Moving to Amsterdam

“In January 2012 the great adventure started,” says Lauren (32). “My husband was relocated to Amsterdam on a work assignment, so we moved from America to the Netherlands. In America I had worked as an Account Director at an advertising agency, but it was difficult to find a job in Amsterdam. Most employers were looking for candidates who spoke both Dutch and English, but I didn’t speak much Dutch.”

Deciding to volunteer

“Before we moved I already decided: I’d like to do volunteering in my new city. Because I knew it would be a good way to get to know people and get involved in Amsterdam. So I went to the Volunteer Centre Amsterdam (VCA). They mediated me to a fun volunteer job. Every week I cooked meals for a girls’ after-school programme on Fridays, ‘De Meidenmall’. I purchased the groceries and cooked for 20-30 girls each week.”

Exciting challenge

“I loved working with the girls and with the women running the programme. They were all very gracious with me, even though I spoke little Dutch. I was the only international. It’s always challenging to work in an environment where your language is not the common language. Some days this was an exciting challenge, and some days it took more work! It had been created to be a safe and nurturing environment for the neighbourhood girls and it really felt that way. They showed me a lot of appreciation. It gave me the confidence I needed to adjust to moving to a place with no family or friends nearby.” 

“Volunteering helped me learn about working with people from other cultures”

Amsterdam: a city of volunteers

“One thing that really surprised me was to learn that many people in Amsterdam volunteer so regularly and stay with one organisation for a long time. In the US, many of my friends would volunteer every few months, with all kinds of different organisations. Here, I really got involved in the organisation. And knowing the girls, and getting their trust.

After almost two years we went back to the US. The girls gave me a great going away party. They made a photo album with notes as a memento of the little events we did, and they made outfits for my daughter, who was still in my belly at that point. They were very excited about guessing the sex, and giving me ideas for names.”

A sense of purpose

“Volunteering did help me learn about working with people from other cultures and become part of my new community. It also gave me purpose during a time when I suddenly had lots of free time on my hands. Volunteering will always be one of the most memorable things I did while living in Amsterdam. I can’t think of a better way to get to know a new city!”