Name: John Veluchamy
Occupation: PhD Medical Researcher
Length of time in Amsterdam: 2.5 years
What first brought you to Amsterdam?
I came here for my studies. Before coming here I was studying in England, completing my masters in medical research. I wanted to continue with my education after my masters, so I was looking for a PhD - and that’s when I got this position. I am classed as a European scholar, so I am sponsored by the Marie Curie consortium, and I will be based in Amsterdam for another two years.
Had you visited the city before you started the course here?
Only once, for an interview – a very short visit! I spent the day walking around and I really liked the place. The Dutch were really warm and welcoming. I also had the option to go to Groeningen in Germany, Oslo in Norway and Canada, but I chose to come to Amsterdam because – aside from liking the course - it’s close to London, and I have a lot of friends in London.
Did you have any preconceptions about what Amsterdam would be like before you moved?
Something that everyone brought up when said I was moving to Amsterdam was the Red Light District. But that image of the city is not true. The Dutch are culturally dignified, and really only that small part of the city is like that.
What’s your work-life balance been like since you moved here?
We have a good work-life balance, but because my job is research based I don’t work 9-5. Sometimes I work late, but then I’ll compensate with my wife at the weekend. We have this 40% discount train card which is really handy, so we travel around different parts of the country. Anywhere in the Netherlands can be reached within two and a half hours. And this summer my parents came to visit from India. They were really excited to see how peaceful and orderly things are here compared to India – to them it was a big surprise.
How easy or difficult did you and your wife find it to settle into life in the Netherlands?
Well I came here first, and then I got married, so my wife came over straight from India. I’ve been outside of India for quite a while – living in Sweden and London – so this isn’t my first experience of European culture. But for my wife it was a complete culture shock, as she left India for the first time to come here. She had her fears about living in Amsterdam, because we are living in an area that is not populated by a lot of Indians. If you look at Amstelveen there are a lot of Indian IT workers there, but we live in Diemen, and there are not a lot of Indian families there. All of our neighbours are Dutch. Initially she was a little worried and not willing to come out and speak to people, but then all our neighbours were really warm and friendly – they came and spoke to us, and told us to just knock on their door if we needed help with anything like interpreting letters that come from the municipality. So that really helped us to feel more comfortable.
"This summer my parents came to visit from India. They were really excited to see how peaceful and orderly things are here compared to India – to them it was a big surprise"
Have you found Amsterdam to be different to other European cities you’ve lived in?
My first experience of Europe was Orebro in Sweden, so when I first moved there from India everywhere looked new to me. London has its own charm and beauty, but I found it really crowded and sometimes the options were limited when it came to housing and things. But here things are more open, and because there are less people things get done much faster than you can expect in London.
What was the biggest challenge you faced when you first arrived?
I think the language was a big hurdle for me in the beginning because I was not used to living in a country where I don’t speak English. So that was a little difficult. But everyone was really helpful and I found that most websites have an English version, so that helped me find all the information I needed. I was worried about whether Dutch was going to be essential to study in the Netherlands. But when I met my friends here – I work with a group of six PHD students – all of them speak good English. And even in the supermarket, everyone speaks good English.
What do you enjoy the most about life in Amsterdam?
I like walking by the canals – you never get bored. But the most interesting thing I’ve started to do in the past year which I was too scared to do in London is cycling. I really enjoy cycling. I didn’t even cycle in India because it was so hot and humid, but that’s something I do here very often. I use a Dutch bike with no handbrakes and my wife was worried in case the chain broke or something, but now I’m more comfortable with it. It’s something that we really enjoy.
Do you find anything of your own culture in Amsterdam?
I’m not really looking for my culture – and I’m a Christian by religion so that helps us adapt to the Western culture more easily. There are some cultural festivals being celebrated in the Amstelveen area so we try to go, there but I’m not really missing the Indian culture. Also,we have Indian TV channels which keep us updated with what’s happening in India. But my wife does sometimes miss being in India, because those festivals are lovely.
Where would we normally find you on a Friday or Saturday evening in Amsterdam?
We like to come into central Amsterdam and walk by the canals. Because we’re from India where there are so many people, my wife and I like to be around a lot of people sometimes - just to mingle with the crowd. We also have a small group of friends who we met through the church so we like to go to each others’ houses for prayer. The church keeps us going, because they organise so many activities. And my wife enjoys volunteering there.
What’s Amsterdam like as a place to study? Would you recommend it to other prospective international PhD students?
Definitely, I would strongly recommend it. If I’d have lived in London things would have been really difficult, because for a non-European national like me the cost of a PhD is really not affordable. But here PhD positions are as employees, so I’m still getting all the benefits of a normal working person in the Netherlands. In England you’re still classed as a student, and that’s the case in many countries. But the Netherlands pays you much more salary for PhD study than other countries. And that’s really one of the main reasons I chose it, because before coming here to do my PhD I already had marriage on my mind. So it enabled me to marry my wife, and for us to live here.
Do you think you’ll stay in Amsterdam after your course ends in 2017?
Yes I’d love to stay longer if I get good job opportunities, because I am totally mingled into the culture now. If I stay longer, I will certainly learn Dutch. It’s funny, my colleagues at work try to talk to me in Dutch now. They say ‘John you need to learn Dutch. You’ve lived here for two years , you can’t pick up what we’re saying – especially the gossip – you should pick up the gossip!’
Are you learning any Dutch at the moment?
Not really, because my work schedule keeps me away from going to regular classes. I also have a small daughter who keeps me busy out of work. But my wife is learning Dutch using online tools – there are so many apps available. And the other good thing is Dutch television – they have a lot of shows in English with Dutch subtitles, so that’s a good way to learn.
"My colleagues say ‘John you need to learn Dutch. You’ve lived here for two years , you can’t pick up what we’re saying – especially the gossip!'"
You mentioned your daughter. How do you find Amsterdam as a place to raise a child?
It is a really good place to have a child. The Dutch government give us child benefits, and there are so many child-friendly parks. My baby was actually born here, and my wife was fully confident with the Dutch midwives. I was surprised as I thought she would go back to India to have the baby, as she’s used to the system there. We’re both from the medical field – I’m a biomedical scientist and she’s a physiotherapist. But the Dutch midwives gave her a lot of confidence, and she chose to deliver the baby in Amsterdam.
What would be your advice for someone thinking of moving to Amsterdam?
When I moved here I was just brought easily into the system - everything goes in order. There’s nothing you have to chase. In India it’s not the same. I always compare it with my mother country – everything here is very precise and orderly. I don’t have any special advice, but this is definitely a city where you can easily find things if you want to settle and raise a child here.
How would you describe Amsterdam in three words?
Beautiful, organised and interesting. Very interesting. I’m discovering new things about it all the time!