First published in AMS business magazine. Author: Lauren Comiteau
Cairo natives Mona Hassan and Haitham Asal moved to the Netherlands via South Africa, where Haitham was working as a technical officer for telecommunications giant VEON. Three years ago, the company transferred him to its Amsterdam headquarters, and after a brief sojourn back to Egypt, Mona and their two daughters, Malak and Farah, followed. They lived in Amsterdam Zuid at first, but as soon as their daughters were accepted at the International School Almere, they knew where to call home.
‘We went to settle their school first and found housing later,’ says Mona, whose daughters had already been enrolled in International Baccalaureate programmes in Johannesburg and Cairo. ‘Schools and housing are a challenge in Amsterdam, so to have a good school in Almere is a big attraction.’ All the more so because the couple wasn’t sure how long they’d be staying. But now that Haitham has a permanent contract, they purchased their own home in Almere. ‘We are used to big houses,’ says Mona. ‘We have more space here and it’s more affordable.’
The lifestyle also suits them. ‘Almere is very family-oriented,’ Mona says. ‘My girls move safely around on bicycles and they’re happy.’ Plus, Mona adores Amsterdam: she is there almost every day for work or pleasure. ‘I have a balanced life,’ she says. ‘We live in the quiet of the suburbs, but are close to city life. It’s 15 minutes to the centre of Amsterdam. In Cairo, we drove for hours!’
The country’s youngest city, a so-called ‘New Town’, the land Almere sits on was reclaimed from the IJsselmeer lake, its first house built in only 1976. (‘Almere is exactly as old as I am!’ Mona points out.) Now home to 200,000 people and 13,000 businesses, Almere has proved especially popular with internationals.
‘It’s a very good expat location,’ says Mona. ‘There’s lots of diversity, good public transport, and almost everyone speaks English.’ Mona works part-time as the project manager of Amsterdam’s ACCESS Helpdesk, an organisation that gives advice to internationals to help ease their transition into the Netherlands – something Mona herself has mastered.
The best things about living in Almere
Nature: The family enjoys walking Yorkshire Terrier Toughy in nearby Cascadepark and along the beaches of Weerwater Lake on the outskirts of town. Almere features 42 kilometres of coastline.
Housing: Tired of renting, the family bought their ﬁrst home earlier this year. Home ownership is an attractive option: Almere offers more for less while still being only 26-kilometres east of Amsterdam.
Education: ‘Everything’s dependent on school,’ says Mona of the couple’s decision to settle in Almere. ‘I don’t want to waste time in a train.’ The Amsterdam Area has about a dozen international schools in it.
Mobility: Mona makes use of all of Almere’s transportation: buses, free parking at the train station, and its nearby highways. With Lelystad Airport expected to be operational next year, Almere will be even better-connected.
Shopping: While her daughters head to Amsterdam for their retail therapy, Mona prefers Almere’s modern centre, where the shopping is less hectic and boasts a lakeside view. Almere gets high marks for its cuttingedge architecture.
Sports: While younger daughter Farah ‘lives in the dance studio’, big sister Malak prefers kickboxing. Almere boasts more than 300 sports facilities and more than 100 sports clubs.
Work: Mona loves the flexibility of her part-time job and appreciates the Dutch work-life balance with its emphasis on family time. The Netherlands is ranked first in the world for work-life balance, according to the OECD.