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Interview with the Rising Mom – a South Korean expat living in the Netherlands

Updated 15 Sep 2023

Born and raised in South Korea, The Rising Mom made the move to the Netherlands in 2011 as a Master of Laws student and hasn’t looked back since. As a budding legal professional and busy mom, she finds her pockets of peace and joy in the simplicities of everyday life in a small Dutch town just outside Amsterdam. Read her blog to keep up with her adventures and family life in the Netherlands.

Read more about expat life in the Netherlands in our Expat Arrivals country guide.

About The Rising Mom

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I am originally from South Korea.

Q: Where are you currently living?
A: I am living in a small town outside Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

Q: When did you move here?
A: I moved in 2011. 

Q: Is this your first expat experience?
A: No, I also lived in Norway for six months as an exchange student.

Q: Did you move here alone or with a spouse/family?
A: I moved to the Netherlands alone.

Q: Why did you move? What do you do?
A: I moved to the Netherlands to study for my master’s degree in Law at Dutch University.

Living in the Netherlands

Q: What do you enjoy most about the Netherlands? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: While I don’t feel qualified to compare the quality of life here versus South Korea, as I was only a minor or a university student during my time there and didn’t experience life as an independent adult, I can confidently say that my life here is exceptional. I would give it a perfect score on a scale from one to ten!

In the Netherlands, every morning feels like a breath of fresh air. Imagine cycling through tranquil streets with the wind brushing past your face, only to stop at a local café and savour the unmistakable sweetness of stroopwafels (although I need to have it with my coffee to prevent a sugar crash). I am sure that the number of bicycles is more than the number of cars; it often feels like children are practically born on bicycles! This eco-consciousness and unique charm showcase the high quality of life, making it a delightful change from my home country.

As I navigate through town, I’m often pleasantly surprised by the warmth and friendliness of the locals. Even if I attempt to piece together a sentence in Dutch, more often than not, I’m greeted with a fluent English response. It’s impressive, especially when you notice children as young as ten seamlessly switching between Dutch and English. Communication woes? A thing of the past.

But what truly stands out is the thriving expat community. Whether wandering through the canals of Amsterdam or exploring the quaint streets of Utrecht, there’s a palpable sense of ‘Gezelligheid’ - a unique Dutch term that embodies the essence of cosiness and communal warmth. This shared feeling effortlessly binds the international community together, making me and many others feel right at home.

Q: Any negative experiences? What do you miss most about home?
A: Living in the Netherlands, some moments remind me of the nuances that set each culture apart. One of the first things I noticed was the Dutch’s refreshing directness. As a reserved Korean, their straightforwardness sometimes felt like a gust of wind, jolting and unexpected. I often sought clarification, trying to distinguish genuine comments from mere jests. Their authenticity is undeniable, but it’s a language of candour that took me some time to understand.

Moreover, while the Netherlands offers a rich quality of life, the cost mirrors the experience. House-hunting in Amsterdam, in particular, felt like a treasure hunt, but where the treasures were few and the seekers were many. 

In the professional world, there are many complexities to navigate. Meetings provide an opportunity for sharing proactive ideas and communicating honestly. However, in my experience and in Korean culture (especially for my generation), it can be difficult to confront the opinions of senior colleagues at work directly. Speaking up may not always be appreciated, and it’s often better to discuss matters privately rather than openly opposing someone’s viewpoint. As I spent more time working in the Netherlands, I came to appreciate the Dutch work ethic and realised that integrating it into my own approach was an advantage in its own right.

Amidst all these experiences, there’s nostalgia for the familiar nuances of home. But, every challenge here has been a lesson, a step closer to understanding the rich tapestry of Dutch life.

Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in the Netherlands? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: To be honest, I wasn’t shocked by anything when I moved to the Netherlands. I already had some Dutch friends and was familiar with their directness and way of interacting with others. However, there was something I learned only after living in a Dutch neighbourhood. I used to reside in the heart of Amsterdam for a while before I became a parent. Amsterdam is an excellent city for young adults and expats, but it could have been better for me as a parent looking for a more spacious and child-friendly environment. As a result, I relocated to a Dutch village near Amsterdam. Every morning, I wake up to see beautiful rows of tulips, which promise a bright day ahead. But what truly makes my mornings special are my welcoming and friendly Dutch neighbours who embody the community spirit.

I am very grateful for the warm environment and living with friendly people, and I am not complaining. However, their love for small talk and directness caught me off guard. Every “good morning” was an invitation to engage in a long conversation. As the only expat and Asian person in my neighbourhood, everyone seemed interested in getting to know me. Being naturally introverted, these chit-chat sessions felt like pop quizzes I wasn’t prepared for. The pandemic only worsened, leaving me feeling like I forgot how to socialise.

Despite the challenges, I’ve learned to appreciate the Dutch way of life. They have a remarkable ease of conversation and a grace that’s admirable and overwhelming. My journey has been about finding a balance between the Eastern values I grew up with and the Western openness that surrounds me now.

Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? Is there anything particularly expensive or particularly cheap in the Netherlands?
A: I used to reside in Seoul, where the cost of living was relatively high, mainly regarding housing prices. Amsterdam is also an expensive city to live in, mainly due to the cost of housing. It’s almost impossible to find a house with a garden and/or 3–4 bedrooms, and even when they are available, the prices are exorbitant. However, one positive aspect of living in the Netherlands is that alcohol, especially wine, is relatively inexpensive compared to Korea. I appreciate this advantage.

Q: How would you rate the public transport in Amsterdam? What is your most memorable experience of using the city’s transport system?
A: I’m not a big fan of the Dutch public transportation system. I’ve had multiple instances where trains were cancelled or delayed. While it’s generally well-organised, it can take time to trust fully. One time, I was headed to an interview in another city. Unfortunately, the platform information was incorrect, and the connection from the train to the bus was cancelled. As a result, I arrived about 30 minutes late for my interview, which was devastating. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one affected by public transportation issues that day, and it went OK, but it still made me anxious. As a result, I leave as early as possible to ensure that I arrive on time.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Amsterdam? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regard to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: I have a lot of information to share about the healthcare system in the Netherlands. Many people consider it one of the best and fairest systems in the world. It is divided into three categories: long-term care for chronic illnesses, basic and essential medical care (such as visiting your general practitioner), and supplementary care (such as visiting your dentist). Basic care costs are included in mandatory health insurance, which every resident must have. So, if you plan on moving here, research the available health insurance options. Depending on the policy, long-term care may be covered by mandatory state insurance, and supplementary care may also be covered under your health insurance.

While it is well-organised, it can be inconvenient at times. In Korea, specialists are readily available, and I can easily visit them whenever I have any concerns. However, in the Netherlands, one has to go through a GP. Regarding my children’s health, I often need to see a specialist or go directly to the hospital. Unfortunately, this is not always feasible due to long waiting times (sometimes up to a month). Having had experience with Korean medical care, I find myself less satisfied with the Dutch medical care system. For a recommendation, I did have positive experiences with OLVG in Amsterdam when giving birth to my children.

Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in the Netherlands? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: I didn’t experience any safety concerns while living in the Netherlands. However, I’m mindful of pickpocketing in major cities like Amsterdam and The Hague, particularly for tourists and expats. The Netherlands is generally a fairly safe place for expats and visitors. Nevertheless, it’s essential to exercise caution no matter where you reside.

Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in the Netherlands? What different options are available for expats?
A: Finding suitable housing in the city can be a challenging task. This issue is common in every county and city and usually depends on the area and season. The Netherlands is an international country that provides numerous housing options for individuals moving there. If you prefer city life, apartments in downtown areas with nearby amenities and nightlife are popular.

On the other hand, individual houses may be more suitable if you’re looking for more space or a garden. Understanding the various housing types in the Netherlands is essential to ensure you make the best decision for your comfort and convenience. You can search for a short-term rental agency, realtor, or expat community that wishes to sublet a house/room or hand over the rental contract. However, be aware of the rental agency fees and rental period terms, which can be expensive and long, especially for expats. Rental agencies often ask for more, knowing that expats may need to gain all the knowledge regarding their legal rights. Therefore, it would be best to research before entering the housing market.

The country provides a range of student accommodations for students who are attracted to the Netherlands by its globally recognised universities and English-taught programmes. From university dorms to shared apartments, there are plenty of choices available. However, securing a spot often requires research, promptness, and a bit of luck.

Q: Any areas or suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: If you’re looking for a diverse expat community, explore cities near Amsterdam, such as Amstelveen, Leiden, The Hague, Rotterdam, Utrecht and Haarlem. These cities are close to Amsterdam and have many Dutch locals, so you can also experience the local culture. Plus, the housing market is less expensive and competitive than in Amsterdam. These cities offer a unique combination of international co-living and traditional Dutch lifestyle.

Meeting people and making friends in the Netherlands

Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there obvious discrimination against any particular group? Have you ever experienced discrimination in Amsterdam?
A: The Dutch people are generally hospitable and open to foreigners, particularly in major cities like Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam and Amstelveen. However, if you venture outside these urban areas to more rural or religious regions, you may feel isolated. Discrimination is uncommon, although some teenagers may try to be cool by saying “Nihao” simply because ‘I’ am Asian.

Although most Dutch people speak English, some may prefer to converse in Dutch and may urge you to learn the language if you plan to reside there for years. Occasionally, they may nag you about it, especially if you have lived in the Netherlands for over a year. It is rare, but some older Dutch individuals may insist on speaking Dutch if you attempt to converse in English, arguing that if you live in the Netherlands, you must learn Dutch. Overall, I have never experienced or tolerated discrimination in the Netherlands. I believe it is a welcoming country for foreigners.

Q: Was meeting people and making friends easy? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: As a young person, meeting and befriending new people comes naturally, whether you are in your home country or not. Dutch people are renowned for their conversational skills and love of chatting. I have learned from the best and suggest starting a conversation casually as if you already know them. The key to making new friends in the Netherlands is to be open and approachable, as they will always welcome your openness.

Q: Have you made friends with locals, or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends with the locals? 
A: I have a lot of friends who are Dutch and some who are expats, and it’s pretty easy to make friends in the Netherlands. You share the experience of being a foreigner with fellow expats, which creates a bond. Dutch people are also friendly and curious about others, so if you’re open to them, you’ll find yourself surrounded by good Dutch people.

