Interview with an expat

What’s your name and where do you come from? Can you tell us something about your hometown/country?
My name is Vartika Bisht and I come from Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, India. India is a beautiful place with rich culture, breathtaking landscapes, and a tapestry of traditions that enchant international visitors. From the majestic Himalayan peaks to the serene backwaters of Kerala, India offers a diverse range of experiences that leave a lasting impression on anyone who visits. The warm hospitality of the locals, along with the mouthwatering local cuisine, adds a touch of warmth to the already mesmerizing experience. Kinnaur truly embodies the essence of India’s beauty and charm, making it a destination that captivates the soul and leaves an indelible mark on the heart.

Where do you live in the Netherlands? What is one of your favorite things about where you live?
In the Netherlands, I live in Hilversum, Noord-Holland. One of the things I cherish about Hilversum is its charming architecture and the quaint, small-town ambiance it exudes. However, what truly makes Hilversum special to me is its people. The residents here are incredibly warm and helpful, creating a sense of community that is both heartwarming and inspiring.  I firmly believe in the idea that you receive what you give and their compassion and willingness to lend a helping hand encourage me to become a kinder and more considerate person each day.

What’s your job or business?
I am currently working as a PhD student focused on researching the causes of congenital heart disease, which refers to heart conditions present at birth. In simple terms, congenital heart disease means that some babies are born with structural defects in their hearts, affecting the way the heart functions. This condition is particularly challenging to understand and address because it manifests differently in each child, requiring thorough investigation and tailored treatment plans.

When was your first time in the Netherlands? What were your first impressions or what was special about that first trip?
My first time in the Netherlands was in February 2021, and it coincided with the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, which made the trip quite challenging. I was pursuing my master’s in the UK at that time, and booking a flight to the Netherlands was not easy due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. Upon arriving in the Netherlands, I found the atmosphere quite different from what I had expected. The pandemic had caused people to maintain distance, making it difficult for me to connect with others, even in my office. Despite the initial difficulties, I eventually adapted to the situation and came to appreciate the unique aspects of the Netherlands, such as its beautiful landscapes, rich culture, and friendly locals, albeit from a safe distance.

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands? How does this compare to your country?
The Netherlands has so much to offer, from its enchanting tulip gardens and delightful cheese to its most outstanding feature – the warm and welcoming attitude of its people. This aspect stands out when comparing it to my country, as starting over in a foreign land can be challenging, especially when you don’t speak the language and are far from family and friends. However, the Dutch’s accepting nature towards expats has made my transition smoother, as they show genuine interest in learning about my culture and embracing the novelty I bring to their society. The tolerance and respect they offer have made me feel at home and appreciated in this beautiful country.

Besides the weather, what is your biggest pet peeve about the Netherlands?
One aspect that I find a bit peculiar is the use of curse words in the Netherlands, which often revolve around diseases. While I understand that these terms might be grounded in the reality of people’s daily struggles, it can be discomforting to hear them frequently used. Additionally, the Dutch practice of splitting bills to the cent and sending “tikkies” everywhere also bothers me. Though I acknowledge the benefits of emphasizing the importance of non-material values in relationships, I also recognize the potential for it to create toxicity. Despite understanding the reasons, these practices still manage to irk me from time to time, perhaps due to the stark contrast with the customs I grew up with.

Do you have Dutch friends? How do you meet Dutch people?
Yes, I have quite a lot of Dutch friends. Meeting them is relatively easy, especially when you’re in their country. Jokes apart, I often encounter them in my university or through mutual friends. Additionally, I actively participate in various online and real-life communities, such as gaming groups, book clubs and choir groups, which provide great opportunities to connect with a diverse range of Dutch individuals. Once you get to know one person, it often leads to meeting more, fostering meaningful and lasting friendships.

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
I admire several qualities about Dutch people. Their high morals, fair and flat hierarchy in the workplace, and emphasis on work-life balance are truly commendable. Additionally, their straightforward nature is often refreshing, although on rare occasions, it may be mistaken for rudeness or coldness and become a target of dislike. Overall, the positive aspects of the Dutch culture greatly outweigh any minor reservations, making them a fascinating and admirable group of individuals.

What’s your best advice for new expats to make friends?
My best advice for new expats to make friends is to be open to listening, be curious about others’ cultures and experiences, be helpful and kind, and most importantly, be proactive in initiating social interactions. Making the effort to connect with others will greatly increase the chances of forming meaningful friendships, as no one will come to you unless you take the initiative and reach out.

