28 July 2014

Expat Anniversary, the Second

It's hard to believe, but Saturday marked our second expat anniversary in the Netherlands. We didn't realize it until the middle of the day, and with everything else going on, it was easy for it to slip by.

We spent the day doing a rather typical Tilburg thing: checking out Kermis. Kermis is like a traveling fair/carnival that moves through the country during the summer, and Tilburg's Kermis is a big deal. The streets around city center are shut down, and rides, games, and concessions wind along for 3 km. The center is basically one big party for 10 straight days while people come to enjoy the festivities. And you can find just about every type of ride (including a log flume ride) or game you can think of - giving you plenty of variety along the 3 km stretch. As I said, very typically summer activity in Tilburg - one that was finishing up the day we first arrived and more or less marks our expat anniversary.

After two years, we're happy to take part in the "typical" and experience life as a local. There's still plenty to do and learn about, but there's a comfortable feeling about where we are, too. It's all part of the adventure, after all, and we're looking forward to the next leg.


I'll say here, the next few weeks are winding up with our upcoming move. There's a good chance we'll be left without internet for a few weeks in the moving process, so the blog here may suffer a bit. But, I'll have the amazing power of social media still at my fingertips. You can follow some of the moving updates and random observations with the Life in Dutch Facebook page by clicking the link here or by liking the button below.


Do you have something "marking" your expat anniversary or that reminds you of when you first arrived?

19 July 2014

Giving Our Condolences - MH17

There are few words that can ever really feel appropriate when faced with a tragedy. As we receive more details about the crash of Malaysian Airlines flight 17 and the victims on board, it's been difficult to know what to say. The Netherlands is mourning, as are the other countries whose citizens were on board. The scientific community is mourning the loss of major scholars and researchers who dedicated their lives to the eradication of AIDS.

All I can offer is our condolences and prayers to the families, friends, and colleagues effected by this senseless tragedy.

16 July 2014

Driving Privileges

I've actually gotten my act together and have an official Dutch driver's license. This might not seem like much, but the requirements for even just getting the paperwork are far more stringent than anything I dealt with in the States, even when I was first going for my road test at 17.

So what made this process so long? The short answer is: several appointments and loads of paperwork. 

First, we had to make an appointment with the Gemeentehuis Tilburg (Tilburg City Hall) to pick up an Eigen Verklaring - a personal statement declaring that we were mentally and physically fit to drive. Once it's completed and mailed it, you wait for the approval letter from the CBR office. We didn't have to, but if you find yourself indicating that you have particular conditions or medications, you'll have to have an additional form filled out by your physician declaring that your condition/medication doesn't interfere with your ability to drive. Once that was out of the way, we called the Belastingdienst (Tax Office) for confirmation that we qualify for the special "30%" tax rules (given to "highly skilled workers" and their partners). 

We took the CBR approval letter, the Belastingdienst confirmation letter, passport-sized photos, and our US licenses to another appointment at the Gemeentehuis for someone to process our requests to exchange our licenses. We waited several weeks for everything to process, and, voila! Dutch licenses! And they're valid for 10 years, which was surprising when you're used to renewing one every 4 years. 

For those that don't come from an country approved for direct exchanges and/or have a 30% tax rule, there's a written test (and potentially a road test) required for your Dutch license. Check the official website, www.rijbewijs.nl, for information related to your particular circumstances. My friend Farrah over at The Three Under has had an interesting time getting her's exchanged - you can follow her on Facebook for the fun details. 

And now for the real challenge of the license process - learning to drive a manual transmission. I'm willing to bet it's going to be one heck of an adventure for the poor kind soul that brings me out the first time. 

Do you have any tips or tricks to getting a Dutch license? Or have you had to exchange a foreign license before?

12 July 2014

Last Day of School

Yesterday was the last day of school before the summer vacation for the southern portion of the country, and it was Little Man's last day at his current school. We've been happy with our experience at the school, but unfortunately, it's too far away from our new home to make the trip twice each day.

Typically, kids stay in the same class through the year in which they turn 6 - often that means close to three school years with the same teachers and roughly the same group of kids - so when a child leaves midway, preparation is done not just for the child that is leaving, but also for the classmates. Because we had enough notice for the transition, his teachers did some wonderful things that helped give a sense of closure (at least for me).

Little Man and a little girl are both moving over the summer, so the teachers held a special good-bye celebration with the class. Both Little Man and the little girl had "crowns" similar to the birthday crown worn by young kids on their birthday and received adorable books with "Vergeet ons niet," (Don't forget us) written on the cover and filled with signed self-portraits made by every child in the class. We received a nice spiral-bound book of his important work from his time in the class with lovely notes from the teachers telling him to have a fun time at his new school and to enjoy his new home. I think these are all wonderful gestures and help add to the memories Little Man will take with him.

I'll admit that I feel a little guilty about moving schools, but I also know how impractical it would be to try and stay at the same school. And Little Man has already come into himself so much over the past school year, that I know he can and will continue to thrive at the next school. Young kids are always more resilient that we first give them credit for, and I know Little Man is one of them. So, the adventure continues for us and for him while we work through the six weeks of summer vacation and the move. He's already looking forward to the changes ahead, and that kind of optimism rubs off.

09 July 2014

Oh Blog, I Have Not Forsaken Thee - At Least Not on Purpose

I'll be totally honest - I have not been doing a good job keeping up with the blog here the last month or so. I've been forced to switch up priorities lately, so the blog has fallen by the wayside while other aspects of life have taken over. So let me give my excuses for my neglect.

After getting back from the US for my brother's graduation in June, we hit the ground running with finding a new place to live. I've mentioned a few times here that we'll have to move this summer. Our current rental agreement is coming to an end and cannot be renewed, so that matter has forced our hand on the issue. But we're looking forward to the change. We miss the urban feel of Chicago, and without a car, sometimes getting around is a pain in the neck. So, we're moving closer to Tilburg's city center and we've found a place that has a great location. I'll admit that I was pretty frustrated by our search in the beginning (before leaving for the graduation companies kept telling me they wouldn't help us because it was too early), but I feel like we've gotten really lucky. Our new place is an easy bike ride to center, there's lots of bus routes stopping close by, it's closer to work for Mark, but it's also far enough from the student housing to help keep things peaceful (particularly on weekends and at the end of the semesters).

Through this whole process we're learning on a curve - but it feels like we're navigating it pretty well. In the Netherlands, it's common for tenants to put down their own flooring and sometimes to provide their own appliances. We've already bought the floor from the previous tenant but we're looking into buying a refrigerator and an oven. Since we bought our own washing machine early on, I think we'll be okay, but it's still a bit of an adventure when you've never had to do this before in any language.

Once we found the new place, we started looking for a new school for Little Man since we'll be too far from the school he attends now. I spent several days making appointments and visiting a bunch of schools in the area, and found one that seems like it will be a lovely fit. I feel a bit bad about moving him so soon after he settled into his current school and routine, but there's really not anything that can be done about it. Luckily, he's young enough that this is all very exciting and he's happy about the idea of a new school.

And if we didn't have enough going on already, in the middle of all this we made a quick trip to Rome and got back last night. Mark had a conference, and Little Man and I tagged along since we figured it would be our only chance for a family vacation this summer.

So, to sum it up - there have been a few things happening around here - and it looks like it will be a pretty busy summer. I'll do my best to keep up with everything here. After all, it's another interesting part of the adventure.
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