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Sunday, 15 July 2012

End of Year Report

Being vicariously involved with education has a unexpected bonus – we get to have two new years! The first we share with the rest of the world on the 1st of January, the other is a kinda of vague, abstract time around about now.

It’s the end of the academic year, the school is closed, and the students have gone to celebrate successes or lick their wounds. But what about us, how did we survive our first year as expats and Andy’s first year as a lecturer.

Alfie’s end of year report

Alfie has settled in well during his first year in Breda, he’s a sociable and popular dog who has made friends easily. It’s been pleasing to see how readily he’s been accepted by the other dogs in his community.

Aflie may never be an A student and needs constant guidance and reassurance during his road management, human social skills and canine aptitude (sniffing) classes, however  this  is not unexpected considering his special needs.  He has however excelled in the language class, proving himself to be a able and talented student, communicating just as easily with his Dutch friends as he does his British.

There is one area of concern however,  which needs addressed with the utmost urgency. Despite a multitude of toys (educational of course), Alfie has developed a fetish for paper, he litters the apartment with scrunched up balls of paper. Hiding under the table has become his new hobby, although he’s not so difficult to find we just follow the trail of damp scraps of chewed up paper.

Despite this hiccup this has been a good first year for Alfie.

Mr Sunshine’s end of year report

Where do I start with Mr Sunshine?

It has been a year of ups and downs, socially he seems to have settled in well and been accepted by most of his peers.

Mr Sunshine’s language skills are somewhat lacking, but it’s good to note there has been selected improvement. He no longer answers every question in Dutch with ‘I am an English woman’, he’s progressed to ‘English’(engels) and an uncomfortable pleading look which has been a surprisingly effective method of communication. In the local cafes he is a popular figure, where his Dutch language skills have progressed even further and is often seen ordering a grote beer without sign language.

This has at times been a difficult year for Mr Sunshine, the sheer enormity of learning a completely new role, while balancing a colossal work load would have brought a lesser person to their knees, and there must have been times when he wondered if it was worth it. The looks of adoration he received from the students he chaperoned to the Brains Eden competition should have told him it was.  

Mr Sunshine spent four days in Cambridge supervising five bright young men who went on to win the top prize in the Brains Eden competition. As well as the normal supervisory role of a lecturer, Mr Sunshine undertook the role of surrogate parent for those four days, a role that surprisingly suits his caring if dour personality. Although his surrogate parental role must have been stretched almost to breaking point when one of his students asked him to pick up a tube of hair gel from the chemist, a purchase as uncomfortable and peculiar to my dour, bald, Scot as buying a multipack of Tampax.

As this school year draws to a close, I’m watching Mr Sunshine attempt to condense two decades worth of experience into three bursting Lever Arch files as he races to complete his Masters portfolio.  So far the combined weight of the portfolio will cost 98.00 Euros to post and he hasn’t finished!  He has 29 hours left (some of which must be spent sleeping) in which to finish before we start cancelling our holiday. He doesn’t think he can finish in time.

Next year will be different.

My end of year report.

So what do I think of my first year as an expat?

Last night I watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and those that have watched it will understand when I say on my first year here I feel like a member of that cast - a little bit past my best starting the adventure of a lifetime. There have been moments I’ve loved, moments when I’ve been terrified and moments when I’ve been humiliated, waking up naked in a hotel corridor comes to mind for one.

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat, it’s changed who I am and for the better. Thirty years ago I lived in a padded house afraid of everything - flying, driving, going too far from home, scared of the dark, of strangers and worst of all I was afraid to make a fool of myself.  Today very little scares me and I’ve been a buffoon so many times I’m immune from shame.

I think my expression on the following photo sums up my first year in the Netherlands perfectly.

If I smile really hard, perhaps people won’t notice what a fool I am.

And the fact that I’ve posted the photo here proves I’m no longer quite so terrified of making a fool of myself


  1. What an amazing story! I'm from Sydney, Australia and thinking of moving to Holland next year with my Dutch boyfriend to his little tiny country town... Drastically different from a big city like Sydney. And im terrified! I've just started reading your articles and am enjoying them immensely so big thanks for sharing your experiences and day to day thoughts!

  2. Thanks Mary, glad you are enjoying the blog. Which part of the Netherlands will you be moving too?


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