Do you have a favorite restaurant in your city?
Yes, I do have a favorite restaurant in my city. It’s called Chang Mai in Hilversum, a delightful Thai restaurant owned by a very adorable couple. Whenever I’ve had a long day and want to treat myself, it’s my go-to place. The generous portion sizes, delicious flavors, and inviting ambiance to make it worth biking through the rain just to dine there. The accommodating owners and serene atmosphere create the perfect setting for a memorable dining experience.

What’s your favorite Dutch store?
My favorite Dutch store is “De Kringloper.” It is a unique thrift store where people can find pre-loved items in good condition, promoting a sustainable way of living. One of the reasons I love it is because there is no stigma attached to buying second-hand items. Moreover, their motto, “Every person has a talent, With the right guidance and coaching, people can develop into valuable employees with us and get a permanent position.”, adds to the charm of the place. It’s fascinating to explore the store’s collection of amazing trinkets that once belonged to people whom you’ll never meet, yet it creates a poetic connection, leaving you with small memories of their lives.

What do you like to do on the weekends?
On the weekends, I like to indulge in a perfect blend of nature and city life. I start with a refreshing nature walk, exploring the picturesque nature parks near Hilversum, which offer a serene escape from the bustling city. After that, I love visiting the local bakery to savor some delightful bread. The highlight of my weekend is strolling through the vibrant Saturday market in the center, where I immerse myself in the lively atmosphere. To unwind, I find solace in one of the charming cafes, sipping a cup of coffee while getting lost in the pages of a good book.

Who is your favorite Dutch historical, cultural, or famous person?
One of my favorite Dutch historical figures is Christiaan Huygens, whom I came across during university. Huygens was a brilliant scientist and mathematician known for his contributions to the fields of astronomy and physics. An interesting fact about him is that he was the first person to discover the rings of Saturn using a telescope he designed himself.

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city and in general in the Netherlands?
If you’re visiting the Netherlands, I highly recommend exploring its vibrant cultural scene by visiting some of the world-class museums like the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, and the Mauritshuis in The Hague. These museums showcase an impressive collection of art and historical artifacts, offering a glimpse into the country’s rich heritageRotterdam, known for its modern architecture, is a must-visit for urban enthusiasts. Utrecht’s picturesque canals and medieval architecture create a delightful atmosphere for leisurely strolls. Don’t miss the historic city of Delft, famous for its traditional blue pottery and charming streets.

What is your favorite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
My favorite Dutch food is Poffertjes – delightful, mini, fluffy pancakes that melt in your mouth. They are traditionally served with a generous dusting of powdered sugar and a dollop of butter, creating a perfect blend of sweetness and richness. The small, bite-sized nature of Poffertjes makes them a delightful treat for any time of the day.  However, on the other hand, one Dutch food I’m not particularly fond of is Haring (Herring). The raw fish served with onions and pickles might be a delicacy for some, but the strong taste and unique texture don’t quite appeal to my palate.

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? Which one is your favorite?
Yes, I do celebrate Dutch holidays. Among them, Kings’ Day and Sinterklaas are my favorites. Kings’ Day, with its vibrant street parties and orange-themed festivities, creates a joyful and inclusive atmosphere that welcomes foreigners with open arms. Similarly, Sinterklaas, with its tradition of gift-giving and cheerful gatherings, offers a heartwarming experience, making it easier for foreigners to immerse themselves in Dutch culture and feel a sense of belonging during these special occasions.

What famous Dutch place should new visitors or expat definitely go see?
For new visitors in the Netherlands, apart from the obvious tulip gardens in Keukenhof, a must-visit place is the Koninklijk Paleis Amsterdam (Royal Palace Amsterdam). This iconic palace is steeped in history and showcases stunning architecture, giving visitors a glimpse into the country’s royal heritage. Its opulent interiors and grandeur make it a fascinating cultural and historical landmark to explore during your time in the Netherlands.

Best kept secret in your city?
I did not know this until very recently but Hilversum is home to one of the oldest surviving radio towers in the world, the iconic “Gooi en Vechtstreek” radio tower, which stands as a symbol of the city’s historical significance in broadcasting.

Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the NL?
Looking back, one thing I wish I knew before moving to the Netherlands is just how big biking is in this country! It’s like a biking paradise here! Everyone, from young kids to elderly folks, whizzes around on their bikes like it’s second nature. I really wish I had learned to ride a bike when I was younger; it would have made getting around so much easier and fun!

What are 1-2 things you recommend to new expat here in the NL?
First things first, don’t let the rain dampen your spirits (pun intended!). Embrace it and invest in good rain gear because, well, you’ll be encountering rain quite a bit here. And here’s a helpful tip: try to learn the Dutch. It’ll go a long way in making your life easier and connecting with the friendly locals. So, rain or shine, you’ll be all set to enjoy your time the Netherlands!