We are soon approaching our 5 months mark here in Maastricht. For me, time seems to have slowed down this month, and I feel the recent days passing in small increments. This isn’t always a bad thing. Usually the holidays are so frenzied and somewhat stressful with endless to-do lists and events for the boys. But, the slow down combined with some feelings of isolation (I’ll explain later), dreary weather (to be fair…it is very Dutch weather and we knew it was coming), and the holidays making us miss some of the comforts of being with all our family, have certainly created some tough moments…mostly for me, and those who have to deal with me.
Don’t mistake this post as complaining, of which, of course, I’ve done my fair share. But I am just being real that sometimes things get a little hard. And eventually, they get better too. It has happened each time I’ve left the country for more than a few weeks. In the beginning, everything is exciting, there’s so much new to see and do, meeting so many new people, planning fun trips – it is overwhelming in the best way.
When I lived in Santiago, Chile, my “moment” came my first weekend with my host family, so pretty early on. It was my very first experience abroad, and my Spanish was crap. My host family spoke very little English. And if you know anything about Chilean Spanish, it is fast, has a lot of slang, and Chileans “eat their “’s’,” making it basically impossible for me to follow what was being said at the dinner table. Those first days moved so slowly. I felt very lonely and I thought I’d never make it the entire semester. In hindsight, it was the best thing to ever happen. I was so uncomfortable, would sit at meals with my little index cards with vocabulary words trying to string together sentences, and, before I knew it, I was understanding and speaking Spanish fairly fluently, especially by the time I left.
In Mexico, my “moment” came when I was starting grad school. I’d been in the country for over a month, starting out in a city further south in a language school to brush up on my Spanish skills, then moving north to the big city of Monterrey. The Spanish in Monterrey was completely different to me from the Spanish of Cuernavaca where I’d been staying. To top it off, my classes, like Statistics were originally supposed to be taught in English, but they changed the program and most would be taught in Spanish. That first day in Statistics I was pretty sure I’d ruined my academic career, that I’d never learn a thing, and I wanted to go home badly. To this day I always say my Spanish improved more than my business knowledge, but I still came out with a degree!
I share all this because it is a normal phase of expat life, for the shine of the new to tarnish a little. Our first months here were super fun, busy, travel and activity filled – everything was exciting. Fast forward to now settling in and finding a routine (because kids are in school, so we do have to have some semblance of routine here); the Dutch have enacted partial city closures (from 5pm to 5am) through the first part of January, so any evening plans are limited to our house or Melissa’s; we had an outbreak of Covid at the school, sending our kids into quarantine and bringing back sooooo many memories of 2020 in the USA; and just recently we had to cancel a trip to see American friends in Hamburg because of Germany’s restrictions on travelers from the Netherlands. It’s a perfect storm for me to be all in my feelings.
Luckily, I’m eventually able to see the bright spots even when I’m frustrated (and sometimes more frustrated at myself for having the big feelings). Despite the restrictions and feelings of isolation (no one from the boys’ school has been hanging out because we’re all trying to avoid the ‘VID) here’s some things making us (me) happy and helping to embrace our decision to be here:
- Frequent family dinners at our house with Melissa and, when we’re lucky, Flo. The boys ask to see Meli almost daily and she takes such an interest in their lives, their hobbies, friends, their games, etc. Lately we’ve also been sneaking in some Christmas movies with her after dinner.
- Christmas movies (thank you Netflix, Apple TV, Disney +, and Amazon TV for some random but decent movie selections available in Europe!)
- Finding travel work arounds. We still want to be careful, but we also want a change of scenery from time to time. Josh and I both got our vaccine booster shots in Aachen, Germany (don’t get me started on the Dutch’s painfully slow rollout of booster and children’s vaccines), and we test the boys twice a week with at-home kits to try to stay on top of things. Since Germany required the kids to quarantine for 5 days upon arrival for our planned trip to Hamburg, we scratched that plan and will head to Valencia, Spain to see some of our long time friends who moved there in the fall of 2020. Valencia will be a little warmer, too, which will be nice! Stay tuned for that trip update!
- Learning Dutch! Through Melissa, we have been put in touch with an excellent Dutch language teacher, Martina (Keep in Dutch). We meet weekly via Zoom, have homework, and it has been so much fun. I’m not claiming I’ll be anywhere near fluent when we leave, but I can pick up more and more when we hear/see Dutch and I am starting to trust myself to speak it in public a bit more.
- Having fun celebrating Sinterklaas and mixing it with our own Christmas traditions. I’ll write more on that later!
- I actually don’t mind the cold and even the misty rain as much anymore. The wind I could do without. But some days it is just fresh cold air and it helps you feel alive on a bike ride or long walk around the city.
- Prospects of trips in 2022. I would say we are cautiously optimistic for our ski trip planned in late February. The rest of our trips are just circulating on our radar. We may be spending more of our time in the Netherlands to avoid further restrictions, and I’m not upset about that. There’s so much we’ve yet to see and do here, like staying in a castle!
- Still getting to know people. We have some neighbors from Austria who have been super welcoming. Inviting us over for coffee and giving us some travel advice. They’ve brought over homemade treats with their 4 year old daughter and are just so lovely. We hope to get to know them more after the next few months. I also recently met a new instagram friend from the UK who recently moved to Maastricht. I know that sounds super sketchy to meet after connecting on insta..but it actually wasn’t at all! Her British humor, hilarious storytelling, and love of coffee, wine, and travel are signs we should hang out more.
- Our kids are healthy and (currently) still able to attend school, though we are all looking forward to the 3 week break that starts this weekend!
- Josh and I are still able to train. Thankfully coach Anne keeps us engaged in moving/challenging our bodies. And beyond helping us work off any stress eating, it is always helpful for our mental game. We’ve also recently signed up for the Utrecht Half Marathon in April (eek!)….so now there’s a goal to keep us moving.
- Lunch dates. If Josh and I can’t go out at night, we might as well have some day dates! There are so many cute restaurants in Maastricht. About once a week or so we make an effort to try a new one. Even though they require Covid vaccine proof (even for outside seating), they still have to close at 5pm. Hopefully we are doing a small part in helping them stay in business!
See? That’s a lot of silver linings. 🙂 More to come soon on Sinkerklaas celebrations, Christmas Markets, Valencia travel, cycling in Maastricht, and whatever else comes to me over Christmas cocktails concocted by Josh. ’Tis the season, y’all!