This week, 18 years ago, I packed my suitcases, made a huge step and moved from Poland to the Netherlands! And what a ride it has been. Only by reflecting on how many things I have done and experienced can I comprehend that it has been 18 years already and not just a snap of a finger.

When I reflect on those 18 years, I see the incredible things that have happened: getting married, becoming a mother of two great kids, living not only in Amsterdam, but also twice in Brazil, and twice in Mexico, as well as changing my career completely – from being internal auditor to career coach. So, in order to celebrate this milestone in my life, I have decided to write a post where I share why, in my opinion, moving abroad to the Netherlands was one of the best decisions I ever made, and what I have learned so far.

1. I learned how to deal with direct peopleOne thing no one argues about when talking about the Netherlands and Dutch people is that Dutch culture thrives on direct communication. For some a blessing, for others a curse. Coming from Polish culture, which is on the other end of spectrum, where we Poles prefer not to hurt one another’s feelings and often “beat around the bush,” it was difficult to adapt to in the beginning.

Personally, having also lived in Mexico and Brazil, where people are even less direct than in Poland, I do appreciate Dutch directness. However painful it may be in the beginning, you do get what you see, no surprises there. Although I am aware that my own communication style will probably never be as direct as the Dutch one, learning to understand that it is rooted in respect of others – Dutch people prefer to give you brutal truth straight to your face rather than doing it behind your back – made me embrace it and appreciate it.

2. I learned the beauty of stepping outside of my comfort zoneWhenever you are doing something you are scared of, you are stepping outside of your comfort zone. And 18 years ago, when I was deciding whether I should move abroad, I was scared. I had all these thoughts: what if I will fail at my new job, what if I will not make new friends, what if I fight with my boyfriend, what if I will simply miss my family and feel alone. But on the other side, there was this excitement of going into the unknown. I am sure you know what I am talking about. Luckily, the feeling of excitement and novelty won out.

After a couple of years, I had another big decision to make: should I give up my safe job or do something crazy and start my own coaching company. Again, I had all these negative voices in my head, but thanks to the experience I had with the move, I knew what was waiting for me on the other side. “Even if it does not work out, I’m at least trying to follow my dreams,” I thought.

And it did work out, big time! I have learned that stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is like a muscle; when you train it, it gets stronger over time.

3. I learned the dangers of making assumptionsLiving in a foreign country teaches you one thing for sure: How dangerous it is to make assumptions. When we operate in our own cultural context, we take many things for granted, and we don’t have to communicate certain things as we are all part of a certain cultural heritage in which these things are imprinted.

When we operate in a different culture, things are far from obvious, however. Like, for example, making lunch appointments over the weekend. When you are in the Netherlands, you put the appointment in your agenda for a couple of weekends from now. When I used to live in Brazil, I would often hear “we will see you this weekend for lunch,”so I assumed it was going to happen, only to get very surprised when no one showed up.

Learning the dangers of making assumptions, thanks to living in the Netherlands and other places, has tremendously improved my communication skills and my ability to be sensitive to other communication styles.

4. I learned what it means to belongOne of the main pain points for expats in my view is the topic of belonging. Expat life can make you feel like you do not truly belong anywhere. For years, I didn’t feel like I belonged to either the Dutch culture or the Polish one. After some time, I learned how to create new circles of people which made me feel that I belonged. Most importantly, I learned how crucial it is to feel that you do belong.

5. I learned what my own culture is aboutParadoxically, I believe I have learned much more about my own culture thanks to living in the Netherlands. Of course, I have learned a lot about Dutch culture too, but that wasn’t a surprise to me. It is when we are able to take a step back and look at it from a new perspective that we truly learn what our own culture is about. The more two cultures differ, the more we learn about our own.

To conclude my reflections, I think that what I love the most about living in the Netherlands is the possibility of meeting people from all over the world and learning about them and their cultures. I feel that that makes us expats the richest people in the world.

Are you happy that you moved to the Netherlands? What do you enjoy the most? I would love to hear what you have learned, so share in the comments below!

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