Dutch expat family took the challenge of moving back home amid the pandemic

Expat interviews
  • Dutch expat family
Published on 2022-02-25 at 10:00 by Veedushi
Originally from the Netherlands, Angelique had been an expat in Belgium since 2008 until she moved to Taiwan in 2017. As her husband's two-year contract was renewed, she stayed for two more years until August 2021 when they finally moved back to their home country. She talks to us about the challenges of returning home, especially amid the pandemic, and the positive side of it.

Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

We are a Dutch family with two teenagers (17 and 14). We currently live in the Netherlands, where Bert works as a design engineer at ASML and where I'm mainly busy with our website www.ourexpatlife.com where we share our adventures and help other expat families.

We moved as a family to Belgium in 2008. Not because of work, but mainly because of Belgium's slightly less rushed life. We have always enjoyed living there, and the children attended a small primary school.

What happened then?

At the end of 2016, Bert was asked if he wanted to move to Taiwan for a 2-year project. We said yes to this challenge and left for Taiwan in August 2017. This was our first experience overseas. After two years, we signed a contract for another two years in Taiwan. So in total, an adventure of four years as expats.

What brought you back to your home country?

In August of 2021, we returned to the Netherlands after four years in Taiwan. Bert's contract in Taiwan ended, and the company wanted him back in Veldhoven.

How was it to travel back home in pandemic times? What procedures did you have to follow?

As far as Covid procedures are concerned, we flew back to the Netherlands at the right time. In the months leading up to our return, we heard a lot about the various negative tests that had to be submitted. A few weeks before our departure date, everything changed, and we no longer needed testing. We only had to fill out a health declaration online, and that was it.

Of course, we had to keep our masks on during the entire flight (13 hours). I think the plane was only 1/3 full, so there was enough space between all passengers. We never felt uncomfortable for a single moment.

On arrival in the Netherlands, we were picked up by a taxi with a plastic screen between the driver and us, but otherwise, we noticed little of the rules here. We also did not have to quarantine because Taiwan/China was considered a safe country by the Dutch government.

What are the main challenges of moving back with children, especially in terms of schooling, socialization, etc.? Do they find it hard to adapt?

We have chosen the international school for our children. Firstly, because they can continue their education in the English language. Secondly, the children who attend school here all have an international background and understand each other's situations of living abroad. We saw this, especially in the first weeks, where it was relatively easy to make new contacts and be included in the existing friendships. The biggest challenge here is adapting to a different form of education. That is certainly the case for our oldest, who started in the exam process of 2 years. Everyone knows that it takes a lot of time and energy to adapt to a new situation, but the time is simply not there. So I experience that, especially with older teenagers, this is where the biggest challenge lies.

We are fortunate to have two children who open up easily in a group and make new friends quickly. They showed that in Taiwan, and now it has come naturally again. They go to school with great pleasure and enjoy that they can cycle there by themselves.

The lack of Taiwan is still there with them. The eldest still has weekly chats and calls with friends in Taiwan. Hopefully, these friendships will last forever, and in a few years, they will be grateful to us for the adventures we took them on.

Did you face any difficulties on your return to the Netherlands? If so, how did you deal with them?

Yes, they call it the reverse culture shock, and it is undoubtedly a big challenge. Life in your homeland has changed, and you as a person have changed. There are also expectations, and that makes the reunion a challenge. Actually, it is similar to what we experienced in Taiwan, only we speak the language here and of course, we know better how and where we can find everything and what we have to arrange. In Taiwan, we did a lot together as a family, and here we see that you end up in a busier social life. Of course, it is expected that everyone would like to see you again and meet up, but it is something you are not used to anymore. And then we got the new lockdown in the Netherlands, which didn't make it any easier either.

With the start of 2022, we have decided to choose more for ourselves and go out much more. The four of us rediscover our home country and make more time for each other. Fortunately, the children still enjoy this, so we have set aside one day in our calendar for trips every two weeks. We also know that it will be a matter of time before we will be used to this life again.

How is your social and professional life going nowadays in your home country?

Bert is back at work at the same company but in the Netherlands. I am converting the website we started in Taiwan by sharing our adventure into more information and tips for expats in the Netherlands. I now know what we encountered in Taiwan and where I would have liked more help and would like to offer this to expats who come to the Netherlands. Anything to make that process of adjusting to a new country a little easier.

In social life, I see a lot of international new friendships. This is because of the children's school, but we feel closer to these families because of our experiences. That is not to say that we no longer have friends from our years before Taiwan, but only the real good friendships have remained. We already noticed that in Taiwan. Life goes on for everyone anyway.

What do you miss the most from your expat country?

At the time of writing, I think the great weather in Taiwan. In Taiwan, we had slightly lower temperatures for 2 to 3 months, and it could be deceptively cold, but that is not in proportion to the long and gray winters here. In the Netherlands, we deal with long winters and many dark gray days.

We also miss the Asian food. We cooked at home for half of the week, and the other days we went out for dinner. It was so convenient and cheap to eat out in Taiwan.

Is there any advice you would like to give to anyone who's looking to travel back home during the pandemic?

Make sure that you are aware of all the rules of the countries you will be dealing with so that there won't be any surprises. And if you have to quarantine, take that time to rest and be there for each other. Pack some games and other activities to play together and have some movies on your laptop to get through the long days.

In general, I would advise you to take your time to get used to your life in your home country. I compare it to the time we also needed in Taiwan to get accustomed to our new life. Take time for your family and spend enough time together. You have built up a very close relationship with each other through your expat adventure, and you were mainly dependent on each other in the last few years. So dare to say no to family and friends and plan a weekend for your family.

Usually, after such an adventure, you have a very clear picture of how and what you want in your life. Try to stick to that when you return and choose for yourself. You've done it yourself all these years, so it will undoubtedly work now.

If you had to go through your move all again, is there anything you would have done differently?

I don't think so. We try to arrange the things that we have control over as well as possible, and otherwise, we just let everything come to us. After multiple adventures like this, you only become more flexible in this.

What are your plans for the future?

The primary focus is now on the graduation of the children. We briefly looked into homeschooling so that we were free to go again as soon as something came our way. Homeschooling is not officially allowed in the Netherlands. That is why we have decided to stay in the Netherlands for several years and wait until the children have made their choices for further education. Then we look at where we are, but our great wish is to retire earlier and experience that ultimate feeling of freedom again. There is still so much beauty to discover in this world.

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