26 August 2016

Teresa Hulst - Expat in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Teresa Hulst - Expat in Amsterdam, Netherlands

We’ve had the chance to talk to Teresa Hulst, an American expat who has moved to Amsterdam with her family. Mrs. Hulst who has been living there for 18 years, now works as a photographer/artist.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from

A: The Bay Area in California, but I was born in Chicago and raised in Los Angeles.


Q: What made you move out of California?

A: Love, Love, Love


Q: Where are you living now?

A: I live in a vibrant area called “De Pijp” in Amsterdam.


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: I traveled for three months through Europe while studying Art History.  I knew when I stepped onto the platform at the Central Station that I would live here one day.  I just knew it.  So, when I met my husband in California and he asked me if I wanted to move to Amsterdam after I graduated from art school it was an easy “Yes!”


Q: How long have you been living in Amsterdam?

A: I have lived in here since 1998.


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in Amsterdam?


A: How radically cold everything was, the weather, the people, even some of my husband’s friends and family were also cool and standoffish. I cried a lot.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance were particularly difficult in Amsterdam? What was your experience with these? 

A: I had absolutely no problem at all. As a matter of fact, it was so easy that it left me reeling.  I arrived and the very next day I had all of my papers. After five years, I got a Dutch passport. I think it makes a big difference if you are married to a native and which country you are coming from.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family? 

A: I live with my husband and my son who was born here. So, I am the only expat in the family.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people?  

A:  Not really. In general, Dutch circles are very difficult to penetrate and they don’t readily accept foreigners. The Dutch make friends with one another at school (elementary, high-school, college) and they stay friends forever.

I first worked at a company called Chello UPC, which has now morphed into Ziggo.  It was the launch of broadband internet in those days.  My entire company was mostly expats. I socialized and traveled with them for work and at home, I spent time with my husband’s friends and family. I can’t say that I particularly felt comfortable with any of them. The California lifestyle is very different.


Q: Do you mainly socialize with other expats in Amsterdam?  

A: Currently, I have a mixture of friends. I do tend to gravitate towards native English speakers or Latin people, but I have a couple of Dutch girlfriends.


Q: How did you manage to find a social circle in Amsterdam?

A: Mostly I have met people through my husband and more recently, through my son via school. I also like taking classes and attending events. It is the best way to meet people who are also doing something that you like. I currently take voice and salsa classes. However, I can’t say that any of the people I have met in those classes are friends, but it is fun to get out there and socialize.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: Museums

When I first visited Holland, I was keen on seeing all of Van Gogh’s work. I enjoyed viewing the original letters between Van Gogh and his brother, Theo. The Van Gogh Museum was recently renovated, as was the Stedelijk Modern Art Museum, and of course the Rijksmuseum, which houses the Dutch Masters, just underwent a ten-year renovation. So, I would say a visit to the Museum Square is not to be missed. 


Definitely, jump on a bike and cycle around the city. It is the best way to get around and you are never more Dutch than when you ride a bike. It is a thing of beauty to see how they navigate through sleet and snow, with kids and groceries dangling off the front and back, all while holding an umbrella and using a phone! They sometimes hold hands and kiss too while cycling.  (Don’t try this if you are a novice.)


Café Culture

Drop into “brown bars & cafes” which are very old establishments made brown from years of smoke and use. You can tell you are in one when the stone steps are worn down and the bartender has worked there since he was a kid. There are many buildings here from the 1600’s. You can also visit Rembrandt’s house and studio. Try the Smalle Café for a good example.


Make sure to take a boat through Amsterdam. The city was designed to be traversed by boat and it is only when you are on the water, that you truly realize this. Many of the original canals and waterways have been filled in, but you can still enjoy the canals, the river and the IJ, which is a lake.


Q: How does the cost of living in Amsterdam compare to your home? 

A: Well, I am from Marin County, which is absurdly over-priced as is the city of San Francisco.  Overall, I would say that things like, education, medicine, housing and food are more reasonably priced.

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: 2-2.50 EU

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: 10-15 EU

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: 25-40 EU

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A:  9-15 EU, 6-7.50 EU


Q: How do you find the local culture and people in Amsterdam? 

A: It is a café society. People often meet for a quick coffee in order to catch up. The Dutch are also quite frugal and this is an easy and inexpensive appointment. There is not really a food culture associated with Holland. They tend to eat bread, cheese and cold cuts for both breakfast and lunch and dinner is a variation of meat, potatoes and vegetables. They are very open to International Cuisine, however. You can find all kinds of food here from all over the world.

The people that I have met here through my husband are honest, loyal and true. It takes them a long time to warm up to you, but when they finally accept you, there is a sense that it is meaningful and long lasting. When you’re in, you’re in, but when you’re out, you’re out.

