Don’t get me wrong — I don’t mind spending time alone. I wouldn’t have moved to another country (with an unknown return date) if I didn’t enjoy traveling by myself. Often times, it can be a freeing experience, where you have the power to do what interests you most, with your own timetable.
But some outings are more fun and exciting in the company of others. So upon arrival, I immediately began to brainstorm ways to meet people.
Travel Active (TA), the Dutch organization partnering with my home agency, provided me with a list of au pairs in the Netherlands. But none were particularly close to me in Venlo. So I proceeded to join a ridiculous amount of au pair facebook groups. This is how I made my first friend- Iliana from Greece. We met in Eindhoven one Sunday afternoon, and drank coffee in a picturesque spot next to a canal, while swapping life stories. We both just graduated from a university, and grew up up with a passion for classic rock. That shared interest proved handy when we stumbled into a pub where a live band was playing blues and classic rock. This gem of a bar is now my favorite place in Eindhoven (I’m a sucker for live music).
My next big outing was to Amsterdam, where I am fortunate enough to have a friend studying abroad. That night, we met with a few of her friends at a bar/restaurant called Pacific Parc. With drinks, appetizers, old-timey jazz music, and an atmosphere to fit, this place easily made my list of places to return to in Amsterdam.
Sheila (my Amsterdam friend) also happens to be a vegetarian. So we have made it a point to cook something each time I visit. Attempt #1: kale and mushrooms with balsamic vinegar (not pictured) and a veggie pizza. It was amazing (“lekker” in Dutch).
Attempt #2: stuffed portabello mushrooms with spinach & ricotta ravioli. Not as tasty as our first dish, but a valiant effort nonetheless.
By the end of this year abroad, we’ll be gourmet chefs.
It seems most of our adventures revolve around food. One night, we were on the hunt for Mexican cuisine. We were able to satisfy this craving at The Taco Shop, a short bike ride away from her dorm. We set enough time aside to take a picture of our delicious meals, before devouring them completely.
We happened to finish eating right as Felix Baumgartner was about to break the record for world’s highest jump, 24 miles above New Mexico. If you didn’t hear about this, guide your attention to this article; it was pretty awesome. The restaurant workers happily invited us to watch it from their computer screen in the back, as we all expressed our mutual fear and excitement.
On a separate trip to Amsterdam, we went to an event called “Museum Night” that happens once every year. As my friend aptly described it, it’s like museum-hopping: admission to 50+ museums from 7pm-2am, drinks, and music!
Here’s our group for the night, standing in front of the giant disco ball at the Andy Warhol ‘Pink’ exhibit.
Though there aren’t any au pairs in Venlo, TA also hosts au pair trips about once a month. In October, we met in Amsterdam (quickly becoming my home away from home.. away from home).
For traveling abroad and making friends, I have two major tips: use your resources, and take the initiative.
Meetup.com has become my number one source for finding people, and I highly recommend it. It’s available all over the world (I actually went to a few meetups in San Diego — for a belly dancing class, a book club meeting, and a group meditation in Balboa Park). Here, I’ve joined groups ranging from The Amsterdam Urban Herbologists to Wine Winners.
On the weekend that I went to Amsterdam to meet the other au pairs, I noticed that there was a “drop-hike” scheduled, in which we take public transportation to from the train station to some unknown destination. We then “hike” (quotation marks because the Netherlands is notorious for being pancake-flat) back to our starting point.
I emailed everyone on the au pair list, introducing myself and inviting them to join me on the Sunday morning hike. Two of the TA au pairs joined me, for what has been one of my favorite days so far in the Netherlands. A group of thirteen of us ventured out into the urban jungle that is Amsterdam. Pictured below is our hiking group (minus a few that left early) during our Spanish tapas break.
I absolutely loved the company of this group. Ironically, whenever I find myself surrounded by fellow wanderers, I feel more at home than anywhere else. From the words of Octavi (my new Spanish friend), we float in the wind. I had meaningful conversations with nearly everyone, as I completed the walking version of a musical chairs conversation.
The only thing I’m still missing are local friends — the ones I can spontaneously meet for a cup of coffee. I’ve been advised to go to a pub and start talking to people.
…and I’m still working up the courage to do that. Wish me luck!