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 Julia Tu, and I come from China. Before I came to the Netherlands, I’d lived in Wuhan for 30 years. I was born in the westernmost part of China. We moved back to my father’s hometown Wuhan when I was 8 years old. It’s a very big city, noisy, dirty and messy. It has got terrible traffic problems, but it has become more easily accessible in the past few years because of the new subway lines.

Where do you live in the Netherlands? What is one of your favourite things about where you live?
I live in Leiden. It’s only 15 minutes on foot from my house to the centre. I love the tranquility and accessibility there.

What’s your job or business?
My previous jobs in the Netherlands primarily involved office management and finances. I quit my job two and a half years ago because of my health and some family issues in Wuhan I had to deal with. I’m ready to look for a new job now. I’d like to do something totally different instead of sitting in an office. I’m very excited about my new adventure.

When was your first time in the Netherlands? What were your first impressions or what was special about that first trip?
I first visited the Netherlands in the fall of 2008. I remember it was a beautiful October. It was sunny almost every day. I thought that the Netherlands is a land full of sun with blue sky, and just a little bit colder than Wuhan. I felt and saw the happiness of Dutch people. Many people are satisfied with their lives instead of comparing themselves to others all the time, causing themselves to be miserable. The blue sky and the happiness left a good impression.

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands? How does this compare to your country?
I think that the simple Dutch lifestyle is very nice. It’s a more simple and slower way of living here than in China. There are, for example, far fewer choices in a supermarket here compared to China. So you spend much less time making up your mind to choose what you need. It makes your life simple and happier, and you spend less money and save some time to do what you really like. In China, my life is more complicated. I was so busy just living and choosing everything that forgot to enjoy life itself!

Besides the weather, what is your biggest pet peeve about the Netherlands?
Food is not fuel, but the first happiness for Chinese. I can’t find some vegetables here which I ate daily in China. Maybe in big cities you have more choices on open markets, but not in Leiden. I miss them sometimes.

Do you have Dutch friends? How do you meet Dutch people?
I have very few Dutch friends. My friends are mostly from other countries. Actually, I had good relations with my Dutch coworkers when we still worked together. I have to say it’s difficult to stay friends since we don’t work together anymore. One of my Dutch friends was my taalmaatje. We met through Gilde SamenSpraak. It’s an organization that brings Dutch native speakers and non-Dutch people together to share the Dutch language and culture. I also did some volunteer work where all my colleagues were Dutch. It’s also an interesting way to meet Dutch people.

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
Some foreigners think Dutch people are too direct and rude. Dutch people say what they think, even if it can hurt your feelings. But I like their open and direct manner. Their directness may seem selfish, but it makes it easier to live. It’s OK to say NO in the Netherlands. I dislike that some Dutch people are too proud of themselves.

What’s your best advice for new expats to make friends?
Take Dutch language or hobby classes, be a volunteer, or join a sports association. Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there and be active.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in your city?
I don’t have a favourite restaurant in Leiden, but my new favourite restaurant is Luna in The Hague.

What’s your favourite Dutch store?
HEMA is my favourite. I can find almost every kind of article for daily use there, for a fair price. Some of them have a very cute restaurant inside the store.

What do you like to do on the weekends?
I like to meet my friends or go to the open market in Leiden.

Who is your favourite Dutch historical, cultural or famous person?
Vincent van Gogh is my favourite Dutch famous person. I love his works. I really appreciate that he left so many incredible, amazing paintings to the world.

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city and in general in the Netherlands?
A visitor definitely should see the Burcht van Leiden. It is an old shell keep in Leiden, constructed in the 11th century. It’s also the highest place in the center. You’ll see what Leiden looks like from above. In the spring it’s worth to visit the flower fields in the Netherlands, especially in the area called ‘Bollenstreek’. Bollenstreek is located behind the North Sea dunes, between the cities of Amsterdam, Leiden, Haarlem and The Hague. There are countless flower fields full of tulips, daffodils and hyacinths.

What is your favourite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
Homemade white asparagus with ham, eggs and butter sauce is my favourite. I also like kibbeling and bitterballen. I don’t like frikandel.

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? Which one is your favourite?
I celebrate Christmas with my husband’s family. It’s not a typical Dutch holiday, but in China it’s only a commercial day.

What famous Dutch place should new visitors or expat definitely go see?
There are lots of great museums that new visitors definitely should visit, for example Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum and Mauritshuis. If you see boat tours in a city, try it! They gives= you very different perspective on the city.

Best-kept secret in your city?
There is a lake in the western of Leiden called Valkenburgse meer. It’s a nice place to walk around, and also an important nature reserve. In the summer lots of local people go there for swimming and sunbathing. The lake and the surrounding meadows are an important habitat and stopping place for various species of ducks, geese, meadow birds and migratory birds. If you love birdwatching, it is the right place for you.

Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the Netherlands?
I wish I knew how difficult it is to reach a customer or government service in the Netherlands. Sometimes I have to wait for an hour on the phone to talk to a real person.

What are a few things you recommend to new expat here in the Netherlands?
Even if you speak fluent English, please try to learn some Dutch. I think that learning the language and accepting cultural differences are the essential things to live in a new country.

Thanks for the interview Julia!

Interviewed by Marla Thomson