You move to a new country; you have lots of new opportunities ahead of you so what could go wrong, right? Even though beginning to a new life in a new country is an exciting experience, it can be a genuine challenge at the same time. Don’t worry, feeling anxiety and stress while adjusting to a new country is very common among expats. You may feel isolated, confused, and frustrated after moving. These symptoms all refer to one thing: Culture Shock. Culture shock typically occurs in four stages: honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation. We will go through these stages together to better understand your experience as an expat.
After moving to the Netherlands, you may experience the honeymoon stage. You will wander off the streets watching landscapes, buy your first bike (which will probably get stolen in no time), and meet new people. In this stage, you might find yourself praising the Netherlands’ charming canals to your family and friends back at home.
As you settle into your new life and do not feel excitement about a boat tour through the canals, you may enter the negotiation stage. It is possible to experience feelings of frustration, confusion, and homesickness. You may miss speaking in your native language, having a tasty local dinner with your loved ones. You may struggle to follow the Dutch social norms as well. For instance, you might find the Dutch directness somewhat confronting, and you may find it boring to plan a coffee date 6 months ahead of time.
During this stage, you might also face challenges related to bureaucracy, such as obtaining a residence permit, or registering at the municipality. These experiences can make you feel alienated and make you question if moving was a right decision.
With time and effort, you’ll begin to feel more comfortable in your new environment. After establishing your routines in your new home and have some close friends, your homesickness will gradually subside. You may even like the cultural differences you hated some time ago and incorporate them into your life.
If you make it to this stage, congrats! You have a solid social circle, both with locals and other expats. You have become familiar with the Dutch language and customs and even packed a sandwich for lunch (who could guess?).
Tips for Managing Culture Shock in the Netherlands
Learn the Language: One of the most difficult things while living in a new country is not understanding a word you are hearing. Even though most of Dutch people can speak English fluently, they speak Dutch in their daily lives. You can enroll in a language course so you can also make friends while learning Dutch. Misery loves company, right? If you don’t have the time, or you are just an introvert, you can get private tutoring or use language learning apps.
Connect with Other Expats: There are lots of expat groups in the Netherlands. There is probably one group in your city as well. You can search it through search engines or social media websites and attend to one of their events. Getting to know people who are going through similar experiences can make you feel understood and supported. You can also meet people sharing the same cultural background as you.
Embrace Dutch Culture: Immerse yourself in Dutch culture by attending local festivals, trying traditional cuisine, and visiting cultural and historical sites. This will help you develop a deeper appreciation for your new home and foster a sense of belonging. You may even like Haring (if you do not have a romantic date on the same day). If you like visiting museums, the Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and Anne Frank House can offer valuable insights into the country’s heritage.
Stay Active: Engaging in physical activity can help reduce stress and promote a sense of well-being. You can join a local sports club or gym. Also, I guess it is mandatory at this point to rent or buy a bike and cycle everywhere you go. As someone who does not know how to cycle, this was a big challenge for me.
Develop Coping Strategies: Establish healthy coping mechanisms to help you manage stress and anxiety during the adjustment process. You can get yourself a journal, try mindfulness or practice yoga.
Cultural Awareness: Educate yourself on Dutch customs, traditions, and social norms. This will help you deal with social situations more confidently and avoid misunderstandings that could contribute to feelings of frustration or isolation. You can even experience the Dutch concept of “gezelligheid”. It is when you feel cozy and happy in a social gathering and you can appreciate your surroundings.
Be Patient and Open-minded: Like everything in life, adjusting to a new culture and environment will take time and effort. Your feelings of frustration and homesickness are completely normal and probably will diminish.
Build a Support Network: Establish a support network of friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Besides connecting with other expats through gatherings and social media, make an effort to meet locals. They can be the perfect guide in your transition period.
Celebrate Your Achievements: Recognize and celebrate the progress you’ve made in adapting to your new life. This can help boost your confidence and motivate you to have a beautiful expat experience. Congratulate yourself when you don’t forget to check in and out with your OV-chipkaart in the train stations!
Understand the Local Work Culture: Adapting to the Dutch work environment can be a significant aspect of overcoming culture shock. Familiarize yourself with the local work culture, including the emphasis on work-life balance. This will enable you to be more professional and to build stronger working relationships. Furthermore, you will decrease the likelihood of experiencing burnout from working too much.
Be Open to New Experiences: Embrace the opportunities that come with living in a new country. Visit the tulip fields in the spring, celebrate the King’s Day. The Netherlands is not a very big country, so take advantage of that and visit all the cities that look appealing.
Seek Out Familiar Comforts: Until now, I gave recommendations for you to get used to your new country. Now, I want to talk about keeping your connections to your home culture. You can watch your favorite tv show from your home country, you can cook your favorite meal from your childhood. Even you can listen to that guilty pleasure song in your native language. Yes, I am referring to the song you cried your eyes out in your adolescence, thinking about your ex. Also, don’t forget to call your loved ones at home.
Seek Professional Help: Even though it’s normal to have feelings of anxiety or depression, they can become quite overwhelming, so don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a counselor or therapist. They can provide guidance, support, and coping strategies tailored to your specific needs and experiences.
Experiencing culture shock is a normal part of adjusting to life in a new country. By understanding the stages of culture shock and applying some of these recommendations in your life, you can successfully manage it. Remember that time is your ally, and with persistence and effort, you’ll find yourself thriving in your new home. Overcoming culture shock is an ongoing process, and by continually investing in your personal growth and cultural understanding, you can make the most of your expat experience in the Netherlands. Embrace the challenges and rewards that come with adapting to a new culture, and you’ll discover a wealth of opportunities for personal and professional growth in this vibrant, welcoming country.