The expat series: From Johannesburg to Amstelveen, The Netherlands

I’m kicking off a new expat series, where I’ll be featuring (for now) South Africans who have immigrated to The Netherlands.

Ashley Da Silva moved to The Netherlands this year with her family, and here she shares some of her favourite foods, the difficulties, and advice to those emigrating.

How old are you and where do you live? 

I am 31 and live in Amstelveen.

When did you emigrate? 

I arrived in February 2020 with my husband (Alex), 15-month old son, Seth and my two rescue dogs Phoebe and Bowie.

 

What do you do here? (eg work)

I working remotely for a company back in SA – I am a marketing manager.

Why did you choose The Netherlands and Amstelveen?

Stroopwafels and tulips, just kidding although they are my favourites! We visited my best friend in NL in 2018 and just fell in love.

We loved the sense of adventure – you could put on your walking shoes and walk for hours, every block would have something new. The buildings were beautiful – the old ones in Amsterdam right through to the new-age looking ones in Rotterdam. We also loved the calmness of the canals surrounded by greenery.

I was pregnant at the time and all I kept thinking was this is where I wanted my son to grow up and this is the life I wanted for him.

That evening, while lying in a hotel room in Amsterdam I felt him kick for the first time and that’s when I decided – “One day, we will live here!”

My best friend lived in Utrecht so initially we were looking to move there but then my husband got a job in Amsterdam so we decided on Amstelveen as it was closer for him to commute but far enough from the hustle of Amsterdam city centre. We didn’t know much about Amstelveen until we arrived, but we absolutely love it!

What was the most challenging part of your relocation?

Leaving our loved ones behind. I know that sounds clichéd and obvious, but our son was only 15 months old when we left, and he had crept into so many hearts. Having to pull him away came with a lot of guilt!

In terms of the actual move, we  struggled to find a rental as we had no local track record, and two big dogs was a bit of a deal breaker for most landlords. We eventually found a place through an agent,  but had to put up a three-month deposit to seal the deal. At that point,  I am sure we would’ve donated our kidneys if it mean’t we could move out of the one-bedroom AirBnb that we had been occupying for a week already.

My suggestion for any new families would be to secure a rental upfront and if kids and pets are coming along, send someone over first to get everything furnished and set up… that first week was tough!

What was it like being in lockdown when you were so new to the country? 

We were probably the last to hear about the lockdown, the news was in Dutch so we never watched, we only found out because I received a letter from my son’s school the day before he was suppose to start 🙂

Needless to say, we didn’t have toilet paper for a week (don’t worry, we used tissues). At that stage I had already mastered working from home with a toddler so it was actually okay. Alex still had to go to work every day and we didn’t know anyone so it was easy to keep our distance. We were still allowed to go for walks which helped burn off energy and explore the new neighbourhood!

 

What have been the most useful resources to help you settle in?

My best friend was a big help in the planning stages but then she moved back to SA before we arrived (how rude! :)), she put me in touch with a few of her mom friends which helped. I joined a few groups on Facebook (South Africans in The Netherlands, South African moms in The Netherlands, South Africans emigrating with pets, Expats with dogs in Amsterdam, Expats in The Netherlands and my favourite, Grumpy expats (this is more for laughs then actual resource but shares a lot about the dutch culture)). The iamexpat.nl website has been a big help too.

 

Describe a typical day 

We all wake up around 06h30ish, get dressed and have breakfast. Alex takes the dogs out for the morning pee then cycles to work. I tidy up the kitchen while reading books and playing with Duplo blocks (life with a toddler) and then at about 07h40 I take Seth to school on my bike – he has a seat in the front with his own shield. I am back home by 08h00, I make my morning coffee and head to my office (I am fortunate enough to work from home so I have dubbed the room in the attic my office).

At around lunchtime I usually have lunch and then take the dogs out for a quick walk to do their business, which usually involves picking up warm poo with recyclable plastic bags while praying they don’t break. Then back to the office until 17h00, take the dogs out again for a quick pee, take them home and go fetch Seth.

Seth helps feed the dogs and then “helps” me cook while eating all the olives and cheese. Alex is home by 18h00, and then he takes Seth out for a walk or to a playground. We usually eat at around 18h40, then we clean up the kitchen, bath Seth and try put him to bed by 20h00. Then we shower and watch Netflix while stuffing our faces with ice cream, chocolate or stoopwafels.

Aside from people, what do you miss most about South Africa?

I miss knowing what I like and what I don’t like. A lot of the brands I used in SA aren’t available here, I miss having to just pick up a box of tampons, now I need to actually read the box and hope that I picked the right one! This goes across the board, tomato sauce, cake flour, soap, toilet paper etc, I just want to shop without using Google translate 🙂

What have been the most difficult/challenging things to adjust to?

I have two – customer service is non existent, and not knowing the language has been a biggie. I know most people say it’s not but it would have been so much easier to navigate through Covid if I was able to understand the news, understand the signs/restrictions in all the stores and be able to speak to someone over the phone. I also think it would be a lot easier to make new friends.

What do you love most about The Netherlands?

The adventure, you hop on your bike and just ride, there are so many hidden parks, canals, playgrounds and you always feel safe no matter where you end up. I also love that I can visit my family members and friends in Europe with a quick plane ride or a scenic car drive. I can’t wait to get travelling!

What is the one thing you wish someone would have told you before you emigrated?

Learn Dutch! Everyone kept saying that we’d get by with English and you do, I mean we experienced it the first time we visited but it’s not enough – in order to fully integrate you need to be able to speak Nederlands. A lot of jobs also require dutch fluency so you’re limiting yourself by not learning the language.

What are your new favourite foods here?

Stroopwafels, Tony Chocolonely (salted caramel) and poffertjies, I am yet to find savoury food that I like. It’s all a bit bland so far but to be fair we haven’t exactly been to a lot of restaurants and haven’t experienced a home-cooked Dutch meal.

How would you describe your bike-riding skills?

According to Dutch standards, a toddler who has just removed his training wheels 🙂 I haven’t fallen in over a month and managed 10km on Saturday, so a PRO by my standards 🙂

 

What do you love doing on weekends?

We are still a bit Covid-shy so we tend to keep to ourselves and prefer to cycle to new parks and playgrounds for picnics but we are looking forward visiting all the museums and getting to know all the little towns once Covid has eased up. We also clean for a couple of hours while Seth naps and get our weekly grocery shopping done.

Have you started learning Dutch, or are you going to start?

I have started with Duolingo but I am thinking of taking a course. It’s difficult to find the time with a toddler so I might opt for a course over the summer next year, it’s 5 days of intense learning rather then doing a couple of hours each week.

 

Describe the Dutch in five words…

Direct, punctual, sarcastic humour, laid-back and hard to read

 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to come and live in The Netherlands?

Practise riding your bike before you get here! 🙂 Be sure to have the right frame of mind – some days are going to be tough, and it won’t always be stroopwafels and tulips!

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Prev post: Another bike fall, a robotic mop, and doing the uncoolest thing ever to my son – settling into AmsterdamNext post: My 10 stages of emigration

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Comments

  • Jason Greer

    August 28, 2020 at 3:51 pm
    Reply

    Love this! Thanks for this new series, Tanya. Real stories - not just fairy tales :)

    • Tanya
      to Jason Greer

      August 31, 2020 at 1:59 pm
      Reply

      No fairtytales anywhere :) I'm loving reading them too.

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