Sorry (not sorry)…had to use that title – ’twas inevitable. So, we’re moving to The Netherlands soon. With the debacle that is COVID, our exact timing is difficult to lock down at this point, but we’re planning for late December, so the kids can start school in January. They will be going to an international school that is partly subsidised by the Dutch government, so they’ll be taught in English. These types of schools were established in order to encourage expats like ourselves to settle in The Netherlands for a bit, build businesses and contribute to the economy and society generally.
Full international schools are prohibitively expensive so we’re chuffed that the kids have got into this school, and it’s definitely helped us draw a line in the sand in terms of when to try and get there by. The kids and I have British passports and Gareth is in the process of applying for a special work visa for The Netherlands, so if needs be, he may arrive a month or so after us. Having both our passports and his work visa will give us a few different options, so I’ll be grateful for that flexibility (especially because Brexit has added another layer of complexity to this all).
We’ll live in The Hague – an area we’ve chosen because it’s the perfect location for the work opportunities Gareth has in Europe. It’s about 60km from Amsterdam, a short train ride away, and it’s also on the coast (although we’re not moving for the beach life – we’re realistic about the climate!). Luckily we have good friends who moved to The Hague recently from Joburg, and we also know a few other families there, plus Gareth’s business partner and family are moving there from Durban as well.
I’ve been so lucky in terms of my work, because this pandemic and lockdown have proved that I can do my job from anywhere in the world really. With the same time zone as SA, I can get briefed or have virtual meetings in The Netherlands just the same as if I was in Cape Town. My relationships with my clients are such that they know nothing will change when it comes to the quality of work being delivered, so I’m confident that the work transition will be relatively easy.
It’s such a sensitive topic, choosing to move away, but every one of our friends and family have been overwhelmingly supportive. I’ll be direct and say that while we are going because of work opportunities there, we’re also going because we need a break from SA. I don’t think I even need to explain that to anyone – we all get it. And I know we’re very privileged to have this option available to us.
Interestingly, quite a few people have asked my husband how I feel about the move, which I find kind of funny. They think that because he’s the man, he’s made this big decision for our family, and I’m just being the dutiful wife tagging along. The reality is that I’m the one spearheading this move, even though the work opportunities are his. Ultimately, we make decisions together as a partnership, so I think it’s strange that people presume he’s calling all the shots. LOL guys (have you met me).
The last time I lived overseas was in my 20s in London, before marriage and before kids. And I remember when I moved over there – I literally had a backpack and a vague plan to sleep on somebody’s couch when I arrived (thanks Ant and Andrew…eternally grateful!). This time I’m moving over in my 40s with a family. The admin is extensive and it can feel overwhelming, if you start to pile all the tasks on each other in your head. I’m just trying to do one moving task per day (okay, maybe 2), and I’m trying to remember to look after myself, so I don’t become overly anxious.
There are also huge feelings of loss, mostly because of the people we’ll leave behind. I remember looking around at the amazing individuals at my 40th birthday party last year and thinking: but how can we leave all this? I can’t dwell too much on it though. I know that true friends will remain our friends, no matter what distance there is between us. I know that nothing lasts forever. The whole world is in flux, and we’re just one family making a change, as many other people are. We’re also lucky to have friends living all around the world, and I’m very excited at the prospect of seeing more of those who live that side.
I’ve been so touched by all the people that have reached out to offer some kind of help. From strangers on the internet who’ve offered me a sounding board or a contact, to people I didn’t even know that well before, becoming my own personal cheerleader and telling me that I can do this. Tips, friendship, offers of places to stay, truly, people are amazing – and these times of significant change often show you this.
These next few months are going to fly by, with all the admin that is required, the domestic travel that we’re packing in, the people we want to see one last time. There are sad days and there are excited days, and no shortage of stress. I am under no illusion that this is quite a big deal – I don’t think trivialising it helps anyone. We’re changing our entire lives. But people all over the world do it, either out of necessity or choice. We’re not unusual or special, we’re just one small family, choosing to making a change, and believing we can do it together.
Keep popping in here for updates – I’m off to work on my NETHERLANDS BIG MOVE spreadsheet (lists on top of lists guys!).