Finding my place: My Dutch language learning
journey transformed my expat experience

Read about my experience as an expat in the Netherlands. Hopefully it can help you with your own experience.

As I hurried up the steps to the DUO building for my very first inburgering exam, I couldn’t help but feel a rush of nervous energy. Two minutes late from the required 30 minutes prior to check-in, I half-jokingly wondered if my tardiness would be considered “points deducted” for not being “Dutch punctual.” Yet, as I joined the long line trailing out the door, my panic gradually subsided.

I glanced around, absorbing the diverse faces of my fellow test-takers. Some conversed in fluent Dutch, while others relied on translators or family members for assistance. Headscarves, beanies, and bare heads dotted the crowd, with skin tones and eye colors as varied as the languages that filled the air.

When my turn came, I stammered out a nervous introduction in Dutch to the friendly receptionist, who offered words of encouragement and a flurry of instructions that left me momentarily dazed. I eventually processed the words Zaal Twee (Hall 2), boven (upstairs), and wacht (wait), nodded my (semi-) understanding, and put my phone, purse, and winter gear in one of the rows of small lockers to the side of the reception area. With my belongings safely stowed away, I took a seat and glanced around at the room full of expats.

We looked, dressed, and sounded quite different from each other. We were all born in very different, far-flung lands all over the world, with languages, religions, music and food all quite different from those of the Netherlands. Yet, here in this wachtkamer (waiting room), we were united by a common goal: to make the Netherlands our home. We were immigrants, migrants, refugees, and more, each with unique stories and backgrounds. But all that mattered in this moment was that we shared a heartfelt commitment to embracing Dutch life by studying and embracing its culture, work, and language.

Why had I made this commitment? The same reasons many expats reach the conclusion to learn Dutch more than just at a surface, tourist level: work, friendship, love, and the opportunity to live permanently in a country that consistently ranks in the top 5 happiest countries on Earth. In this article, we’ll cover these three areas of life as an expat, and you’ll understand why Dutch is the expat’s key to unlocking career, relationship, and permanent residency in the Netherlands.

Unlocking career success: how learning Dutch boosted my professional life (and pay grade)

Like many expats in the Netherlands, my journey with the Dutch language began as a means to excel professionally. Though I hadn’t specifically chosen the Netherlands for work opportunities and was initially a digital nomad, the more I learned about living and working here, particularly in the teaching industry, the clearer it became that acquiring a basic level of Dutch was essential for my career for many reasons, including:

1. Enhanced communication with colleagues and clients

A strong grasp of the Dutch language allowed me to interact more effectively with colleagues and clients, fostering better relationships and understanding. Even though many Dutch people speak English, communicating in their native language showed my respect for their culture and made our exchanges more personal and genuine.

2. Expanded job opportunities

Being proficient in Dutch significantly broadened the range of job opportunities available to me. Employers often value bilingual or multilingual candidates, as it demonstrates adaptability and a willingness to embrace the local culture. This edge in the job market ultimately led to more attractive career prospects and professional growth.

3. Improved networking potential

Speaking Dutch opened up new doors for networking, allowing me to connect with professionals in various industries who might not be as comfortable conversing in English. Attending local events, conferences, and meetups
became more fruitful as I could confidently engage with others and build meaningful connections that could benefit my career.

4. Navigating workplace culture

Understanding Dutch not only improved my language skills but also allowed me to better navigate the nuances of Dutch workplace culture. By grasping local expressions, humor, and customs, I could participate more actively in meetings, social events, and day-to-day interactions, ultimately feeling more integrated and at ease in my professional environment.

5. Demonstrating commitment and adaptability

Learning Dutch showcased my commitment to living and working in the Netherlands, as well as my adaptability to new environments. Employers and colleagues alike appreciated the effort I had put into learning the language, which often translated into greater trust, respect, and opportunities for advancement.

To my fellow expats, I offer these words of encouragement: persevere in your language learning journey. The rewards are well worth the effort, and with dedication and hard work, you too can unlock the door to a brighter future in the Netherlands. Remember, there are resources available, such as Flowently’s Dutch program for expats and other language courses, to support you along the way and make the process more effective and enjoyable. Next time we will take a closer look on ‘Unlocking Networks in the Netherlands. To be continued!

By Krys Copeland

Published by: Flowently

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