The Importance of Integration and Why My Dutch Friends Rock

According to the International Community Platform, there are around 500,000 internationals living and working in the Netherlands; and according to World Meters and World Population Overview, the total population (live estimate) is of 17,105,348. In my opinion, it is here where you ask yourself: In which perimeter would I like living on?

Before moving to the Netherlands, it was clear to me and my darling that I wanted all the way in: take a job where Dutch was required and work towards integration. I didn't want to miss out on life, or so that was and is my view. Has it been easy? Absolutely not. I have ridiculed myself on limitless occasions thanks to my broken Dutch. Has it been fun? I must say it usually has! It is a balance between forgiving myself and not taking words or situations too personal.

My advice for a successful integration is to get out of your comfort zone. It doesn't matter which country you come from, it is important that you invest time learning from others. I totally understand the security it gives to have a close circle of friends that speak your language and know your culture. Even so, it is crucial to practice a language that is not your native one; otherwise, you will miss many of the beautiful moments that happen when you feel integrated.

For many people in the Netherlands, the challenge is to speak, English or Dutch, fluently. As for me, speaking Dutch as I speak English is my goal. Among the taken steps, I worked at PostNL for one year; and two weeks ago, my ex-colleagues came over for an evening of lively chat and laughter. I must say it was a night to remember. To frame. To hold close to my heart because it was the first time I understood how integration sounds and feels, and I enjoyed spending time with my Dutch friends.

We talked and talked for hours! Well, maybe "we talked" is an exaggeration since my Dutch is not proficient at all. I prepared Mexican snacks which everyone tried and loved (or so they made me think), and you will never guess what they brought. Let me give you some time to think about it... Any ideas? A guess? Yes? No? Ok, I will get to the point: Sinterklaas presents and lots of Dutch humor! Let me share some of what they taught me:
  1. The famous Sinterklaas chocolate letter. You are supposed to stick it in a shoe. Then leave it near the fireplace so Zwarte Piet can find it when he comes down the chimney on December 5th. If you don't have a chimney, the radiator is fine. We just thought this might not work since the chocolate could melt...(more laughter)
  2. Pepernoten and kruidnoten. My friends said, go for the pepernoten if what you want are the traditional ones. They are the best: chewy,  imperfect, and with a hint of anis!
  3. More Dutch music for my playlist. There were some recommendations, like Twarres, De Dijk, Jan Smit,  Acda en de Munnik en de Poema's. 
  4. Jokes! There were many! I only remember the one about Brabant and Limburg. I need to learn how to tell it myself in Dutch...
On top of all, I got handmade presents! I know you know, as I know, how special this is. Leonie sewed a very Dutch looking kitchen set including an apron; and Conny a "memobord of kaartenhouder".

So then again, why is integration important? Because when you visit your family, you'll be glad to come back to the Netherlands since your darling, friends and reinvented life will be waiting for you and, most probably, you'll have missed them too.

As for me, today I am flying to Mexico City after 576 days. I am excited about seeing my parents, sister, nephews, family, and friends.  On the other hand, I know I will be ready to come home, return to my lovely people and daily life routine: Dutch lessons and swimming, teaching English and Spanish, my book group, blog and quiz night, new fun conversations with my Dutch friends and, of course, preparing my honey's lunchbox.

Before saying see you later alligator and heading to Schiphol, I feel compelled to ask: What are you doing to work towards your integration? Any tips you can share with those new to this country or currently finding their new self?

Now, I better hurry to catch the bus, train, and plane! Tot volgende keer!