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Redefining “home”

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Reader response to Moving on or staying put


Once again I enjoyed your column (Moving on or staying put). It was really nice to get a glimpse into such a lifestyle. Though we have moved a lot, usually every 2-3 years, when we had our children living with us, those moves were still within the US, and so much easier. Our youngest daughter was 19 when we moved to the Netherlands. We only had 3 weeks to pull off the move, from the time we first heard about the possibility, so it was rather chaotic. I had never had a passport before, but was thrilled. It had been my dream to see Europe, and now I was getting to live there for a while.

Being an expat suddenly is quite an adventure, but my husband’s company took care of all the fun details like permits, locating a house to rent, etc. And so many people here speak English. We were outside of the area where most expats live (Amsterdam and The Hague), so we didn’t meet others from the US.

The other big difference was that we expected to only stay 6 months, maybe 12. So we only brought our clothes and a few personal possessions, and put the rest of our stuff in storage and rented out our house in CA. We took every opportunity to see various sites in Europe, rather than attempt to learn the language and set down roots.

Before the first year was up, they asked him to extend his stay another 3 years! During this time, our daughter met and married a Dutch guy and they moved to the States. Since then, it’s just been the two of us.

Most of the Dutch people we have met have been shocked that we love it here so much and have chosen to make it our home. So many of them view the US as perfect and would jump at a chance to live there. For my husband, the work environment is great (even though it’s the same company, things are definitely done differently in Europe). For me, well, I’m in heaven being able to walk and ride my bike everywhere! And the architecture… Really, the only thing I miss about living here rather than the US is my family.

We moved around here in the NL a few times, and after the first 3 years we ended up in an nice apartment for a year, which was an interesting experience for us. The company asked for another 3 year extension on his assignment, and we were delighted. I was making trips back for the birth of each grandchild, along with a few other family visits. Lastly, we ended up renting a house in a remote area on a lake with our own private dock for less money than the apartment.

After 6 years on foreign assignment we needed to choose if we would go back to the States or take a permanent Dutch contract. We chose the Dutch contract and decided to buy a house here. Renting is not our ideal.

About 2 months after buying the house and deciding to set down roots and to try learning the language, we were sent on assignment to Prague for 2 years. That’s the story of our life, whenever we feel like “ok, this is permanent; we’re staying here” a big surprise comes along and yanks the rug out from under us. And when we think something is just temporary, it somehow lasts much longer.

The relo company in Prague expected us to select a home in an expat community, but that never appealed to us. We got to know someone there that lived that life, with kids going to the international school, where it looked like an American subdivision.

We prefer smaller towns (within reasonable distance to a larger one), and since my husband’s work was not actually in Prague, we positioned ourselves for a reasonable commute. We found a wonderful house in Zbraslav, something much larger and nicer than we could afford in the NL. I got acquainted with 3 of our neighbors and truly enjoyed our stay. Except for being far away from the coast, it reminded me a lot of home (Washington State). The Czech Republic actually has hills and mountains and lots of great places to hike versus the Netherlands, which is totally flat and so densely populated.

After the completion of the assignment, we came back home to the Netherlands. I really miss one of my neighbors in Zbraslav, but we correspond regularly via snail mail. She doesn’t have a computer and, being in her mid-80’s, doesn’t feel inclined to start. I enjoy going back to visit whenever I can.

I hesitated to set down roots here, where I’m so happy since I was afraid to jinx it. But I finally plunged in and took a language course and can now carry on simple conversations with the neighbors. Though in the larger cities most everyone, at least those my age and younger, can speak English that is not the case in our little town. This town has much the same appeal to me that Zbraslav did. It has all the basics needed, you can easily walk from one end to the other and back several times a day, and we have the most wonderful neighbors.

I have one American friend here that I can occasionally visit. She’s married to a Dutch guy and has two kids now. I watch how she manages things with schools, in-laws, etc. It is such a vastly different lifestyle. You have the advantage with a native partner who can help you learn the language and culture, but you also face many challenges we don’t.

There are many times when I see something here that I wish I could share with my grandkids. I think about all the advantages of the lifestyle here and wish I could have raised my kids here. Of course there are trade-offs. No place is perfect.

I do think your children will thrive in their environment, since they are getting even more than the average Czech child. Their world-view is so much broader than most Americans. I think having relatives in a foreign country is quite an asset for kids. It seems an ideal balance of adequate stability with opportunities for some special experiences. And of course your children offer much to their classmates and friends.

And maybe you’ll get your wish, maybe when the kids are still living with you, you can temporarily live in another country and experience another culture, adding a bit more adventure in your life. Or maybe that will come later. You just never know. Meanwhile enjoy the vicarious adventures of your friends. And all the wonders of the Czech Republic.

Warmest Wishes,


By Karen Marten

An American currently living in The Netherlands

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