It’s once again that time of year- the anniversary of our move to The Netherlands. Now that we have completed four years (1 more than the original plan included), we have been looking back on those years and assessing what they have meant and where we are now.
The past four years have held a lot of ups and downs. The initial decision to move and our first months in the country were overwhelming and fraught with doubts about whether it was a good decision or whether we had damaged our children (at least, I worried about that). As we hit the seventh or eighth month mark, we had found our groove and were starting to enjoy our new surroundings and friends. We experienced the difficulty of having friends move away at the end of year one which made us once again feel isolated and down, but we rebounded with fun travel and experiences in our second year until everything came to a screeching halt with Covid. Actually, the first bout of Covid closures really didn’t get us too down. We maintained contact with some friends through online forums, and we enjoyed some really fabulous nature walks around our area and some great family time while exploring some creative ventures. The third year was much more difficult as Covid took a harder toll and left us feeling more isolated and disappointed that we were losing time of our short-term experience here. In addition, that third year left us having to make difficult decisions again about whether to extend our stay or return to the US. Once again, we felt weighted with the question of whether we were making the right decisions. It was an emotional time as we let go of our house in the US and opened ourselves to complete and utter uncertainty about what happens after our time in The Netherlands ends (for a planner, having no idea what the future looks like is sheer terror and chaos). Our fourth year has brought more calm. Although there have been many of the normal growing pains of a family with teenagers, most of us have been enjoying ourselves again this year. We have still had some concerns about whether the decision to enroll the children in such a small school was a good one, but we also have a lot of pluses about the small school experience leading us to believe that at some point we just have to accept that the situation is what it is and focus on the positive aspects (easier said than done at times). This year we were able to socialize a lot more and travel again which has been of huge importance to us (in fact, it was one of the factors in deciding to move in the first place). We feel like we are once again being able to take advantage of living here.
As to myself personally, this year I have been a little more active in my volunteerism. I ran two clubs for secondary students at the school which proved to be both rewarding and frustrating at times. In addition, I have served on several committees at the school which has allowed me to help shape the school’s future direction. Probably my most entertaining volunteer area this year was overseeing a Dutch conversation group for parents at the school It has been a lot of fun to get together every week to socialize in Dutch (though we did cheat some and use English a bit).
Overall, I believe that this year, we all felt good about our decision to be in Europe for longer than originally intended. The children enjoy the opportunities that they have to know others from all over the world, travel, and have a global perspective. We all love the chance to explore different areas of the world and experience new things. In addition, we really enjoy spending time with the friends we have made here.
But life is life no matter where you are, and there are still struggles and uncertainties. We are entering new territory this year as our oldest will begin the IB program at school. We have heard so frequently about how intense and time-consuming it is, that we have some definite fears and concerns, but we are also looking forward to seeing how it will challenge her. Big life decisions are on the horizon which is already beginning to induce some anxiety. Not having a clear picture of what happens in two more years is frightening and overwhelming, but being okay with that and living with it is one thing that this whole experience has helped me be able to do. The unknown aside, we are determined to keep making the most of things here in year five.
So…that leaves a revisit of last year’s goals. Drumroll, please…..
- Continue to progress with Dutch, Portuguese, and piano.
Okay, Portuguese had to go by the wayside. It was becoming too difficult to learn two languages at once. Considering that the Dutch will help me most in the here and now, I stuck with that one and am happy to report that I have improved considerably. I can read a lot now and can understand much more in conversation (though it is still a struggle to understand the native Dutch speakers at times as they speak fast). I try to speak some, but the fear of being wrong holds me back-something I need to work on. Piano is going okay and I have improved, but a recent hiatus has slowed me down so I need to get back to regular practice.
- Get back to a consistent workout plan to lose some extra weight and get in shape.
I wish I could say that this worked. I was consistent in a plan for a while, but I would still like to do better.
- Read at least 1 book a month.
I did it! There were a few times that I wasn’t sure I would make it, but I did. I even got two read during one of the months. It was actually nice to get back to reading consistently.
- Travel and visit a few more places in the Netherlands that we want to see (for goodness sake Covid, give a girl a break!)
I am so happy to report that this finally happened. We went to several of the places in The Netherlands- at this point, we have almost completed the list of items to see/do here that I made a couple of months after arriving four years ago. In addition, we got to take the trips that we had to cancel when Covid hit- Italy, Ireland, and Greece. We even got to add a few others-Poland, Kenya, and Brasil.
- Take more bike trips
I am still really hoping to do a bike trip to the beach this summer, but as of right now, nothing more than our normal biking has taken place. After a recent bike accident, we probably need to get the bikes checked before attempting a long trip so maybe later this summer or in very early fall before the weather turns on us.
So, any goals for this year?
- You should know by now that travel is always on my goal list. We have 5 proposed trips this year, and I really hope we get to take all of them. In addition, we are hoping to add in a couple of quick weekend getaways. Fingers crossed!
- Have at least one conversation in Dutch in which I don’t sound like a two-year-old.
- I have really got to get back in shape this year.
- I would like to complete the list of places to see in The Netherlands that I created when we first moved here (with the help of a guidebook written by a long-time expat).
- I would like to complete 6 bike route trips that I researched a couple of years ago.
So, at the close of year 4, we feel pretty good about this journey and what we have gained. Hope to keep seeing you all here as we move full steam ahead into year 5!