is very rigid, which doesn’t really allow for dialogue. Here it is customary to speak informally with your employer, you don’t shake hands, everything is more informal. In the Netherlands it is much easier to get a promotion. They don’t expect us to have ten years of experience and two master’s degrees to give us the job. You just need to prove yourself, achieve good results, so that people quickly trust us. It is really very appreciable.

On the other hand, in the private sphere, the Dutch are welcoming… but not too welcoming. I find the French to be a little warmer. The Dutch like to plan their evenings, nothing is decided at the last moment, which can cause some misunderstandings when you are not used to it… Nothing is really spontaneous here, which sometimes makes it a bit difficult to make decisions friends. I am lucky enough to have a Dutch friend, who integrated me into his group of friends and made me familiar with their customs. But unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. Here the locals hang out together and the expats too.

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My life now is in Amsterdam

For the moment I absolutely cannot imagine returning to France. Obviously I don’t know what tomorrow will bring but for now I imagine my life here. Despite the administrative difficulties and the language barrier, I have a real quality of life here that I won’t find in France. Plus I have a partner here now, and although he wouldn’t mind living in France, I wouldn’t. I am very happy to return home, to my family, to see my loved ones again, but this is enough for me.

If you are tempted by an experience abroad, I recommend you try it, even just for a few months or during your studies. It’s really culturally enriching and you learn a lot about yourself… It’s by going to Amsterdam that I now feel close to my country, I also have a deeper relationship with my parents, my brother and my sister. We call each other every day, even just for ten minutes, whereas when I was in France it wasn’t like that.

Being abroad also allowed me to realize how lucky we are to live in France. I’m not saying it’s the best country in the world, far from it, but there are also many positive things: social protection, education… I love my country even more since I came here. And you don’t have to risk speaking badly of France in front of me! It is a very beautiful country, it will always be mine, even if I no longer live there.

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