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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Hengelo, Netherlands

Submitted by msorlien

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


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

No--I wanted to take the free language/culture class offered by the city, but they wouldn't allow me to because I have a temporary (two-year) visa. Wat jammer!

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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?

I'm trying to learn, but it's very difficult. Every time I try to speak Dutch with the natives, they say something really fast and I say "Pardon?" and somehow they pick up on my accent and say "Ohhh you speak English!" and then they just continue on in fluent English. I'm never going to learn the language if I never hear it!

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

I think I had a skewed vision of what it would be like because of my study abroad experience in New Zealand. When I was there, everyone wanted to know more about me and were really interested in my being from another country. I made a ton of friends and had an amazing time. Here, people are friendly on the surface but don't seem to readily open up to you and become your friend so it has been very difficult. The Dutch seem less outgoing than Americans (and New Zealanders) to me.

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

I thought I was settling in but suddenly I realized by "settling in" I had become a recluse. I was afraid to leave the house because I didn't want to be laughed at for saying the wrong thing or something (not that anyone ever really laughed at me). I was really depressed and anxious and the more depressed/anxious I got the less I wanted to venture out, so it became a downward spiral. Finally I went home for a couple weeks and came back and decided to dive right into some social activities. I joined some clubs at Universiteit Twente, used websites such as this to find other expats, and gradually started returning to my normal self.

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?

My honeymoon stage would have been moving into our new apartment. I was so busy going to Ikea and repainting the walls that I didn't have time to notice culture shock. I'm not sure I went through irritation/anger, but my "rejection" of the culture was more like avoidance. I was so scared of feeling like an outsider that I ended up becoming one!

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.

Definitely depression and anxiety. Homesickness to some extent, but it wasn't that I wanted to go home--I just wanted friends and people to talk to. I think I started eating less rather than more... although Dutch cuisine is not the finest :-)

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

The bike lanes!! And public transportation. I really wish America would take a lesson in both of those things.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

As I said before, the Dutch are friendly on the surface, as in they will say hello and expect a hello back, and they might even want to know where you're from and what you're doing here. But they are not so willing to invite you along to activities or introduce you to their friends. I think most people live in one town their whole lives, so they don't understand what it's like being somewhere new without knowing anyone. Because they don't recognize how difficult it is, they don't think to include you in their social circles.

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

A 10 or 12 yr-old girl came to my door and said "Heeft u een telefoneboek?" I thought she wanted to borrow our phone book and I had no idea where it was. So I said "Nee, sorry!" She looked at me weird and turned to go to the next house. That's when I saw the big bag on her commuter rack--she was delivering phone books. No wonder she thought it was weird that I apologized :-) It wasn't that embarassing, but something definitely got lost in translation!

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

I think I waited to long to seek help. I was here for three months before I started really trying to get out and meet people. As a result, I became depressed and it was much harder to get the ball rolling. If you just moved here or you are thinking of moving here, try to plan in advance as much as you can. Find all the expats you can on this site and others for the Twente region. Contact community or university clubs to try to get involved in some activities. Anything you can do that will force you to have some semblance of a social life will be a huge help!

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Comments about this Report

Feb 25, 2011 18:20

Hi! I think you've captured quite an accurate picture. I'm Dutch but living abroad and I would say, keep speaking English, you get way better service and the Dutch trip all over themselves to "show off" how well they speak English. Besides, where are you going to use Dutch? Most speak a dialect amongst friends anyway and you'll never really learn that. The irony is that the government has strict immigration rules about foreigners learning Dutch before they can even apply to live there (you excluded off course because you're American) but then the Dutch trash their own language by glorifying English (trust me, I get better service when I speak in my perfect NA English than when I speak my native Dutch). If the weather doesn't depress you, don't let the culture or the people - there are plenty of nice places to visit - but I would agree with you that you will unlikely worm your way into well-established, small, strong social groups. You're more likely to develop friendships with outsides/expats.

Sep 3, 2012 11:20

I want to know more about Haarlem and finding a place to live. I think theses kind of articles are very useful to newcomers like myself. Being an Educator I want to be on top of things, so thank you very much. James......USA

Mar 31, 2013 07:59

Hi, It is Federico from Italy. I am currently in Hengelo. Are you still around? If yes I think It would be nice to hang out once if you want...

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