Netherlands, thank you and goodbye – This one came on FB and on It’s written by Kai-Ting Huang, a Taiwaneese user experience designer who left Netherlands after four years on study and work. She reflects on the things that made it challenging for her in the Netherlands – about language as a barrier, risk averse professional environment and a need for a sense of belonging that’s difficult to find in a foreign land – all of which resonate deeply with my own experience.
I don’t know where I would end up living if I wouldn’t have family and kids in the Netherlands. It have changed everything, even professional choices. It was not only the burnout: after finishing my PhD I had a feeling that there were few opportunities in Europe to do what I wanted to, but it was already clear that we didn’t want to be a continent away from all of the grandparents. However, it’s a choice for homeschooling that have really changed my relationships with Dutch society, Dutch people and the language itself.
Kai-Ting Huang writes:
…honestly speaking, in most cases, my relationship with locals can only be skin-deep. It’s not because we are not willing to get to know each other, but because the language gap make the price of knowing each other too high.
Yes, while everyone can speak English pretty good, you can’t get get deeper without speaking Dutch. And, in a country which is very internationally oriented and in an English-rich professional environment (which IT-related research definitely is) learning it was a challenge. At least for me, because I prefer to learn a language in a natural settings, from people and with people. At work I slowly became better in Dutch, but there my primary focus was on getting things done, not on learning the language. Also, at that time switching to Dutch with family members and friends would be a challenge: communicating in English gave the safety that comes from understanding each other and the sense of belonging that I needed then. I was working with a teacher on my Dutch at the end of my time at work, but it’s only really picked up when the most of the burnout issues were sorted out and I started to network actively in a Dutch homeschooling community. This is where I found a new sense of belonging, lots of shared challenges and goals, the need for each other, as well as enough reasons and opportunities to practice Dutch.
For me homeschoolers are a bit like expats or third-culture kids, who are often drawn together regardless of their origins and initial languages because they share the experience of establishing a life in another culture. Making a choice for educating our own kids outside of the formal system pushes homeschoolers closer than it might be otherwise.
Like in an expat community, where you are likely to expand your knowledge about very different corners of the world, homeschooling community provided me with an entrance to very different Netherlands then the country that I got to know in 10 years before that. I feel that in the homeschooling community I have contacts with “a more representational sample of Dutch society” compared to the contacts that I had at work, where shared educational and socio-economic background defined a lot. Also many things that I have to deal now are closely related to practices and expectations in the society, so there is a lot of place in my interactions with Dutch homeschoolers for figuring out the nuances of certain cultural practices, local politics or appropriate language use.
And, of course, hanging out with homeschoolers helped my Dutch at lot. The good thing is that there is enough practical reasons to speak it: our kids share Dutch language between themselves; legal documents, homeschooling politics and activism are in Dutch; physical resources for learning (people, books, materials) are more easily available in Dutch than in English or Russian. And in communication with other homeschooling families the price of not getting your message 100% through is lower then in a professional environment (and most of the communication with the authorities I happily outsource to my husband, who can do it in perfectly native Dutch 🙂
So, while the common view might be that homeschooling is “hiding from the society”, in my case it is pretty much the opposite – it provides me with reasons to learn more about Dutch language and culture, an environment to do so safely and lots of helping hands on the way.