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The Netherlands: Learning Lessons

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The Netherlands: Learning Lessons

Nicole Emery


Oh how the picture above says it all!  My time in the Netherlands has given me plenty of opportunity to make mistakes on a rather large scale.  It has humbled, frustrated, saddened, and outraged me at times to be a beginner.  Other times it has made me grateful.  In those moments of gratefulness I've become an expert on my life lessons.

While reading the book Spirited, by Rebecca Rosen, it became clear that the only way to move on is to find the gifts in the struggle.  The Netherlands has been a constant struggle since getting here.  In order to move on from here physically it is equally important to move on emotionally.  My mission at the moment is to make peace with the whole experience by finding the gifts.

Below is a list of lessons learned, reflections, and gifts of the experience. 

Mistake #1: My heart wasn't into it from the start.
That is a true statement.  Sure I was intrigued with the challenge of living overseas.  I was lost after coming back from my trip in 2011.  Amsterdam seemed like a good idea to continue my quest for happiness.  My heart was somewhat open to that idea.  In the end Amsterdam never happened; Eindhoven did.  No heart energy was into Eindhoven.
The Gift: If your heart isn't into it from the beginning you will find a massive dead end.  There is no question of what a dead end looks and feels like.  Now I know the difference.

Mistake #2: I believed I would find my Soulmate here.
That is so far from the truth for so many reasons!  I've been searching for this guy for so long that I was willing to use this as an excuse to move.  The truth is he was no where to be seen.  Not even close.  Countless bad dates helped reveal this truth sooner than later.
The Gift:  I didn't settle!

Mistake #3: Buyer beware.
This was a tough one.  I signed an employment contract that basically sold my soul.  I assumed too many things, and didn't ask for a second opinion.  I rushed in thinking this was my only chance to make it happen.  Signing it has me on the bench for employment opportunities within the Netherlands for a year.  I did manage to get out of the bulk of the contract with a big fight.
The Gift: I went from being a $5 hooker to a high paid call girl!  I get to decide my destiny.  Period.

Mistake #4: Trusting people have your back - not everyone you meet has the same idea of friendship that you do.
This was one of the super ugly struggles here.  The environment I came from people looked out for you.  If you need help people would either be there to help, or follow up with you.  No one here had my back in anything I did.  This included inside and outside of work.  It put me in an extremely vulnerable mindset that was hard to move past.  It was debilitating at times.  How I have survived this six months is a mystery to me on many levels.
The Gift: If this six months didn't kill me, then I'm all the stronger for surviving it.

Mistake #5: Didn't learn the language before leaving.
This truly does make a difference in your quality of life.  It can mean the difference between feeling isolated to having a thriving day.  Even learning basic phrases makes a difference.  I also discovered in my job that not speaking Dutch is a way to exclude you in a mean way.  It happened several times. 
The Gift: I speak some Dutch.

Mistake #6: Didn't have my support team lined up ahead of time.
Nothing prepared me for the extreme loneliness that I experienced in the last six months.  Language barriers, being abandoned, scared to venture out on my own, not knowing where to turn... it all caused me to be in a state of panic.  This is not the way to navigate any situation.  Always go in with a support team.  This is for your well being and safety.
The Gift: Discovered I had a wonderful group of friends and family back home cheering me on with emails and phone calls.  They were there when my call for help went out.  Very blessed by that.

Mistake #7: Didn't do my research ahead of time.
There were several things I could have looked into before I left the US.  However, I didn't.  This caused me a lot of headaches for the long run.  This is right up there with learning the basics of a language.  Looking into tax laws, bus routes, expat centers, etc. are key to managing your adventure.
The Gift: Discovered how resourceful I am!

Mistake #8: When I couldn't connect with the Dutch I relied on the Ex-pat community.
This ended up being a very bad mistake for me.  What I didn't realize was it takes time to get to know the Dutch.  Because my loneliness kicked in badly I turned to the ex-pat community.  This particular group of people were like nothing I had ever met before.  This got me into a lot of trouble emotionally and compromised my safety one night.  Also, hanging out with a bunch of ex-pats all the time does prevent you from getting to know the real culture of where you are living.  It can be a double edge sword at times.
The Gift: I've lived to tell about it.

Mistake #9: Assumed the US standards of equality in the work place would be the same in the Netherlands.
Without going into details this was an incorrect assumption.  I experienced more acts of bullying than I ever did as a child in grade school (even then I was a fighter).  I have zero tolerance for bullying.  If it happens then I will fight back.  In the end the person attempting to bully me backs off because I'm too much effort to deal with.  I will not be pushed around.  Having to fight all the time takes away from the joyful things of the day.  Quite honestly it is exhausting.
The Gift: I'm made of steel and stand tall.  Proud of it too.

Mistake #10:  Not asking for help when I needed it.
So many times I would think I could figure things out in time.  The reality is I wasted so much time trying to do this.  Simple things like going to the grocery store was agony for the first six weeks here.  Once I asked a Dutch friend to take me on a tour of the grocery store to translate things life got a whole lot easier.  My usual Do-it-yourself style doesn't work here.
The Gift: Accepting help.

Mistake #11: Straddling two worlds.
Living out of a suitcase is hard.  Straddling two worlds is harder.  While I wanted to fully emerge myself into the culture of the Dutch I also wanted to connect with friends back home.  It was hard to be who I am where I was.  There were things sitting in my parents' basement that I wanted to take with me.  On the other hand if things didn't work out i didn't want to pack them all up to send back either.  Living in a splintered state of mind is hard.  Some people can do it.  I happen to not be one of them.
The Gift: I love having all of me present.

Mistake #12: Going in with blinders on.
My usual style is to make a choice, dive in 100% and see what the result is.  This has been a successful formula for years.  Decades even.  This time it didn't work.  Going in blind only made things worse for me.  Moving overseas is not to be taken lightly.  Do your research.  Make your connections ahead of time.  Ask questions!!
The Gift: I survived this bad mistake.

Mistake #13: A nearly 40 something mingling with 20 somethings.
I think this mistake speaks for itself.  The equation always ends in disaster.  At least it did for me.
The Gift: I know who I am.

Some of these mistakes were things that could have been prevented by doing some homework ahead of time.  The rest had to me learned first hand as the experiences unfolded. In some ways it felt like a design to see just how well I know myself, or was willing to get to know myself.  The experience has left me with a deep sense of compassion for two types of people: (1) the person who is willing to take on this type of risk, and (2) the person trying to recover from a negative situation.  Both take courage to face the dilemma at hand then finding your way through it.  Until I had my own experience of it I would have never known how to relate.

Most of all I've learned that respect comes from within.  If I can't respect my choices and actions, then how can I expect others to?  Sometimes my choices do not make sense to the outside world.  I have to be ok with that.  My life tends to be lived on the edges of most people's comfort zones, or beyond, and going where most won't go.  Most of the time I follow the call of Spirit.  Those moments can be scarey for me too.  This move to the Netherlands was not the call of Spirit.  It was a call from within for something different.  Even though none of this turned out the way I wanted it to I've done my part to follow the trail to completion.  Hopefully some of these life lessons have been put to rest.

This has certainly stretched my limits.  It has also taught me that Spirit does have my back.  I've managed to get out of, or through, some tough situations here in the Netherlands.  That was only possible by listening to my intuition.  "Bless your mess" as the saying goes.  A solution does exist after you recognize you are in a mess.

Let my struggles and reflections be a gift to you.  We don't have time to make all the mistakes out there.  Learning from others is a great way to keep you moving along your path.  Please learn from mine.