My name is Andra and I am from Bucharest, Romania. I moved to Amsterdam in Summer 2010 and have been living here ever since. Amsterdam is giving me peace of mind, inspiration and the impulse to photograph and share the way I see it. You may find my personal interpretation of this beautiful city on my blog, Amsterdamming.
1. Why did you move abroad?
I live in the Netherlands by pure chance. Before moving here, I had never imagined I would call this country home one day and I hardly knew anything about it apart from some clichés. What brought me to Amsterdam was a series of separate events which eventually came together - just like the pieces of a puzzle - to create the “picture” I am currently living in. The first piece of the puzzle was a friend from Bucharest who had moved to Amsterdam years before. Whenever he came back to Romania to see his family, we would meet and talk about his life in the Netherlands. He would tell me all these stories about people smiling and singing while riding their bikes and about his beautiful loft in the West of Amsterdam. This was probably happening somewhere in 2006.
Fast forward three years and there I was in the Netherlands for an unexpected business trip - the second piece of the puzzle. In my only day off, I took a train to Amsterdam (my hotel was in Den Haag) to see the city and to meet my friend. “You could`t have possibly chosen a better day!”, he said when he saw me. It was August 1st 2009 and it was Gay Pride!
Not only did I fall in love with Amsterdam on that particular day, at the Gay Pride, but I also met my future boyfriend, a friend of my friend. And that was, as you may have guessed, the third piece of the puzzle. I was moving to the Netherlands the following year to live this romance. When my friend moved out to a new apartment, I got to live in exactly the same loft in the West of Amsterdam he was telling me about, which became my first home in the city. Quite a nice twist of fate!
2. How do you make a living?
I am working for a company whose headquarters are in the Netherlands. However, I haven`t started working immediately after moving to Amsterdam. It took quite some time to get a job, as at that time Romanians were still in need of a working permit in the first place. Looking back, I am quite happy it happened this way, as it gave me the opportunity (the time) to take it easy and adapt to the new reality in the most pleasant way.
3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I reach out to my family and friends whenever the heart dictates. There is no precise frequency and there are no specific means either. It may be a short call I give to my grandma to see how she is, a mail to my sister to share some thoughts or a message via Facebook to chat with a friend. The options are endless and I think the fact that I have a blog - which I update very often - helps my family and friends get an idea of what I am up to at any given time. My mother calls me once every two weeks though and I am going to Romania two, sometimes even three times per year to see my family.
4. What's your favourite thing about being an expat in Amsterdam?
The things I found fascinating about Amsterdam the day I set foot in this city for the first time are the same ones which make my soul sing today: the overall relaxed atmosphere, the smiling people, the beauty of the architecture, the sense of freedom, the fact that I can live my life in peace (Amsterdam is known for being an “urban village” ) and yet I can benefit from all the things a big city has to offer in terms of cultural or entertainment activities. As for being an expat in this city, I must say I hardly ever think of myself like this. Apart from not having my family living here with me, I cannot see any major difference between my life in Amsterdam and that of a native Dutch. Amsterdam welcomed me well and has always been a good company. Maybe this is why I feel that I am part of this city, rather than an implant. And I am always grateful to be able to enjoy its beautiful and serene existence.
5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in Amsterdam?
Nothing bad or unpleasant has ever happened to me in Amsterdam (or in the Netherlands) just because I was an expat. While it is true that Dutch people are not exactly running to you with open arms, it is still to be appreciated that you can live in their country, among them, without even having to speak their language. And if you treat them right (meaning you respect those unwritten rules about what they consider appropriate and inappropriate), they will treat you well in return or at least they will just let you be.
6. What do you miss most?
There are many things to miss about Romania and it is funny how my home country appears to me in such a different light now that I am not living there anymore. I miss the weekend trips to the mountains or to the Black Sea that I used to go to together with my friends, I miss the hot Summer days and the warm Summer nights when I would stay out without ever concerning about the weather, I sometimes even miss the little chaos a normal day in Bucharest would put you through.
