Why I Love Living In Europe and What I Miss About Home
My partner and I recently moved to the Netherlands. We love it. We somehow managed to immigrate during the covid pandemic. After multiple tests and canceled flights we safely landed in the Netherlands at the beginning of February.
It's not the same of course. There are a lot of things we cannot do.
We moved here to pursue Masters degrees in subjects we are both interested in. We planned for two years to move to Europe to work and study. And although covid delayed our plans, by almost a year, we managed to make it and settle down in Tilburg.
We are happy here.
There are many amazing things about living in Europe. We haven’t been here long but we are loving it thus far.
I feel safe here
Even in the midst of a pandemic, I feel safer here than I did in South Africa. South Africans live with a lot of restrictions. When our President announced a Lockdown, there were no major protests during the entire three-month period. Our lockdown was severe. We couldn’t buy alcohol for a while and we couldn’t leave our homes to exercise, only to buy essentials groceries. Everyone stayed home and everyone (mostly) accepted another restriction on their personal freedoms. Curfew was imposed and no one seemed to really mind.
Pre-covid restrictions in South Africa were not imposed by the law but the lack of it. The lack of proper law enforcement means the streets are not safe to wander at night. Even in the middle of the day, early morning or afternoon, crime can happen anywhere at any time.
I have been held up at gunpoint twice in South Africa. My home was broken into multiple times. Crime is a part of life all South Africans learn to live with.
But here, in the Netherlands, crime is non-existent. It's glorious. We have more freedom even with covid restrictions! We can walk outside at night freely and without a care in the world. We can wander the streets and go down any alleyway we choose. We can leave our door unlocked during the day. We can take our cellphones out on a run, or bike ride.
We have so much freedom here. Freedom from anxiety and the stress of constant vigilance. I often remark to my partner, while out on an evening walk,
“Are we walking outside? This is amazing. I can’t believe we can do this!”
I don’t want to bash South Africa, I love it dearly and may one day return but South Africa is not a country that is well-run or can provide all of its citizens with the necessary basic services.
Poverty abounds in South Africa. It's heartbreaking and hard to see. Electricity and water cuts are common. We have lived in the Netherlands for two months without one power or water cut. I remarked to my partner, how strange that felt.
The streets are clean, the bike paths are well maintained, everything looks so clean and picture-perfect. When we first arrived and moved into our apartment block I thought we were moving into a movie set, it looked so clean, pristine, and unreal. It looked fake and I couldn’t believe we were going to live in such a place.
The woman who registered us at the municipality was warm, welcoming, and friendly. She spoke perfect English and was friendly the entire time. The entire 5 minutes. In and out and we were registered with the municipality and provided with our social security numbers straight away. I couldn’t believe that dealing with a government department could be so painless and quick.
The Dutch are born cycling. Everyone cycles. It's wonderful. We can cycle the entire country. We can cycle to the next town and have coffee and cycle back all in one morning. We can cycle to the grocery store, to University, and everywhere.
This tiny country is built for cyclists. My partner and I love to cycle. In South Africa, we mainly did mountain biking and we never used our bikes to commute. There are no designated bike paths and cycling on the road is not safe due to the high possibility of being run over.
But in the Netherlands, it's the safest place in the world to cycle. We cycle every day. It's the best way to get around and the best way to see a new place.
The Netherlands is wonderful but not perfect
Nowhere is perfect and while I love living here there are things I miss about home.
I miss the mountains and breathtaking wonders of South Africa. This is a flat country, there are no mountains. No valleys and no sparkling blue beaches. While the Netherlands is pretty in other ways, the old buildings and canals are picturesque, I miss the glorious natural beauty that is South Africa. I am yet to find natural beauty that compares.
I miss my friends and family of course. I miss the people I grew up with and seeing familiar faces on a daily basis.
And food. I miss the amazing food options we had in South Africa. Dutch food is ok. It's not terrible. And it's also expensive.
Fresh fruit and vegetables are damn expensive. I miss all the wonderful fruit we used to buy in South Africa. The fruit we bought did not break the bank. Vegetarian options are also not great here.
We have only ordered takeaways twice, both times they were expensive and also not the tastiest. We were spoiled for choice in South Africa. We used to order Greek, amazing vegetable wraps, delicious seafood, sushi, and the most amazing cheese platters, all of which were so affordable and delicious.
South Africa is an amazing country with incredible beauty. But it is not a first-world country. It has a lot of problems like systemic corruption, poor service delivery, crime, particularly crimes against women and children, and load shedding (the electricity goes down when the load is too heavy- so regular power cuts are common).
And yet it's home and will always be.
For now, we live in the Netherlands and we love it.