We have just passed the two month mark here in Maastricht. What have we been up to? We’ve done a good bit of travel (see the Travel section!) as well as a lot of hanging out together in our home here over the last two months. We’ve also started trying to integrate ourselves a bit better into the community. We want to know more people- families at the school as well as Dutch families who are living here. Here’s some of the things we’re doing to put ourselves out there. I should say, it isn’t always easy. It feels a bit vulnerable even. But, I feel like it will matter in the long run when we look back on this experience.
As a side note I recently read How To Be A Family by Dan Kois (thanks Jill for that recommendation!). In 2017 Dan took his family on a year long adventure, staying in 4 different places (each for 3 months). Similarly, he and his wife were itching to get out of their routine/bubble/everyday life and experience a bit more of the world, ideally growing together as a family. Anyways, I mention this because he took his family to Delft for their second city of this adventure. As much as they wanted to make Dutch friends, they had a very difficult time. Expat friends are easier to make, according to Kois, because expats, especially newer ones, are always looking to grow their community and make friends. Expats, at least the ones we’ve met, remember the feeling of being new and generally are happy to help you navigate the challenges of moving to a new international city. The Dutch on the other hand, have a great society, with possibly the happiest kids in the world (book I’m currently reading). While they Dutch aren’t unfriendly, Kois says, they aren’t out of their way friendly, maybe because they don’t need outside influence? One difference between the Kois family experience and ours is that they were in the northern part of NL and we are in the most southern part and, similar to where we are from back in the US, the south is a little more open and friendly. Also different, is that we have Melissa and Flo who have spent almost two decades living in the Netherlands and have been able to introduce us to both Dutch and other international families. Now…if we can just get ourselves into some Dutch classes…
How we’re making friends:
School Friends. We joined the school parent groups. There are broad level parent support groups. There are grade level groups. There are parent cycling and running groups. Even a cooking group. We’ve joined them all. We use What’s App mostly to connect everyone, but also sometimes Facebook groups. Someone posts a group playdate or propose a time for pumpkin carving? We sign up. Back home I’d say we are 50% on these sorts of school parent things. We have our “crew,” we often feel annoyed with all the “asks” of the school, but I will say, having parents who have been here a year or more take the time to meet with us either over coffee or going for a run or whatever…it makes a huge difference and I think I’ll bring that understanding back home with me.
Our first school friend here, Amy, was critical in easing my anxiety over starting school, where to get certain supplies, how to find sports teams, how to communicate with other parents, etc. She, her husband, and 3 kids are American, in their 3rd year living in Maastricht, and she was the first to respond to my post (asking for anyone to be our friend) in a fb group for school parents. We sat for probably 3 hours at a cafe with a playground and she gave us the scoop on it all. I don’t know what we would have done without her guidance before school started, but we would have been a lot more lost, that’s for sure.
We’ve met families from all over the place already. Netherlands, Japan, Spain, Korea, Singapore, India, Zimbabwe, South Africa, England, and of course the US just to name a few. There’s a NATO base close to Maastricht and many of the American families at our school have parents working for NATO. I enjoy hearing everyone’s story of how/why they are here and how much travel they’ve done with their families. Our move here pales in comparison!
The Sports. Our boys have joined a baseball team… sort of. They have a couple more “free” practices to decide if they want to join. Many of the kids are from Belgium or the Netherlands and the coach speaks in Dutch mainly. Someone usually translates for the boys or the coach will repeat in English the important instructions. I think there are many moments where they don’t fully understand what is happening, and to get to baseball is a solid 25 min bike ride (uphill/both ways/not yet in the snow), but it ends with some fun baseball tag game that they seem to love so they are happy to go back each week. I hope they join the team because selfishly I like to watch baseball. AND it will be cool to see them overcome the challenge of a mostly Dutch language setting.
We are also trying to do some things with the running community. Caleb participated in a kids race that our Dutch friend Lonneke told us about. The adult portion was a bit larger, but the kids run was pretty small and intimate (and super cute). Caleb had only gone on one run with me prior to this since the move but some how rocked this 2k like he’d been prepping for months!
Being Neighborly. I wrote letters to our closest neighbors. I wanted to just ring doorbells and introduce ourselves , but I tried a couple of times and people weren’t home. Our schedules are just different. So…I wrote notes to about a dozen neighbors saying who we were, where we lived, where we came from, and gave them my phone number and put the notes in their mail slot of their front door if they didn’t answer the doorbell. I’ve heard from a handful already and it is so nice! I kind of want to throw a little party in our tiny backyard. But now the weather is starting to go to shit so who knows…At any rate, it feels good to have neighbors who we hope to get to know. Back home, our street was (is) tight. They are the neighbors you can text for missing ingredients and also neighbors you can show up to at odd hours and ask for huge favors. Also the neighbors that didn’t balk at a 4pm happy hour on the cul de sac on a random afternoon. I miss them terribly.
Also, I should note, I’ve received messages from 4 neighbors at the time of this writing saying hello and that we should meet for coffee some time soon. A 5th neighbor is a house full of German students who were super polite, love to throw small parties with 90’s American music playing, but who probably will only be here 4 months.
Our besties. Melissa and Flo are very much still aiding in this transition. They have a network of friends they’ve started introducing us to and we’ve been invited to dinners, pickup basketball, workouts, and playdates with them and their families. For Josh and I, this has been really nice and was a big part of us feeling welcomed when we arrived.
Other things we should start doing:
- Learning Dutch. We hope to start Dutch lessons soon. DuoLingo is helpful, but I think I need an actual teacher. I know we will not be completely fluent, but I like to think improving on this and making this effort will go a long way with some of our new Dutch acquaintances. Plus, it shows the kids we are trying to learn too….I’ll let you know how it goes!
- Community Engagement. Finding more community events to take part in. There have been a few river cleanups but we keep missing them! I think as we get closer to the holidays there will be more events going on in the city. In non-Covid times there are more concerts etc, but I’m hoping some of the events will come back in a safe way so we can still experience them.
- Do you have any other ideas? We are all ears!
We have another 10 or so months to go. In some ways this time is flying by and in other ways, the pace feels nice and slow. I hope we will be able to look back and know we took as much advantage as we could of being here.