I miss the Romanian countryside and the people living there, so genuinely kind and honest. I miss not having to plan anything and yet things would happen: meeting friends for drinks after work by simply making a phone call or having friends ring at my door without a previous invitation. But what I miss the most, of course, is spending time with my family.
7. What did you do to meet people and integrate in your new home?
I did nothing special to meet people, but I attended a Dutch course soon after moving to Amsterdam because I wanted to learn the language. At the Dutch course I met my first two friends in the city. And, since I was not completely on my own anyway - remember my relationship and my Romanian friend - I had the chance to establish contacts from my early days here.
However, when you live in a foreign country, the challenge is not to meet people (this is very easy, especially in Amsterdam), but to find a connection, a common ground with these people, out of which a true, healthy friendship to flourish. When you live abroad, most friendships are simply based on a certain need which has to be fulfilled: acceptance, belonging, status etc. And, since I have always considered that making friends should come naturally rather than from addressing a need and that a friendship should have some substance, it took some time for me to find true connections in Amsterdam. But it was worth waiting.
Besides this, adapting to the new reality has been quite a smooth process, simply because I loved every single part of it! I am a very curious person, so learning a new language and observing different behaviours and mindsets was kind of an experiment I was willing to participate in. I like to believe my first months in Amsterdam were a second childhood offered to me shortly before turning 30 years old: learning how to speak again, finding my way back home, being surprised by all kind of discoveries… How many people can afford this at that age? It surely doesn’t fit anywhere in a 9 to 5 schedule, so I feel grateful for having been offered this chance.
8. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
When I first saw people going to the beach at 18 degrees Celsius on a sunny day, I thought there was something definitely not right about the Dutch. That`s because in Romania, especially in Summertime, anything less than 24 degrees is considered cold and definitely not indicated for going to the beach. However, after one year of living in Amsterdam, I totally understood how the Dutch thermometer works and gladly adapted to it.
9. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Definitely all the ideas one might get about a country in which people can smoke weed in a coffee shop and where the Red Light District lays in the heart of the city and is embraced as such. Whereas all the above are indeed true for Amsterdam, this is just a tiny and (to me) insignificant part about life here. Amsterdam is so much more than this.
10. Is the cost of living higher or lower than the last country you lived in and how has that made a difference in your life?
Compared to Bucharest, Amsterdam is definitely more expensive when it comes to real estate prices. The rent you pay in Amsterdam is at least double than what you would pay in Bucharest. However, when it comes to going out, clothes and food, I think the prices are pretty much the same. I used to go on vacation in Romania thinking I was not going to spend a lot of money, but in reality I ended up spending just as much as if I stayed in Amsterdam.
11. What advice would you give other expats?
Everyone is different, so there is no recipe in this case. One thing is for sure: living in a different country is definitely a learning experience. Not only will you learn about the new country and its people, but you will be surprised by how much you will discover about your own country and, most important, about yourself.
12. When and why did you start your blog?
I started Amsterdamming in March 2011, but the early material on the blog dates back to 2010. It was sort of a retrospective of my beginnings in Amsterdam and then it continued, in real time.
Ever since I knew I was about to move to Amsterdam, I started to wonder what my life in this city would be like: the streets I`d be walking, the things I`d be seeing on my way home, the house I`d be living in, the neighbourhood market I`d buy flowers from etc. I was so curious about these things, that I even searched for them on Google. All I wanted was to find a blog to show me what my life in Amsterdam would look like. I was interested in a personal, visual and non-touristic interpretation of the city, as seen by someone living there.
I started Amsterdamming for this reason particularly and this is what I have been aiming for ever since: to let anyone interested see how life in Amsterdam is, above all the stereotypes. I don`t know to what extent I have managed to do this, but I do hope my blog provides you with a real, non-exaggerated perspective of this city.
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