This piece was first given as a speech at the International Women’s Club of Breda’s 45 year anniversary dinner on 11 April 2015 by club member Erica. You can read more about life in the Netherlands on her blog English Mum Abroad.
We can get hung up on the labels we give people – what’s the difference between an expat, an immigrant, an émigré or an international after all? We are all people who left the land of our upbringing and travelled around for love, work, education, family or economics. Or even just for the adventure.
We have often left loved ones, friends and family, behind. We may have stopped several times along our journey before putting down roots or may still be wandering. But one thing I’ve found when talking to women who’ve made the bold, brave and often necessary decision to shift their life to another country: there is much common ground.
This common ground is a solid place, where pragmatism, necessity and circumstance meet to create a rock hard foundation from which creativity, versatility, improvisation and sheer bloody genius can emerge. By simply stepping away from a ‘former life’ and stepping into a new environment the international women I know have blossomed in ways they never knew they might.
It is not without cost – blood, sweat and many tears. We’re human and often have to learn the hard, frustrating, experiential way. But the costs deliver an amazing result – phenomenal levels of self-reliance, capacity to cope with change and total, bloody-minded determination. For ourselves, our partners and our kids (and even our pets!) we consistently go the extra mile and prove ourselves extra-human.
The ability to cope with strange cultures, languages, landscapes and weather (the latter more important than many give credit) leads to a gradual, but fundamental, shift in outlook, approach and expectation. Once you’ve mastered the ability to negotiate bureaucracy in multiple languages, face a room full of people with a totally different set of cultural reference points and laugh with your neighbours about the local cuisine, you never un-learn those skills.
The planning, organisation, initiative and generosity of the international sisterhood shines through everything we do as a group of women. We have re-invented ourselves, supported our loved ones and each other, created a new community and shared some of our old community in the process. This care, love and ability to nurture, even under difficult circumstances, is part of the amazing package of qualities you find when talking to an international woman.
These qualities manifest themselves in different ways in different people but there’s one thing you can be certain of. If you want to get something done, ask an international woman.