Along with working as coach for global nomads living around the world, I also post an Interview Series on this website where I share the stories of global nomads who have moved abroad, are traveling the globe, or are transitioning to life back at home.
This week’s interview features Gabby, an American living in the Netherlands. California born and raised, she originally comes from the capital city, Sacramento. After falling in love with a Dutchie, she moved abroad to the Netherlands in 2010, with an original plan to stay for 2 or 3 years. 6.5 years later, she’s still living in the Netherlands, after relocating from Den Haag to Amsterdam. She works in marketing at the European headquarters of a global sports brand, and is passionate about sports herself – she recently ran the New York Marathon, and enjoys hiking, yoga, and surfing (for as long as she can stay on the board). Her main passions are travel and writing, which she combines on her blog Boarding Call.
Can you tell us about the first time you left the U.S.? What was your life like before that?
The first time I left California (for real… not just studying abroad), was in September, 2010. That was when I moved to Den Haag, the Netherlands. Before moving to Den Haag, my life was probably what you would think of as a typical adolescent experience. I went to college (to UC Davis), did all the things you do in college – make new friends, party, expand your horizons, study abroad. I wasn’t really planning to move abroad permanently then. It just suddenly fell into my lap as an opportunity after I met my boyfriend. Sometimes I wonder what my life would have been like if we had never met each other. I wonder how many experiences I would have missed out on – or maybe I have missed a lot of experiences by moving to the Netherlands. Who knows. All I know is that I’m happy for how my life has turned out living in the Netherlands since then.
What motivated you to leave your life in the states?
I left my home in California to move to the Netherlands to live with my boyfriend. I thought I knew what to expect since before I met him (in California) I had coincidentally studied abroad here. I never thought I would live in the Netherlands again – I never wanted to! But after I met him everything changed. We decided that I would move to the Netherlands for a few reasons. The first reason is pretty practical – it’s relatively easy to move to the Netherlands as long as your partner has a permanent contract at their work and earns above a certain income level – and you have to live together. If we wanted him to move to the US we would have had to get married, or he would have needed a company to invite him over. I was only 21 then, so I definitely wasn’t ready to get married. I also still wanted to study to get my master’s degree, and studying in the Netherlands is substantially cheaper than in the US. So we decided that we would live in the Netherlands for at least a couple years. That was 6.5 years ago now!
What’s the most difficult part about travel or living outside of the U.S.? How do you overcome these difficulties?
It’s hard to say what the most difficult part is, since that has changed so much over the years I’ve lived here. Initially the hardest part was to be away from friends and family – which is still hard, but I’ve made a lot of friends here and have a life of my own, so I don’t feel nearly as much fear of missing out on things at home. During the winter, the hardest part about living here is definitely the weather. Coming from California I’m used to a lot of sunshine. I used to think I loved the rain – until I moved to Amsterdam and learned what it was like to have a lot of it! The colder temperature doesn’t bother me, but the grey skies do. Lately though, one of the most difficult things about living outside of the US is feeling like I’m distanced from some of the things I care most about. For example, with the most recent elections I felt really motivated to take action – but what could I really do from the Netherlands? I started to feel like I was useless living abroad – at least I voted and joined the women’s march here – but I wanted to make more of an impact, especially following the elections.
What’s the best part about travel or living outside of your home country?
The best thing about living outside of your home country is gaining a new perspective. I’ve learned so much more about the US from living in the Netherlands. I’ve also realized how much my own actions and thoughts have been impacted by the culture I was raised in. Living outside of the country for so long gives you better perspective on the culture and country you come from. I think it is really difficult to see something for what it is until you step outside of it. Once you can see it from the outside looking in, you can sometimes learn more than you can from looking at it from the inside. I think gaining this perspective has made me more appreciative of the culture I’ve come from – but also more appreciative of people with different backgrounds.
What experience have you had abroad that you want everyone to know about?
The experience that I’ve had abroad and want everyone to know about is that we are more alike than we think. People have asked me how it can be possible that as an American I can date a Dutch guy. Or people ask me if all my friends here are Americans. What I’ve learned from living abroad is that it isn’t really the country you come from that connects you to other people – it´s the values you share that connect you to other people. No matter where you go in the world, you can find people who share your world views – and then you have such a deeper connection and basis for a relationship than country of origin or anything else on a shallow level. Sometimes Americans ask me how the people are in Holland – “I dunno,” I answer. “The same as in the US. Some people are great, some people are not. It’s the same everywhere!” You’ll always find people who you can connect with when you go a level deeper and learn about how they think about the world.
What has living abroad taught you about life, romantic relationships, and/or professional ambitions?
I’ve learned so many things by living outside of my home country. Realistically though, I’m not sure it’s necessary to live outside of the country to learn these things – but it is necessary to live outside of your comfort zone. Living outside of the country has made me look at life differently in a lot of ways. I suppose one of the most important ways is that I think it’s important to see and experience as much of your surroundings as possible. Living in the Netherlands I’ve been able to explore Europe, but it also made me much more interested in seeing more of the US. The more of Europe I see, the more I realize I haven’t even scratched the surface of my own country. There is so much to see and do in the world. You don’t have to get out of the country to do it. Get outside, go somewhere new – even if its just 30 minutes away. Experiencing something new helps give you a fresh perspective and adds more quality to your life, in my opinion.
