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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Amsterdam, Netherlands

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Amsterdam

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

We received cross-cultural training and language training from Berlitz before the move.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

No, I learned to speak the language after I moved to Holland. I passed the National Language exam.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Not really because I thought a move to a European country wouldn't be very drastic.

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

The culture shock I experienced was amplified by the terrible, dreary weather since I had come from South Florida. Also, I wasn't prepared because I didn't believe the culture could be so very different from the US'. (After all, I wasn't moving to China!) We moved to the northern part of the country (Groningen) and cultural differences among the regions vary greatly in Holland. From what I heard from other expats, Amsterdam is a breeze!

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

Yes, and being aware of the stages helped me through the culture shock.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

I became frustrated by the Dutch culture. I found it to be stifling and restrictive. I didn't necessarily become homesick but I once lost my temper in public which I have never in my life done before!

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Everything is predictable. There are no surprises once you get acclimated! The Dutch love order and cleanliness. They are a very polite society.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The rainy weather was distressing to me. Getting to know Dutch people can be difficult depending upon where you live. The Dutch don't like to "think outside the box". The most common phrase I heard was "That's not possible". It drove me crazy!

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

In the Dutch movie theaters you MUST sit where the usher directs you. The first time I went to the movies, I just sat where I wanted and I was reprimanded in front of the whole theater! Also, you have to bag your own groceries at the supermarkets and if you aren't quick enough, the cashier will yell at you to hurry up! Luckily, the Dutch are very forgiving. If they know you are a foreigner they'll excuse your ignorant behavior.

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Read as much as you can about a country before moving, and especially try to find other expats who can aid in your transition. Try to be open minded to understand others' cultural reference point. Most of all, relax and enjoy your experience.

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