This is a story that has never really been told here on my blog, and for some reason (perhaps that I’m entering a new chapter of my life, or maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic), I’d like to tell it. For those of you who don’t know, I lived in the Netherlands from May 2008 to August 2009. Just over a year. Gabriel had work over there, and since I had just graduated from university in Canada, and had planned to take a year off, it was serendipitous timing. A few weeks after finishing up my last exam, I packed up two suitcases and flew across the Atlantic. Initially we stayed in Hilversum, a smaller city south of Amsterdam, in the guest-house of the business he was working at. We commuted back and forth to Canada during that time, due to visa regulations. One month in Europe, one month in Canada. Just as I’d get used to the time-change and living situation in the Netherlands, we’d have to fly back. Then it became permanent, and we could stay in the Netherlands full-time. It was bliss. We rented a house right in Amsterdam, and Gabriel even bought a cute little Volkswagen Golf. We put down roots, purchased big things, and created a circle of friends there. We created a life there. During that time, we thought we would stay in the Netherlands forever. It’s the type of place we could envision living in. We loved the people, the culture, the lifestyle, the landscape. Of course we lived there long enough to recognize some of the downfalls as well, and it wasn’t always easy. There was culture-shock (for me), and brutal traffic (for him). There was the language barrier, and not knowing many people at first. But to us, the positives outweighed the negatives. I think we recognized how once-in-a-lifetime the opportunity was, and how fortunate we were to have it, so we really tried to embrace the culture and emphasize the good things.
During my time abroad, I had a Working Holiday Visa. It’s a program through the Canadian and Dutch governments that let me stay there, for a year, and work. I went through hoop-after-hoop to obtain it, and to keep a permit to live there. It was a logistical labyrinth, and Gabriel’s situation (as an employee of a Dutch company) was tedious to sort out as well. The Dutch love their rules, and bureaucracy was thick there.
Midway through my time there, I began thinking about my “next steps.” I wanted to go back to school, and I wanted to get into business. I began researching Dutch universities, and was accepted at the Nyenrode Business Universiteit and the Rotterdam School of Management. I met with alumni from both schools, visited the campuses, went to open-houses and welcome-days, and finally made my decision. I accepted an offer of admission at the Rotterdam School of Management in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I was going to do my Masters of Science in Management there, and was scheduled to start in September of 2009. During that time, I wrote a fair bit on my blog about my excitement, and the upcoming studies overseas that I would be taking. I was excited, but nervous as well. The commute to Rotterdam from our home in Amsterdam would take over an hour by tram/train/bus each day. Part of me thought I was crazy for wanting to do that each way, but the other side of me could not wait for the chance to stay in the Netherlands for another two years. Well, a few months later, I unexpectedly left to come back to Canada. Not many of my blogging friends knew why, and my close expat friends in the blogging community were shocked by the news. What happened involved difficulty with getting the necessary visas, along with some other logistical issues. In a span of two weeks, I had to apply to schools in Canada, or risk spending another year without employment or education. My Working Holiday Visa had run its course, so my only option was to move back to Canada (or enroll somewhere else in the Netherlands…but it was too late for that). It all happened so fast, and I was shell-shocked. Those of you who read this blog, know how much I loved living abroad. To leave so quickly, and to leave Gabriel there, was very difficult for me. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I remember sitting in Reykjavik, Iceland, alone, on a lay-over during my flight home. I was so unsure of what I was doing, and if I’d ever even see Gabriel or the Netherlands again. Half of my things were still there…my house was the way I’d left it. Gabriel would be living there, and the plan was for me to go back 8 months later, in the summer after my first year in Canada.
When I arrived home, too-tanned from a surprise trip to Spain, and too heartbroken to digest what was happening, I had to dive right into school. Leave it to me to fly home mere days before I was slated to start school, hoping to soak up whatever time I had left with Gabriel in Amsterdam. But then, I started school. I got busy. I wrote exams. I met new friends. Amsterdam slipped away. Bit by bit. It became a memory, a story. Nightly though, I would see Gabriel and our apartment via Skype. Part of me had one foot still on the winding staircase leading up to our apartment on Daniel Stalpertstraat. Months later, Gabriel and I met up in NYC and then South America. And then, miracle of miracles, he moved back to Toronto. And life became “normal” again, and our time abroad was just a chapter of our lives (an amazing, life-changing one at that).
Perhaps this blog, in some way, has allowed me to keep one foot in Amsterdam even after two years have passed. It has kept me connected to the part of me that was so incredibly happy, so incredibly content, and so incredibly satisfied. I knew that where I was was exactly where I was supposed to be. In retrospect, I see how things worked out. If I had gone to school in Rotterdam, Gabriel would’ve still had to leave the country due to visas, and I would be left there, alone, commuting 2 hours a day and somehow finding a way to live there. It worked out. I wish I would’ve known that then, but I guess that takes all the fun out of it, right? Not knowing what the next step is, is what makes life worth living. As soon as things become too bland and predictable, you have to shake it up. Or else, where’s the fun? Where’s the mystery, the surprise, the anticipation? I don’t know how the rest of this summer will turn out, or what’s in store for me next year. It’s scary, and after two years of relative predictability, it has shaken me a bit. But thinking back upon my 22-year-old self, flying home solo from Amsterdam in August of 2009, filled with sadness and fear, I realize now that everything will sort itself out. It always does.