Can moving to a new country, integrating into a new culture and taking time to learn a new language make it difficult to feel truly relaxed when entering another new culture for your vacation? It sure did for Kate from UvA Talen! As an American living abroad for the first time, Kate sometimes had the feeling that going on vacation abroad (after living in a foreign country) wasn’t quite the mental break she’d hoped for due to her constant awareness that she is already living in a culture that isn’t her own. Do you recognise this feeling? Find out what helped her overcome this mental block …

Living in a country that is not your own can be alienating at times. The process of leaving your friends, family and daily comforts behind can make expats like me feel lonely and oftentimes misunderstood. On the other hand, though, there are many positives to starting that new journey and I often feel proud of the big move I made coming to the Netherlands. It just truly depends on the day as to which emotion I feel about having left home.

As a way of channelling and attempting to control this bittersweet inner dilemma, I have created my own name for it: The Daily Challenge.

The process of integrating into another culture – what I call The Daily ChallengeThis may seem like such a simple name, but for me it represents everything. The Daily Challenge sums up all the feelings you may get on a daily basis as someone living in another culture – no matter how small or big an interaction it is. These Daily Challenges are especially evident within the first year or two of moving.

They include some thoughts such as:

“I don’t speak the language.” “The way of life here isn’t the same and I clearly think very differently than everyone else.” How should I act in this situation to ensure that I show respect without abandoning my values?” However, for some of us it could even be as simple as, “What should I say if they ask me a question in Dutch?” Coming face-to-face with these thoughts every day can be quite a struggle – not to mention tiring!

Sometimes, however, The Daily Challenge can be enjoyable because you can get positively confronted with all of the progress you’ve made since day one. It has the power to be very rewarding and it helps to remind us that we’re doing something that some of our family and friends from home can’t even fathom. I then feel an immense amount of pride in what I’ve achieved.

No matter how you feel, though, it’s important to recognise your own Daily Challenges as an expat living in the Netherlands. Once you acknowledge the difficult aspects, it gets easier to take steps forward.

Encountering new stimuli and how that affects relaxationCan encountering new stimuli all the time affect how relaxed you feel on vacation? The direct answer is … YES! However, vacations can still be enjoyable, of course, and this feeling is very dependent on the individual nor does it apply to every expat. 

However, let’s imagine that you are still within your first few years of living in a foreign country. You’re pushing through your Daily Challenges and doing a great job of navigating a new culture. Then it’s time to take a break from it all and go on vacation – best feeling ever, right? In my experience, though, I have found that my constant awareness that I am not in my own culture can override my ability to relax in yet another new country. Why is that?

I believe that being reminded every day that I am an American living in the land of stroopwafels and bicycles makes me constantly aware of wanting to blend in with Dutch culture. Additionally, there are so many stimuli that an expat faces which can take more mental energy than anticipated!

Constant self-improvementExpats spend a lot of time integrating into a new society and are constantly looking at how to improve, especially when it comes to learning the language. 

Although the Dutch are undoubtedly among the best non-native English speakers in Europe, it’s important to learn the local language in order to understand the culture you’re in. After enrolling in language classes, I was slowly but surely starting to understand the world around me, picking up on conversations in the tram, grocery store and on the street. 

After putting in all that work, you’d think that I would be ready for a long vacation to get away from all the foreign confrontation. But I found that once I’d left the country that was slowly starting to feel like home, going somewhere entirely new that I didn’t yet understand was more overwhelming. Suddenly being confronted with yet another new language, new people and new things to learn at every crossroad reminded me of how I’d felt at the very beginning of my move to the Netherlands – and that was more tiring than relaxing.

Over time, this sense of being overwhelmed has slowly faded for me. Here is how I started taking the right steps forward:

Finally relaxing both at home and on vacationFor me, learning Dutch to a higher level was the real game changer. I noticed that my inability to feel comfortable while travelling had entirely to do with how I was processing my home life in the Netherlands – and how I was getting through my Daily Challenges. It wasn’t until I began private Dutch classes to help perfect my speech that I started truly feeling like a local. Being able to understand all of the Dutch conversations around me and join in on the jokes, stories and situations that unfolded on a daily basis has enabled me to feel even more at home and, in turn, more relaxed. 

Going on vacation doesn’t have to feel like a new beginning anymore, because I have grown accustomed to the beautiful city of Amsterdam. Having done the necessary work to get to this point, vacation can finally start feeling like VACATION!

If you have ever struggled with the same experience, join Kate in learning Dutch at UvA Talen! They offer group courses, personalised courses, e-learning programmes and more in 13 different languages. 

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