To make local friends, I suggest joining communities and attending events. The Netherlands is known for its rich culture and welcoming communities, so connecting with like-minded people who share your interests and passions is easy. You might be surprised at how many communities there are, and since most Dutch people speak English fluently, language won’t be a barrier to making friends.

Working in the Netherlands

Q: Was getting a work permit or visa a relatively easy process? Did you tackle the visa process yourself, or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I completed my studies in the Netherlands and received a search-year visa that allowed me to look for employment. Once finding a job, getting a work visa proved to be relatively easy, as the company that hired me was already registered with IND and was able to sponsor my working visa.

After getting married, I switched my visa to a partnership visa and was required to take an ‘inburgering exam’ to integrate more formally into Dutch society. I handled the whole process on my own and found it to be quite manageable. While it does take some time to receive a decision, the process itself is quite straightforward. Overall, I believe obtaining a visa in the Netherlands should not be too challenging for those who are interested.

Q: What is the economic climate in Amsterdam like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job? Which resources did you find most useful?
A:  Finding a job in the Netherlands can be either easy or difficult, depending on your expertise. For instance, if you work in the IT industry, there are many available jobs searching for a suitable candidate. However, if you work in the law industry, it can be challenging as the industry is quite conservative, and you need to have a certain level of understanding of the Dutch language to work with Dutch law. Nevertheless, Dutch companies are very international and are willing to hire foreigners as long as they meet the eligibility criteria. I consider LinkedIn an excellent platform to find jobs in the Netherlands as well as connect with Dutch recruiters, which could be helpful in arranging visa and housing requirements.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home? Do you have any tips for expats doing business in the Netherlands? Did you have any particularly difficult experiences adapting to local business culture?
A: Earlier, I mentioned that Dutch people are very direct and open. In all work-related meetings and interactions, they expect you to actively and openly suggest and propose your opinions. This was a big difference for me, coming from a Korean background. At first, I was misunderstood as being disinterested in the business or unwilling to participate in discussions. I had to train myself to be more vocal and even confront senior members of the company when necessary. Surprisingly, this was well-received and appreciated by my colleagues. If you plan to work at a Dutch company, it’s important to speak up and show interest in the business. Additionally, Dutch people value punctuality and do not tolerate lateness (as far as my experience), so make sure to be on time.

Family and children in the Netherlands

Q: How has your spouse or partner adjusted to your new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for an accompanying spouse?
A: I’m afraid I cannot provide a direct answer to your question as my husband is Dutch. If I may answer from my experience, it can be difficult to be separated from family and friends back home, and adjusting to the Dutch communication style may be challenging at first. Nonetheless, I did not encounter any significant obstacles as there was no language barrier, and the Dutch are generally welcoming to outsiders. However, if you are an introvert and struggle to engage in conversation with people, you may feel isolated when you cannot participate in or continue conversations. In my opinion, the key is to open yourself up and not worry about how you will be received. Dutch people are charming because they do not filter their thoughts and opinions. They share what they have in mind, and you are free from judgment here.

Q: What are your favourite family attractions and activities in the city?
A: If you’re in Amsterdam and looking for a family-friendly activity, consider visiting the “Artis” zoo. Although it’s small, the zoo is well-organised and charming. It’s our favourite place to go with children. Additionally, there are several parks throughout the city where you can enjoy some peace and quiet, such as Vondelpark or Oosterpark. For a more educational experience, consider visiting Oba, the library in Amsterdam. There, you can read and play while you stay.

Q: What are the schools like? Any particular suggestions?
A: In my opinion, the school system in the Netherlands is quite intriguing. Once a child turns four years old, they can immediately start attending school without waiting for a new semester to begin. Children aged four and five are placed in groups one and two, and they learn together in the same classroom. While there are some study activities, the focus is mostly on learning how to be a part of the classroom environment and following rules. Once children turn six, they move on to group three and begin learning letters and other subjects. 

On Wednesdays, schools typically finish by noon, and children are free for the rest of the day. Parents often work half-days to take care of their children in the afternoon, although the exact day may vary by city and school.

Each school has its own principles, priorities, and teaching methods, so it’s important to research and take a tour before registering your child. I find this system to be both enjoyable and exciting for children, and it’s different from what I’m familiar with in Korea.

Final thoughts

Q: Is there any advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to the Netherlands?
A: I encourage you to take the leap and not worry too much. The Dutch people are welcoming and friendly, and living in a new country with different customs can be a beautiful experience. If you are open to change and embrace this country, I am confident that it will accept you just as you are.

The Netherlands is a fantastic place for expats, with great working conditions and a strong social system. If you have any doubts or questions, reach out to people around you or other expats for help. I’m sure everyone will be happy to assist you. Remember, there’s nothing to lose by trying. Even if it’s challenging, it will be a valuable experience that you’ll cherish. Don’t let fear hold you back. I wish you the best of luck on your journey and look forward to the possibility of meeting you in the Netherlands!

– Interviewed in September 2023

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