Today I’m interviewing Mariska Goussard, a South African blogger over at The Secret Board now living in The Netherlands. She shares her migration journey, challenges and adventures that her international move has brought her.
Where in South Africa are you from and where do you live now?
My husband and I lived and worked in Cape Town for many years until we moved to Maastricht in the Netherlands in 2016.
What do you blog about and did you start your blog before or after your move?
I started my blog, The Secret Board, in June 2015 as I have a serious passion for makeup, skincare and everything beauty related. I needed the creative outlet and started my blog with the primary focus on beauty. My blog has since evolved to include a little bit of lifestyle, travel and expat challenges.
What made you move overseas, when did you move and is it a permanent or temporary move?
My husband got a wonderful opportunity in early 2016 to pursue his career in the Netherlands. We made the move mainly for the step-up in his career, but the adventure and travel opportunities that came with such a move were also a big attraction. Jean (my husband) has an ongoing contract with the company that he works for, so we have no timeline or set plans regarding a return to South Africa.
What was the biggest challenge when you first arrived in your new country?
The language! Oh man, it was so hard! I literally couldn’t understand a word of Dutch and it is so different from Afrikaans that it honestly doesn’t really help you to understand or speak it. I have since worked hard on improving my Dutch skills and it is so much better than when I arrived. The Dutch culture is also completely different to our South African culture and it took a while to get used to their way of doing things. The amount of administration was also very intimidating and time-consuming – it took us nearly three months just to get the basic administrations in place.
Did you ship all your household goods or start from scratch and why did you choose what you did?
We shipped some sentimental items to the Netherlands, but left all our furniture in South Africa. Shipping, even shared freights, is incredibly expensive so one should think long and hard if it is worth it. The European houses and apartments are also significantly smaller than the average house in SA, so there is an excellent chance that your furniture might not even fit through the doorway/go up the stairs.
How long did it take you to feel like you’d settled in?
My husband has been here now for almost a year and I am nearing the eight month mark. The first three months really is the honeymoon period – everything is new, exciting and it feels like a holiday. Then the reality kicks in and that is when you need to make a decision to either sink or swim. I started to feel more at home at around the 6-months mark, but most expats here agree that it takes about a year to feel even remotely settled in and that this is your new home.
How did you choose where to live (suburb/city)?
This decision of where we would stay came with Jean’s work opportunity, but we are very happy staying in this city. Maastricht is out of the hustle of the Randstad (Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam, Utrecht) in the quieter province of Limburg. Life is more relaxed and plattelands here which we really enjoy.
What resources did you use in planning your move (websites/forums/any print magazines etc) and did you find them useful?
Our residency permits were arranged through Jean’s work, so apart from getting unabridged marriage-and birth certificates we didn’t really have to do much else. We were very fortunate in this regard. I only really had to ship our belongings and arrange for our cats to meet the EU-pet requirements. We used an agency to move our cats. So to be honest: I made a list of things that needed to be done, ticked it off and that was it. I didn’t really make use of any forums/expat websites.
Did your expectations match up to the reality of living in your new country?
I don’t think I had specific expectations prior to my arrival. Jean and I both said to each other that we are not moving to another South Africa, it is a different country with a different culture, so we can’t expect it to be the same or do constant comparisons. I think we both came with a very positive attitude and a wide-open mind and I really think it helped us in terms of not having unrealistic expectations.
What is your favourite thing about living in your new country?
It is so easy for us to travel from here– we can decide on a whim to go to Paris for the weekend! Oh, and self-scan/pay at the grocery stores 🙂
What do you miss most about South Africa (besides family and friends)?
I don’t really miss anything in particular. Maybe Woolworths Carb-Clever ready-made meals, South African OTC meds (they are very strict here with medication!) and access to private specialist care which we often took for granted. The Netherlands has a NHS-system which I don’t find easy to navigate. It is very difficult, and impossible towards the end of the year, to get specialized care, get your child to ever see a paediatrician or even get something as simple as gynaecological visit.
If you could give someone one piece of advice about life in your new home country, what would it be?
My best advice for moving to any new country: make sure you move to your new home with a positive attitude and an open mind. Promise yourself before the time that you will do everything you can to integrate into the new society. In the Netherlands for example it is very important to the Dutch culture that expats can speak their language and become part of the society. So start to integrate as soon as possible, take Dutch lessons, volunteer at a charity etc.
And finally where can we find you online?
Blog URL – https://www.thesecretboard.co.za/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/thesecretboard/
Instagram – the_secret_board
Twitter – @thesecretboard1