Expat Interview: Meet Jessica, an Italian/German moving to the Netherlands.
While supporting ambitious professionals who recently moved abroad, I publish these interviews, revealing personal stories, tips and advice.
Arriving in a new country is such a change, and how to feel ‘’at Home’’ can be a challenge. Or not?
This month I introduce you to Jessica Stazzone Manazza
Original country: Germany and Italy
Expat countries: Netherlands, New Zealand, Bavaria
Current country: Netherlands
Your story in a nutshell: When people ask me “where are you from?” I always say two things: I was born and raised in northern Germany – and my family is from Italy. My family immigrated in the 70s and 80s from Sicily to Wolfsburg, a very industrial city in Northern Germany. Some of my family members wonder why I would choose not to work for Volkswagen in Wolfsburg (and thereby have a pretty good life), but quit my job with 30 years, go back to University, graduate and then try to find a job in the Netherlands. The Netherlands???
From an Italian perspective, the area where I live now is rather “culinarily limited”.
From a Germany perspective pretty flat and small, and from a Wolfsburg/Volkswagen perspective there are just too many bikes and no possibilities to park your car!
What is your biggest challenge as expat? The biggest challenge was, and is still, not only to adjust to a new place, environment, tasks and people – but to stay convinced that it is the best decision to stay here and explain that towards family, friends, and work colleagues of my former job.
And why do I even try to learn Dutch, which is not the most beautiful language when I already speak German, English, Spanish, Italian and some Arabic?
Why the choice of the Netherlands? Because I am free here – which is quite funny since the Netherlands are small, densely populated and always threatened by surrounding water – still I think that the way people think here in Amsterdam, makes this city and maybe also the country very free and this is what makes me feel home here.
One reason to choose the Netherlands, and especially Amsterdam, was that I wanted to study in English at a good university but still affordable. And I already knew that I really like this city because 10 years ago I worked as tour guide on a ship cruising the Rhine river from Basel to Amsterdam every week.
The other reason is, that it is not really far from Germany and my family. Because with my background in tourism, I also had the chance to go to work on a cruise ship on Nile River, to visit a language school in Tunisia, to work in Spain in a hotel, to go on a student exchange to Thailand and to do my bachelor’s degree in tourism in New Zealand, for more than a year. So after all that travelling my family now is pretty happy if I at least live on the same continent!
Benefits in your adopted country: I cycle between 50km and 70km per week – and it is great! I feel really free on my bike and I hardly miss my car anymore.
About integrating and adjusting smoothly: What went well and what was hard? Working for many years and being out of university, to study was much more challenging than I thought! I was not aware how different Dutch study programs are and that we did not even have the full year, but had everything pressed into 9-months. Most astonishing was, that after 2 month I was really homesick! I never expected this to happen because I travelled so much in my early twenties and was never homesick. So firstly, I didn’t really understand what was going on, but then I had to admit that with over 30 years and after several years of work experience and living really far away – I was homesick in Amsterdam, which is 4 hours by car to my family.
What is your current occupation? I graduated in Business Administration and specialized in Corporate Social Responsibility – leaving me passionate to help making all business responsible by connecting people with sustainable ideas & existing business. I am happy that I chose this city because Amsterdam is full of people with great ideas, full with start-ups and people who want to make a positive impact!
How you stay motivated: Especially connecting to inspiring people, like Rachel Smets who has a deep passion for helping other people to connect to new environments and new mindsets. That keeps me motivated and energized to dig deeper and really get into the culture here in Amsterdam and in the Netherlands. Sometimes it also helps to go back to Germany and my hometown! Then I realize that I really like to live in Amsterdam and just go to my hometown for visits but not to live there.
Cultural diversity: What is the biggest cultural lesson learned? The biggest lesson was to learn that the Netherlands might look very similar and even sound very similar to Germany but then – and that is still in progress – understand that it is a very different and unique country.
What I find most interesting are the things in daily life which are just done differently without being better or worse. One example which I really like is eating salad and the usage of dishes. In southern Italy, when you eat at home with your family, salad is often served after the main course and on a plate. In northern Germany you have the salad before the main course and served in a bowl. Now try to give my German friends a plate with salad after we finished the roast and potatoes – you will see surprised faces and being asked for a bowl. So, there is no real difference or any logical reason you can apply but still you will experience some difficulties and hopefully learn something new.
What did you wish you knew before moving? I wished I knew how important Dutch in a country where everybody speaks English.
Your Plans for the future: Learn Dutch really well to be able to work also in this language!
*** Please tell us your important TIP(s) when moving to a new country: ***
1. I believe that connecting is crucial to involve, understand and overcome boundaries for every expat – so go out into your new city and explore what is out there! Go to a meetup, go to expat events, find a choir, go to language school, shop at the supermarket what locals shop, move how the locals move – in my case on a bicycle!
2. Explore your new self – you will change in your new environment. The best thing is to try to be positive about it and grow with the changes and not be scared or negative about it.
3. Find a gatekeeper – find people who might be in the same situation where you are right now but at the same time do not forget to stay connected to your old friends and to family, you will need both.
Thank you very much!
Picture taken in Edam (NL)
If you want to make a change in your life, it’s never too late.
Rachel Smets is a bestselling Author, TEDx speaker, Coach, and Culture Trainer.
Living and working abroad for many years has broadened her mind, her understanding in cultures and she has learned to turn every challenge into a new opportunity.
Rachel helps young ambitious professionals who recently moved abroad. She loves to inspire and help them find clarity and connection in their new environment to become their best selves and make their stay abroad a success!