Interview with an expat

What’s your name and where do you come from? Can you tell us something about your hometown/country?
I’m Lisa, and I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia. It’s a very multicultural city with a bit of everything: skyscrapers, beaches, and bushland!

Where do you live in the Netherlands? What is one of your favourite things about where you live?
I live in Amsterdam. I love how simultaneously vibrant and chilled this city is, and that there is always something interesting and fun happening every day.

What’s your job or business?
I’m a Community Manager at the University of Amsterdam. I’m also a content creator on YouTube and make videos about relocation tips and my life as an expat in the Netherlands. You can check out my channel here: or follow me on Instagram @leesa.yu

When was your first time in the Netherlands? What were your first impressions or what was special about that first trip?
My husband and I moved to the Netherlands towards the end of 2020. We both had never visited before and had no idea what to expect. Luckily, you could say it was love at first sight for me. I will never forget that first taxi ride from the airport to our accommodation – I was immediately in awe with all the bikes, the crooked houses and quaint historic architecture, the canals, and the vibrant and cosy atmosphere of this city. Through my Australian eyes, it was exciting to see how quintessentially European everything was.

What is the nicest thing about the Netherlands? How does this compare to your country?
That I don’t need to own a car! Sydney is a sprawling city so you really do need to drive everywhere and deal with a lot of traffic congestion. Public transport is also notoriously inefficient and it’s normal to spend an hour one-way to get anywhere. But here, I can just hop on my bike or take one of the many modes of (efficiently run) public transport. Because Amsterdam is such a compact city, most places that I need to get to are no more than 30 mins away from home. I feel like I’ve gained so much time back in my life since moving here!

Besides the weather, what is your biggest pet peeve about the Netherlands?
It’s not a ‘pet peeve’ per se, but something that has been on my mind a lot these days. I feel there is a growing perception that expats and internationals don’t do enough to ‘integrate’ into Dutch society. And yet every expat I know is actively studying Dutch, incorporates local customs in their daily lives, and gives back one way or another to their local communities (e.g. volunteering). My point is that (a) integration takes time and comes in many different forms, and (b) I would love to read some more positive news headlines about expats and internationals that dispel many of the misconceptions that people have about us.

Do you have Dutch friends? How do you meet Dutch people?|
Yes, I have some Dutch friends. I also work in a predominantly Dutch-speaking office, which has been a great way for me to meet other Dutch people and gain more detailed insight into Dutch culture.  

What do you like about Dutch people? What don’t you like?
I like how thriftiness is part of this country’s DNA. In the Netherlands, living frugally or economically is not perceived as a negative thing; rather, it’s something to be proud of. I still find it incredible that the former Prime Minister Mark Rutte rode a bike to work every day and owns a Saab! I am all for that! On the other hand, I do sometimes have to deal with a lot of haggling and unreasonably low bids when selling my items on Marktplaats!

What’s your best advice for new expats to make friends?
Making friends as an adult is a lot like dating. My advice is simply to not be afraid to put yourself out there, be open-minded, and always be yourself. Also know what kind of qualities you’re looking for in a friend. You won’t become friends with everyone you meet, but the more people you meet, the higher your chances are at crossing paths with someone who you will naturally click with. Sports clubs, Girls Gone International, Bumble BFF and volunteering are some ways that both introverts and extroverts are able to successfully meet new people. And importantly, when you do meet someone you click with, take the initiative and time to nurture that special connection. Sometimes we forget that it takes work on both sides to transition from being an acquaintance into a close friend.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in your city?
Moeders in Amsterdam West. They serve traditional Dutch food and everything I’ve tried on the menu tastes good. I like to take all our international visitors there, and it never disappoints!

What’s your favourite Dutch store?
I really like Marie-Stella-Maris and their company ethos. They sell a variety of fragrances and body products, all of which smell amazing. On the other end of the spectrum, I also really love Action!

What do you like to do on the weekends?|
A perfect weekend would involve a visit to the Lindengracht Markt and Noordermarkt, enjoying a delicious coffee and pastry at our many amazing bakeries around town, and taking a nice long walk or cycle in the park (my favourites are Vondelpark and Westerpark). One thing I love about Amsterdam is that everyone seems to sleep in on the weekends. I try to be out the door before 10 am because even at that time, the streets are whisper quiet and I sometimes feel like I have the whole city to myself.

Who is your favourite Dutch historical, cultural or famous person?
It’s cliché, but I have to say Vincent van Gogh. Even before moving to the Netherlands, I did a whole assignment about Van Gogh’s life at university and had attended quite a few Van Gogh exhibitions in different cities. His artwork continues to touch me and so many others to this day.

What would you recommend a visitor to do and see in your city and in general in the Netherlands?|
I always recommend doing a canal boat tour in Amsterdam, but with a smaller company like Those Dam Boat Guys or Pure Boats. There’s something special and calming about seeing the city from the water. Most visitors only allocate enough time for Amsterdam, which is totally understandable, but if time allows it, I also recommend doing a daytrip to a nearby city like Haarlem, Utrecht or Leiden. All these places are just as beautiful as Amsterdam but without the huge crowds.

What is your favourite Dutch food? And what Dutch food do you dislike?
I love herring. Despite multiple attempts, I still really hate drop.

Do you celebrate Dutch holidays? Which one is your favourite?
King’s Day is probably my favourite. I love that it’s a holiday for every generation, and it’s fun (and inspiring) to see really young kids manage their own flea market stall. There’s always a joyful energy in the air. People think King’s Day is all ‘party-party’, and yes it can be, but there are also many other fun chilled-out ways you can celebrate around town.

What famous Dutch place should new visitors or expat definitely go see?
Of all the tourist hotspots, I still think it’s essential to stroll around the canals of Amsterdam centre and Jordaan. Even after living here for more than 3 years, I still get swept away by how picturesque they are! For an ‘iconic’ Amsterdam photo, go to Brouwersgracht, Reguliersgracht, Prinsengracht, and the Papiermolensluis Bridge.

Best-kept secret in your city?
This is not really a secret for locals but maybe more so for tourists: if the weather is nice, consider going on a scenic bike ride alongside the Amstel River towards Ouderkerk aan de Amstel. Along the way you will pass by the historic windmill Riekermolen and also Amstelpark. All of this is only a 30-40 min bike ride away from the centre, but the serene surroundings will make you feel like you’re in the Dutch countryside.

Looking back, what do you wish you knew before you moved to the Netherlands?
Before moving here, every single Dutch person I met told me that I needn’t bother learning any Dutch since everyone speaks perfect English. But now that I live here, I feel that learning at least a little bit of Dutch before coming is not only respectful but would have also made my transition here a bit easier. And even if on the surface they say that they don’t mind, I think Dutch people do really appreciate it when you make the effort to speak een beetje Nederlands.

What are a few things you recommend to new expat here in the Netherlands?

  1. It’s important to know that living in Amsterdam is not your only option, even if your job is based here. It was only after moving to the Netherlands that I realised how easy it is to commute between Amsterdam and neighbouring cities like Haarlem or Utrecht.
  2. Be aware of these two important organisations: ACCESS-NL and Woon. Sadly it is quite easy to be taken advantage of when you’re a new expat or migrant, especially when it comes to housing. Both these organisations are helpful if you ever want to confirm what your legal entitlements are and that everything is happening as it should be.

Thanks Lisa for the interview!

Interviewed by Marla Thomson