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Tiffany Jansen, Utrecht

My name is Tiffany Jansen. Originally from the United States of America, I now live in Utrecht, the Netherlands, with my husband and our dog.

I moved to Utrecht early December 2008 after marrying my Dutch husband. We were tired of the long-distance relationship and wanted to live together. He had the better job and an apartment, the economy is better here than in the US, and if you think immigrating to the Netherlands is a nightmare, you don’t want to mess with trying to get into the US! I had also had quite a lot of experience abroad and jumped at the chance to live in another country.What challenges did you face during the move?

To be honest, we were more concerned with the wedding than we were with the actual move. Shipping things wasn’t necessary as the apartment was already furnished, albeit a year on we’re still traveling to the US with an empty suitcase to move the rest of my things. We also had to worry about getting the dog over, which we found surprisingly simple. The wait for my residence permit took much longer than it should have and there was much unnecessary stress in getting our marriage certified in the Netherlands, but all in all it was a pretty seamless transition.

Can you tell us something about your property?

My husband already had the apartment which he purchased circa 2003. He owns the apartment and is, unfortunately, the one who has the answers to all of these questions. We are planning to move sometime in 2011 to a location with a garden for the dog and a bit more space.

What is the property market like at the moment?

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It’s the best time to buy but probably the worst time to sell. Not a great combination. I actually have friends who have their house on the market. They have a potential buyer, but the buyer can’t sell his house so they’ve found themselves in a bit of a stalemate. Properties in and closer to the city center tend to be more expensive yet small as it’s location and not living space that you’re paying for. Sometimes a property looks like a steal, however since buildings are a bit older in this country, you may find yourself paying through the nose for renovations.

Are you employed or self-employed? What challenges did you face in either finding employment or running your own business?

I have my own company, Little Broadway (littlebroadway.webs.com) which I started in October 2009. Little Broadway is registered at the Kamer van Koophandel (Chamber of Commerce) which took all of 20 minutes to do.

Starting and running a business in the Netherlands is unbelievably easy and stress-free from my personal experience. My main reason for starting my own business – besides the fact that it combines everything I love doing – is that I had such a difficult time trying to find employment. A Musical Theater degree, little work experience, the state of the economy at the moment, and not being fluent in Dutch is the worst concoction possible when trying to find a job in the Netherlands. But, for less than six months in existence, Little Broadway is doing better than I had ever imagined!

Are there many other expats in your area?

There is a huge expat community in Utrecht. In addition to being one of the four major cities in the Netherlands, it is also a university city. The International Women’s Contact Utrecht and several other expat groups exist here and there is one very excellent, authentic Irish pub run by born-and-bred Irish and Englishmen in the city center called Mick O’Connells. My husband is constantly amazed by the large number of expats and internationals that he had no idea existed here.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

I have many acquaintances that I undoubtedly see becoming close friends in the future. The more I am able to speak and understand the language, the more I find myself fitting in with the locals. It has just been recently that I’ve begun extending myself to the locals and the Dutch tend to stick to tried and true relationships, making it just a bit harder to break in to the friendship circle. But once you’re in, you have friends for life.

When I first came here, my only Dutch friends were the friends of my husband but that is swiftly changing. From my experience, the Dutch are very friendly albeit straightforward sometimes to a fault. I tend to have an extreme “when in Rome, do as the Romans do” attitude and I will say it has made my transition here delightfully smooth.

What do you like about life where you are?

I lead a much healthier lifestyle. We eat out hardly at all, I have access to fresh fruit and vegetables at a number of markets, I spend copious amounts of time outdoors compared to my life in the US, and I have completely fallen in love with the cycling culture. The fact that stores are closed all but one Sunday every month has become something I look forward to and I feel like relationships here are much more genuine than in the US. I also love meeting people from all over the world who have, like me, settled here for one reason or another.

This is also a country rich in culture and history with beautiful landscapes. Because it’s so centrally located, other European countries such as France, Belgium, and Germany are easily accessible. Just a few hours in the car and you’re in another country. Getting around the Netherlands is also made easy and pleasurable by a great public transportation system.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Sometimes it’s very hard to figure out where you belong. You change the longer you are in your host country and the more you adapt to the culture. Your home country feels less and less like home, but as a foreigner the truth is that you will never truly fit into your new home 100%. It is also difficult to come to a new country and have to start all over again: make friends, find hobbies, learn a new language, find a job, build a reputation, get used to your surroundings and the people around you, and learn a new culture.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

Hit the ground running. Do take it slowly at first to give yourself time to adjust and find your way around. Start learning the language right away and try to get involved in an expat or international group. Go sightseeing and learn as much about your new home as you can. Most importantly, try to hold on to as much normalcy as possible.

What are your plans for the future?

First of all, I would like to see Little Broadway grow and reach its full potential. I plan to take the Dutch-as-a-second-language test and eventually get my Dutch passport and citizenship. We are hoping to move within the next year or so and, at some point, start a family.

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