No, I did not forget the question mark in the title of this post. (Seriously, people – you should know me better than that.) I’m not asking a question, but attempting to share an answer.
As I mentioned yesterday, the desire to live abroad crystallized during the month I spent in France, in June 2013. I will admit that a month is not a lot of time on which to base such an impulse, especially when it is a month in which I had no real responsibilities other than to speak French. Still, I had gotten a taste of something, and I wanted more of it.
Let’s backtrack a bit, to pre-France days. I had been at the same organization for 15 years. Some days I would drive to work and then have no memory of how I got there. I did not feel alert to what was happening around me. I wasn’t engaged, and I wasn’t enjoying things I used to love. I was stuck. And the thing about being stuck is that the stuck person is the only one who can un-stick themselves. No amount of encouragement or support or brow-beating can get them un-stuck.
My sabbatical was my attempt to un-stick myself, and it worked. In France, I was more aware and more alive than I had been in a long time. I had to be: so much of what was happening around me was confusing and foreign. Simple things like buying stamps became monumental accomplishments. I was more patient with myself and with others. I walked more, I turned down unknown streets, I got on trains and explored.
To be fair, I could have done any of those things in and around Boston. And when I returned from France, I did try to do more exploring in my own backyard. But I was focused on this idea of living abroad. Thankfully, my incredibly patient and tolerant husband was also on board. Knowing I was considering France, he wisely suggested that we go somewhere where we could at least function in English.
Now we come to the part of the story that puzzles most every Dutch person I have met: the part where we pick the Netherlands. The Dutch seem to view themselves as rather ordinary people, a bit direct (bordering on rude), who live in a nice city with the worst weather imaginable. I see them as tolerant, warm, fun people, a bit direct, who live in a beautiful, progressive city that is ruled by bicycles, where the weather can best be described as “mercurial”. For reasons I cannot explain, I have always loved it here. Sometimes you just connect with a place, absent any logic, and you feel it from the moment you arrive. As if you were born on the wrong side of the world, and have been wandering about, and you’ve only just found your way back.
So that’s why we’re here, living among the wonderful, tall, bike-riding, multilingual Dutch. The “why now” part of the story is, well, another story altogether, for another day.