Friendly neighbours are key to feeling at home, international workers say

Amsterdam – Having friendly neighbours is the most important part of feeling at home in the Netherlands, according to a survey of more than 3,800 international workers, carried out by the International Community Advisory Panel.

The survey looked at what international workers think is important to settling in, and about their daily lives, their friendships and the problems they encounter while living here.

Respondents were asked what they considered to be important in feeling at home, and 70% said friendly neighbours were key. Knowing where to go for help with problems was cited by 67% while 61% said speaking Dutch and 60% having Dutch friends.

‘Be proactive in suggesting meetups but be mindful that Dutch people tend to plan well in advance with their diaries,’ said one expat, when asked what tips they would give new arrivals about making friends.

‘It took some time to adjust to the culture changes and not knowing Dutch made things hard at the start. Once I started learning the language, I felt more at home,’ said one international worker in Amsterdam.

Discrimination

Discrimination was, however, an issue. Only one third of respondents said they had not experienced any discrimination during their time in the Netherlands and 18% said they often experienced it. Almost one half (48%) occasionally did so.

‘When we looked at people’s direct experiences, we found that many related specifically to people’s origins, with many reporting they had been told to ‘go back to your own country’ or had to deal with racist comments and stereotypes,’ said ICAP board member Deborah Valentine.

Personal experiences

‘I have been asked if my husband rescued me from the jungle. I have been asked if I am the nanny of my own children,  just because they have blond hair,’ one respondent said.

Many people also felt they had not been given a job or were passed over for promotion because they were not Dutch or did not speak Dutch, even though English was the language of their company.

‘There is a stereotypical assumption that because I am Polish I must be uneducated and do a low quality job,’ one respondent said.

Many respondents also reported being treated differently and charged higher prices by service providers because they were foreign. “The ‘only Dutch’ housing adverts are a problem and rent prices are generally higher for expats,” one Amsterdam resident said.

Misconceptions

‘Newspaper headlines often suggest that the expat is rich, sends their children to international schools and leave after a few years, but our research has shown consistently that this is not the case,’ Deborah Valentine said. ‘There are a lot of misconceptions about the international community and the idea that all foreign workers benefit from big tax breaks and will leave after a couple of years is completely outdated.’

The survey responses show, for example, that international workers are keen to get to know their new country. Over four in five have had a weekend away somewhere else in the Netherlands, 72% have taken Dutch lessons and 53% have a Museum Jaarkaart.

And although just over a quarter of respondents said they did not feel at home in the Netherlands, some 44% felt fairly or very settled, and 60% said they have no plans to leave.

About the respondents

International workers from 127 different countries took part in the online survey. Britain, the US, Poland, India and Italy accounted for the top five nationalities.

While most – 31% – lived in Amsterdam, the respondents lived all over the country, from Assen to Zwolle.

Some 40% lived with a partner and 31% with a partner and children.