The expat series: from Johannesburg to Delft

This week I feature Jacqueline Wilmot, who I connected with on Instagram, and who introduced me to the cutest baby plants at Plnts, where I frequently find myself.

Here she talks about settling in Delft, and what a typical day involves.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m 35 and wAge, where about do you live? I am 35 years old, born and raised in Joburg and now living in Delft, which is a medium-sized city located between Rotterdam and The Hague.

When did you emigrate? Who did you come with?

I emigrated 18 months ago with my husband and two daughters who were four years old and nearly two years old at the time. My parents followed shortly afterwards.

Why did you choose The Netherlands and Delft?

I was born to a Dutch father and as a result had a Dutch passport, which I was thankfully able to pass on to my children when they were born. As a result, it was easy enough for the three of us to walk into the EU as citizens.

We discovered (through a random post on a South African expat group on Facebook) that my husband also had the right to residency in the Netherlands as the parent of EU children. After a bit of research and hours fighting with Home Affairs for various documents, we had what we needed and could apply for jobs.

My brother had also been living in Rotterdam for a few years already, which meant that we had some support ready and waiting for us here. My husband soon landed a job with an engineering firm near Rotterdam.

Although neither of us had ever even visited the Netherlands, we had decided that we wanted to live somewhere completely unlike what we were used to, preferably not in a big city and close enough to Rotterdam. A quick search later and we were already in love with Delft! It also happened to have an International School, which was important to me as I am a teacher.

What was the most challenging part of your relocation?

As previously mentioned, we required various unabridged documents from Home Affairs. The process of gathering the necessary paperwork was stressful, especially since my husband had by then accepted a job and the whole thing had become a little time-sensitive. It was a challenge, but we at no point felt that it was impossible.

What was it like being in lockdown here?

Honestly? It was kind of great in some ways! Knowing that the government making choices for you is actually pretty well-informed and more than likely doing things to benefit you and the community at large, was a new and welcome change to us! We felt safe.

Although the pandemic has been treated very seriously here, the Dutch government also allow their citizens the freedom to make informed choices and called this an “intelligent lockdown”. The stores remained mostly open, public parks etc remained accessible and people were not asked to stop exercising or getting outdoors. On a few occasions the authorities have had to shut beaches down or break up larger gatherings, but for the most part people seem to make responsible choices.

At home, we got to slow down as a family and spend more time together. My husband has been allowed to work from home indefinitely which has been great for us.

What have been your most useful resources here?

Does Google Translate count?

Initially the Facebook Group “South Africans in The Netherlands” proved invaluable and is, in so many ways, the reason we are here. Once settled I found the “Delft Mamas” group online and this offered me the opportunity to meet other expat moms and explore the local kid-friendly cafes, parks and entertainment.

Describe a typical day

During the school term, we get ourselves ready for the day, hop on our bicycles and cycle the 2km along the canal to the school my daughters attend and where I teach. It takes us around 15 minutes, with the six-year-old on her own bike and the three-year old in a child seat on the back of my bike.

Weekends are a little more interesting though! On a Saturday morning we cycle into town, which is around a kilometre from our home, for a coffee and croissant from a small French patisserie. My girls sip on oat milk babychinos and nibble fresh bread with jam while we people-watch from the terrace, which sits in the shadow of De Oude Kerk, a gothic style church founded in 1246. The constant chime of churchebells has become a sort of soundtrack for our lives here.

From there we usually take a stroll around the corner to the local market where I buy our fresh fruit, veg and flowers for the week. Afternoons are either spent exploring the countryside and nearby woods, or taking a train into either Rotterdam or The Hague to see family or to shop.

Of course this plan varies here and there depending on how heavy the (nearly constant) rain is!

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

Woolies! I would trade our market-shopping for Sandton Woolies in a heartbeat! No, seriously – I miss the South African landscape and the warmth of people. The Netherlands is very…flat. I miss mountains and hills. I miss the bush so much it hurts.

What has been the most difficult/challenging thing to adjust to?

We have chosen (for a number of reasons) not to buy a car just yet. Having to cycle sick kids to the GP, or cycle to work/school in the pelting rain is not great and has been quite an adjustment!

What do you love most about The Netherlands?

Freedom. I didn’t realise just how little I actually had in Joburg. A month after we arrived in Delft, I walked into town after dark to meet another mom for a drink. I realised then that I had never walked alone in the dark anywhere before. The cheese, coffee and picturesque canals are also kind of wonderful!

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

To stock up on Bovril! It costs a near fortune at the expat stores!

What are your new favourite foods?

Beef croquette with mustard is all kinds of wonderful!

How would you describe your bike-riding skills?

When we arrived here I hadn’t sat on a bicycle for well over 20 years. I can now transport a weeks-worth of fresh produce, a large bunch of flowers, a loaf of good bread and a three-year-old, all while checking on messages and remembering to use hand signals. Pretty good I guess?

Do you know Dutch, or are you going to start?

I now know enough to place an order in a cafe and shop in the market but i really do need to take a course!

Describe the Dutch in three words… 

THEY. ARE. CATS. Can I elaborate? They are a little cool and aloof, fiercely independent, they drink enormous volumes of milk, eat fish raw from the head up (herring) and are happiest basking in any amount of sunshine on offer.

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

Tackle the tasks of emigration as small chunks and don’t allow yourself to be overwhelmed by the amount of work to be done. It is all very possible and totally worth it! 

Would you like to be featured in the expat series? If so, please email me, and tell me a bit about yourself. 

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