Names: Jagdeep, Sumeet, Harveer (9) and Jivrai (7)
Occupations: HR consultant/work-at-home mother, IT professional
Length of time in Amsterdam: 4 years
What brought you to Amsterdam?
Jagdeep: Sumeet’s job. He works in IT and we join him whenever there’s an opportunity. We’ve lived in the UK twice and once in the US, in Los Angeles.
How do you maintain your work-life balance in Amsterdam?
Sumeet: It varies from time to time. I wouldn’t call it ideal at this point, but I think it’s like this in every industry. In my line of work, the number of hours is high, but the advantage is that I can work from where I want, when I want to. It’s helpful that here, getting around is very easy and the commute times are generally short. Unlike the United States, where people are used to spending a great deal of time in their cars on the highway just getting to and from work.
Has networking been easy for you in Amsterdam?
Sumeet: Networking here has been good. The only obstacle is the language part. We are not that fluent in Dutch. We do connect to some other Indian families but I think I have more Dutch friends than Indian ones.
Jagdeep: In the international community, though, it’s very easy.
How has Amsterdam changed you personally?
Sumeet: It’s changed us in that we see different trends and customs that are outside our culture, and those that are similar to ours, existing together. Living here has strengthened our bonds to our Indian customs: being open, quite honest, caring towards others. We’ve also learned from the Dutch culture how to be very direct, how to just say no instead of coming up with excuses. In Indian culture, it is very difficult to say no, and also very difficult to hear no.
Jagdeep: We’ve also adopted the do-it-yourself approach. In India, when something was broken, we would just call the handyman or plumber, etc. But here we had to learn to do some of it ourselves or we’d just keep spending and spending and spending.
For some people, home is a tangible place. For others, it is not. Where is home for you?
Sumeet: We still have a very strong connection to India. Although it is still, at this point, home for me, I feel very settled now and very much at home in Holland.
Jagdeep: It is still India for me, very much so. But wherever my family is, I feel at home.
Have you carried any traditions with you from India?
Sumeet: Certainly. There are some that have associations with our religion, Sikhism, and others that are associated with culture. For instance, Diwali is something that we celebrate, and also something that the Indian community celebrates in Amsterdam on a large scale. There are some others that we participate in at our religious temple, and others that we might celebrate just at home. Those are ones that we’ve brought here. But there are others that we participate in actively, such as Sinterklaas and Sint-Maarten. Also Easter, for the eggs and the chocolate. The children are very fond of those.
How do you feel about the Dutch weather?
Sumeet: In the beginning I was okay, but it was too cold for Jagdeep. We came in November 2010, when it was very cold and snowing. But then she and the kids got used to it. From a cold perspective, it’s okay, but the rain can be too much.
"I think at their age, the children learned so quickly and integrated much more quickly than we did. They played basketball, football and swam, and the other children their age would only speak Dutch. Harveer, our eldest boy, speaks fluent Dutch."
Where would we find you on a sunny weekend?
Sumeet: Cycling. We love to ride our bicycles together, to the Amsterdamse Bos or other parks. We also really enjoy the Sloterdijk area or the hustle and bustle of the Central Station area. The museums and boat rides are really nice to do as a family.
Jagdeep: Vondelpark is also very nice, as well as Amstelveen centre. But if the weather is bad, I’d rather be inside my house.
Have you had family or friends from India visit? What was that like?
Sumeet: Yes, my parents. My mother is a poet, so she really liked writing by the canals in Amstelveen. She also enjoyed Amsterdam but prefers idyllic backgrounds and quiet; she was more content here [in Amstelveen].
Jagdeep: And my parents. They loved sitting alongside the canals. There’s just nowhere else like it. It was a totally new experience for them. And they had so much respect for the people on bikes. One thing they didn’t like was the cigarette butts everywhere.
Is there anything you can’t find here that you find yourself missing?
Sumeet: Indian sweets. My favorite is kaju katli… it’s irresistible.
Jagdeep: Definitely the sweets.
Sumeet: One time, we asked a friend to bring some for us. They got eaten on the way.
If you had more free time what would you do with it?
Sumeet: I’d read, do a bit of yoga. Mostly read. I love reading about philosophy, but I don’t find enough time in between all the reading I have to do for work and everything else.
Jagdeep: I am writing a book, or have a plan to do it. I would spend a lot of time on that. I also write poetry, do yoga and meditation. And, in between, I’d bake more cakes.
Do you have any advice for families who have just moved here?
Sumeet: We picked up Dutch a little later. It wasn’t a conscious resistance, but it happened. There’s so much English here that we didn’t feel we needed it. The realisation that Dutch is necessary came much later. Also, I think a lot of people automatically enrol their children in international schools right away. We didn’t do that. We had them study in a Dutch school for a while at first. I think at that age, they learned so quickly and integrated much more quickly than we did. They played basketball, football and swam, and the other children their age would only speak Dutch. Harveer, our eldest boy, speaks fluent Dutch. At their level, I think it’s even more essential that they speak Dutch and it comes easier to them. After integrating, we then moved them into an international school. That way, if we want to move to the UK or somewhere else, they won’t have a problem.
Jagdeep: A word of advice for the partners coming along with a working spouse: have patience. It’s going to be really, really hard for a while. Never give up. It’s very tough to get into the job market at this time. The English job pool seems to be saturated, at least in my field of human resources. I currently have my own online HR and recruiting consulting firm in India, but to switch over to do the same work in Holland full-time requires that I speak very fluent Dutch – which I don’t yet. Get onto the Facebook communities where there are other parents. It has given me a lot of strength knowing that there are so many other people in the same situation.