The Dutch are also known for being quite frank and that at first was off-putting. However, I now see their directness as refreshing. You don’t have to guess what people are thinking because they speak their mind. You don’t have to wade through false pretenses to get to the truth, a problem I had while living and working in London, where they beat around the bush and never say a direct NO.


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in Amsterdam?

A: Location

I live in the center of Amsterdam and thus, it is easy to go anywhere in the city quite easily and within a minute via bike. Holland is also centrally located in Europe, making it a great jumping point for trips abroad.


The education here is phenomenal and free! There are no private schools, so this balances everything out for everyone. My son is getting a top education, the quality of which would cost me an arm and a leg in the states. Also, in addition to learning Dutch, it is mandatory to learn the languages of the surrounding countries, being English, German and French. If you are lucky enough to get into the Gymnasium level high school (the highest of four levels), you will also learn Latin and Greek. Basically prep school for higher education.


The medical system is great. Everyone is covered in some way. However, their medical practices are different. First, you see your General Practitioner for your complaint. This doctor will treat you unless you need a specialist, in which case you will be given a letter of recommendation. This saves a lot of time and money for everyone involved. For example, if you get pregnant, you are sent to a midwife who will handle everything, including birth, which is normally at home. Should it become necessary to go to the hospital (which was the case with me) only then will you see a doctor or prior to this of course when needed.


The country is extremely organized and well-functioning overall. We do pay very high taxes for all of the social benefits, but I feel well taken care of and considered by the government. Their politics usually make sense to me.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: Yes, of course. I have never been more homesick in my whole life as when I first arrived. I came from Sunny California to endless grey days and daily rain. It felt like we were all crying. The hardest thing is that when you leave your home your whole world changes. Every single thing is strange and unfamiliar. You long for the things that you know, but you can’t find them anywhere.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness? 

A: Buy a ticket

There is only one way to cure homesickness and that is to go home. If you can buy a ticket home and hang it in a place where you can see it every day it helps you get through the lonely days. If you can’t buy a ticket home, then maybe encourage someone from home to visit you.


My Mom sends me packages from home, which I love. It is a great way to get that homey fix.  Nowadays, we have FaceTime and Facebook, and all the rest, so it is really easy now to “see” your friends and family and stay up to date. Keep in touch! 

Create your own world

The first step to truly conquering homesickness was to realize that I did not have to choose between my new country and my old country. They both belonged to me. They were mine. I think that changing this perspective was vital.

With this new attitude, I stopped pining and got busy creating the life that I wanted. My first step was to work from home because I was trying to get pregnant. So, I created a business and designed my studio out of the shed in the backyard. First, it was an art studio and then it became a massage studio.

The business grew and the baby grew too, so we sold our starter house and purchased a bigger house on the Sarphatipark in this fantastic neighborhood which was near the open market and very lively. I was able to take the child to the park, have my business on the bottom floor of my home, and still do, and I was able to create the atmosphere within my home that was so familiar to me and did not exist outside. This greatly contributed to my well-being. 

However, I still missed my home in California tremendously. Then I was able to purchase it (previously only renting). This was a game changer knowing that I could go “home” at any time made my adventure here much easier. It’s like having a Get of Jail Free card.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future? 

A: Well, I don’t have any immediate plans as I am permanently a resident of both Sausalito and Amsterdam and maintain both homes. However, if an opportunity arose that I couldn’t resist, I would definitely consider it.


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far? 

A: Having a baby in a foreign country. My Mom came for the first six weeks, but after that, I was basically on my own as my husband is always traveling for work. No other family member has ever visited me and my friends’ visits have been few and far between. So, I had to cope with this and the baby, while treating hundreds of clients in my practice. I have learned a lot, but it is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country? 

A: Learn the language

Definitely, try to speak the language even though everyone speaks English. You will be taken more seriously and you will understand the culture better.

Get a bike

Jump on a bike ASAP and learn how to be savvy on the bike. There is little room for error on the small busy streets. It is so fun to fly around on your bike and the whole city is wired with bike paths!

Take a class

Have fun doing what you like with other people that like it too!

Hang out with the locals

It is not always easy to make friends with the locals, but you can definitely hit them up for a coffee or a drink.  Ask them questions on how to navigate. They definitely have the inside tips. They will tell you all about what is “typically Dutch” or not. Invite them over for dinner. They are naturally curious and they eat everything! This is how I got to know a lot of people.


Q: Do you have favourite websites or blogs about Amsterdam

A: Well mine of course! Amsterdam P.blogspot.com was born from a monthly newsletter that I used to write to my expat clients when I had my healing and massage practice. It has now become a lifestyle blog about Amsterdam. Lots of tips and tricks! I also recommend Expatica.com for getting acquainted with the country.