Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Luana McLaren

Another newbie to expat life in the Netherlands, Luana is here all the way from Australia. They’re keeping their options open once her husband’s two-year contract is up: back to France, staying on in the Netherlands, or perhaps giving San Francisco a go. For now, though, she’s quite happy to be in the Netherlands. Now, if only the weather were a bit more agreeable! A knitter, a traveler, a Dutch student, and a blogger, you can read more about her adventures on her blog.

How long have you been living in the Netherlands and what brought you here?
I’ve only been living in the Netherlands for a little over two months but I’m thoroughly enjoying it so far. I love new adventures and after spending six months living in the south of France in 2007-2008, my husband and I decided we’d like to move overseas again after he finished his studies. I’m half Dutch (my father was born here, but lives in Australia) and have always had an interest in the culture. When my husband was offered a post-doc position in the Netherlands earlier this year, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for us to set off on a new exciting adventure while getting in touch with my roots.

Do you plan to stay in the Netherlands, move back to your home country, or try somewhere else?
At the moment, I have no concrete plans. My husband and I moved here on a two year contract but if we are still enjoying living here at the end of this time and there is work available, I see no reason why we wouldn’t stay for longer. I’d love to move back to France at some point in the future and we’ve both always wanted to try living in San Francisco, so who knows where we might end up! The hardest thing about staying here though is the distance from family and friends. Australia isn’t just a quick flight away – it’s a long (24 hour +), expensive trip to go home. So basically, we’re just taking life as it comes and enjoying the moment!

What do you do during the day (job, stay at home mom, entrepreneur, student, etc)?
I’m currently studying an intensive beginners Dutch language course through the local university. The classes are run over three half days per week, however with the amount of huiswerk and self study required, I’m finding that this is taking up a lot of my time. I’m still undecided about whether or not I will take the next level; I’m trying to get enough of a grasp of the language to be able to find a job. I’m really enjoying studying & the change in lifestyle – I have time to savour the small things in life, and do things I love such as cooking, baking, knitting, sewing and of course – riding my bike everywhere! I really love making ‘softies’ (handmade children’s toys) and had just started selling these before leaving Australia so I am hoping to get back into this before long.

What’s the most notable difference between your home country and the Netherlands?
The most notable difference would have to be the size of the country. I’ve heard Dutch people complain about how Holland is too small, too cramped etc, but to me – it’s wonderful! As people keep reminding me, Australia is a HUGe country. To get anywhere, you’ve either got to fly or drive great distances. Here, you can drive from north to south in a matter of hours instead of weeks! It makes most places easily accessible in a dar trip which I think is fantastic. And despite the size of the country, the scenery is quite varied, even if it’s rather flat!

Where is your favorite place to visit in the Netherlands?
I can’t say I have a favourite place, just yet. There are still so many more places that I want to explore before choosing a favourite! Although I’m slightly biased, I do really love Nijmegen and the surrounding area. I love that I can live in a beautiful city where there is decent shopping, restaurants, cinemas and things to do and yet is still so close to the countryside.

Give us one thing you love about the Netherlands and one thing you loathe…
I love… I love so many things about this country already! The first thing would have to be the people. On the whole, I’ve found Dutch people to be incredibly friendly, helpful, genuine, thoughtful and very welcoming. I could think of so many instances where the Dutch hospitality has really blown me away, even in the short time we’ve been here!

I also really love the preferred mode of transport. Bikes are such a fantastic way to get around town, the country is so well set up for cyclists and I love how it’s the norm to ride your bike everywhere. It’s good for you, it’s fun and it’s not impacting the environment: I LOVE it!

However, I loathe the weather. I’m slowly getting used to it and it’s bearable, but after coming from Queensland, Australia where the winters are very mild and there is an abundance of sunshine, I’m finding it quite a shock to still be rugged up in coats and scarves during spring! I’m not a huge fan of the rain and number of overcast days, but the glorious sunny days well and truly make up for it. I love how the town really comes alive when the sun is out – it seems like more people are out on their bikes or enjoying a beer on a sunny terrasje. Sunny days here are just SO beautiful!

What’s one thing you’ve had to adjust to since coming to the Netherlands and how did you adjust (or are you still working on it)?
I’ve really had to adjust to the differences in the supermarket. Although Australia doesn’t have large hypermarkets like in the USA, supermarkets here are still considerably smaller, even when visiting the ‘XL’ versions. I often find myself having to visit a number of supermarkets before I can find simple items. That being said, I really enjoy browsing through supermarkets in foreign countries and the array of food here that’s not available in Australia makes up for the things I miss!!! I’m also still adjusting to having to pack my own groceries at the checkout. I regularly find myself in line at the supermarket without a plastic bag handy and just stand there blankly, waiting for the checkout operator to pack my groceries for me!

Do you have an embarrassing moment since you’ve moved that you would like to share with us (an unfortunate language blunder, or a funny getting-back-on-the-bike story)?
Oh, there’s been a few embarrassing moments 🙂 Once I’ve been here for a bit longer and my red face begins to subside, I might find them a bit funnier 🙂 But for now, I try and share anything I’m not too embarrassed to admit on my blog http://la-petite-lulu.blogspot.com

What’s the best piece of advice you received that you would like to pass along to anyone coming to the Netherlands?
I would advise people to learn the basics of the language before arriving and do your research on the country. I moved here with less then eight weeks notice (compared to eight months notice when moving to France!) and with packing up our house, finishing my job and saying goodbye to friends & family, by the time we hopped on the plane to leave Australia I realised that I really had no clue about the Netherlands and arrived here with a vocabularly consisting only of a poorly pronounced Goedemorgen! Although people here do speak English, I think you get a much richer experience when you are able to speak at least the basics of the language. This is why I’m studying a language course even though it’s not required for my visa. I would also suggest doing your research on the country – finding out what is expected of you when you arrive in terms of necessary insurances, opening a bank account, renting a property, buying a car and so on: the basic things that you need to do shortly after arrival.

Do you have any blogs or websites that you would like to recommend?
Since arriving, I’ve found a lot of valuable information on http://www.expatica.com/nl/ . There are a number of blogs about life in Holland that I also enjoy reading on a daily basis, these include http://atouchofdutch.blogspot.com/ and of course the first expat blog I started reading, http://clogsandtulips.blogspot.com 🙂

Images courtesy of Luana McLaren

Interested in doing an interview of your own? Send me an email at clogsandtulipsblog@gmail.com with ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips’ in the subject line. I look forward to hearing from you!

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2 Replies to “Tiptoe Through the Tulips with Luana McLaren”

  1. I agree with Luana about the size of the country. It's great to be able to travel from one end to the other in a short amount of time… and I'm saying that as someone who's country is not really that much bigger.

  2. As a fellow Australian (from the other end of the country but), I hope you enjoy your time here and thanks for sharing your story!

    I agree with Luana's comments about learning the language — I was nearing the end of a Swedish A2-level course when I found out I was going to the Netherlands instead. If I'd gone to Sweden, I was already confident in my ability to go shopping and eat out, whereas having to wait six months after arriving to start a Dutch course put me on the back foot. On the other hand, there are limited opportunities to learn Dutch outside NL, especially in Melbourne. An intensive language/culture course when I arrived would have helped immensely a) with learning the language and b) by also meeting other newcomers.

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