I moved here to pursue my romantic relationship, so I suppose moving here proved to me that pursuing love is worthwhile. When I decided to move here I hadn’t known my boyfriend very long… a lot of people thought I was making a big mistake. I knew I loved him, but I also went in with the attitude that even if it didn’t work out, at least I would know I tried. I never wanted to live my life wondering “what if?” and now I know that there is a happy ending to my moving abroad story!
Professionally I’ve been pretty lucky in my move abroad. After graduating I got a job in marketing at a global sports brand and have worked at that company ever since. I’m especially lucky that there are so many English speaking jobs in the Netherlands. Working here has been one of the most important parts of my life abroad. I work with colleagues from a variety of backgrounds (from around the world), and it has taught me how to work in teams with such a diverse group of people. It’s also taught me that moving abroad to be with your partner doesn’t have to mean sacrificing your own goals in life. When I moved here I was initially worried that I might not find a job that I like – but now I worry that if I move back to the US one day I might desperately miss the diversity of opinions and cultures that I have in my office. Working here has also included a lot of international travel – which is an amazing added bonus to already living abroad! Working abroad can open up more experiences than you could ever imagine – and gives you a great global network.
What are 3 things on your bucket list?
My bucket list… that’s a hard one. I actually don’t keep a bucket list because I think I would get overwhelmed by all the things I want to do! A few things that come to mind are:
- Taking a long road trip through the US. On this road trip I would like to visit as many National Parks as possible – and I’d also like to eat food from different parts of the US. Some people think the US has no food culture – I used to think so too. Until I read Cooked by Michael Pollan and learned about the art of barbecue. In California, barbecue means throwing hot dogs (or if you’re feeling healthy, salmon) on a Weber grill in your backyard. In the south, it’s practically a religion. So part of that bucket list goal would be to explore food culture along my road trip.
- Visiting Antarctica – I don’t care how much it costs – I will save to visit Antarctica. Going there seems like an incredible, and humbling, experience.
- Starting my own company and working for myself. As much as I love my job, I would really like to have my own company one day. What will it be? Well, maybe I’m not sure yet, or maybe I can’t share my future plans 😉
What advice do you have for people who are considering traveling or relocating to a new country, but are feeling doubtful?
I would always recommend that people who are considering traveling or relocating to a new country should just try it. Nothing needs to be forever. Moving abroad doesn’t mean you will never return to your home country. When people ask why I haven’t moved back to California, I always tell them “California is still there! As soon as I feel unhappy here I can move back!”. If you move abroad and don’t like it, it doesn’t mean you’re a failure – so just try it! Trying something new will always add value to your life – whether it’s through learning more about yourself, meeting great people, or exploring new places.
Do you have a favorite quote, book, movie, TED Talk, etc?
My favorite TV show which inspires me to see more of the world is Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. What I love about this show is learning about a culture and history through food culture. I appreciate that he exposes his audience to places that people either don’t know exist, or that are considered too poor, too dangerous, too whatever to visit. This show gives voice to areas of the world that are not typically shown in the media.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself before starting this journey?
If I could go back in time, the advice I would give myself before starting this journey is that everything will turn out fine. When I first moved here I had a hard time adjusting. Although I had technically lived here already, I had no idea how hard it would be to move to a place where I knew virtually no one and had no responsibilities. Not many people really know – because I didn’t want to tell anyone – but it was really hard for me. Moving here and for the first time in my life not having to go to school, not having a job, having no friends or family around – many days I wondered what I was doing and if I was adding anything to the world. Besides my relationship, I felt like I was floating through the first year on my own, trying to find my way. And eventually I did. I studied, made friends, then started my job. But I didn’t expect how hard it would be to move. I always had friends and family and responsibilities. Suddenly, when all of that disappeared, I felt lost. So, the advice I would give myself would be to try not to worry. The feeling of uncertainty would be temporary, and I would have a life here that I never would have expected.
Thank you so much Gabby for giving us a glimpse of what life has been like for an American living in the Netherlands! I’m sure your story will provide many readers with inspiration to make the move abroad themselves! If you’d like to learn more about Gabby and her adventures, you can check out her blog, Instagram or Facebook. I know I’ll be following along to learn more about her life in the Netherlands and to see if she reveals any more info about her entrepreneurial ambitions!
ABOUT MELISSA PARKS, THE FOUNDER OF INTENTIONAL EXPAT:
I moved from Seattle (USA) to Madrid, Spain in 2009 in order to work as an English teacher for a year. I soon discovered that when you accept the invitation to become a global nomad, life may take you in unexpected directions! This one year abroad turned into ten, and during that time I earned my master’s degree and PhD in Clinical & Health Psychology, lived in both Spain and the Netherlands, became fluent in Spanish, transitioned from an accidental to an intentional expat, and met my future husband, a fellow global nomad. I recently relocated back to Seattle and provide online coaching for global nomads, If you’re a global nomad yourself and want to be featured in a future interview, please get in touch!
Would you like to learn more about my coaching services for expats and global nomads? I offer a free 30-minute consultation for potential clients so that you can see if my coaching services are a good fit for you: