Moving abroad

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Ok, it’s the end of January! That’s cause for celebration in my book. I don’t know about you, but I really struggle through January. And February, if I’m honest, but at least it’s short!

We’ve been in the Netherlands just over two months. And although I feel a lighthearted post is due, I also want to take a post to share our not-so-positive start to life abroad. Buckle up, it’s a long one.

Ok, here goes. It’s been a bloody difficult time. I knew it would be hard, but I was excited – prepared for lots of good things as well. But it was worse than I anticipated. We got caught up in a scam. I mean, I usually poo-poo Arijus’s cynical view of the world, preferring to believe that everyone means well, essentially, and giving the benefit of the doubt. In the case, however, I have to agree with him.

With Arijus already in the Netherlands, working full time, I ended up looking around online for somewhere to live. We decided to move somewhere temporarily, for the first few months, giving us a chance to breathe and then look around once we had familiarised ourselves with the areas in The Hague.

Unfortunately, the agency I picked, Fundatie, was too good to be true. We arrived to a “temporary” flat (how funny, the one we had signed a contract for was not available) and told we had to move again in a little over a week. Just what you want after packing up your whole life, putting it in storage, and driving across several countries with still far too many belongings and your two precious cats.

When the time came to move, we were told so many different lies, and when I saw the flat they were going to put us in, I went back to start moving our stuff, sat down and cried. It was vile, furnished with cheap, old furniture and smelled of the bleach the poor cleaner had used liberally to attempt to clean it. The shower room (for want of a better description) was the last straw. All for premium expat prices, of course!

I called Arijus at work in desperation. He came to try and rescue the situation. What a surprise, when we refused that flat, the only one they had available was a large two bed, waaaaay out of our price range! That, or we were out on the street.

It came to a head when we were coming up to the two month mark. The only contract I’d signed, was for an apartment we’d never been given. So, when the agency refused to respond to our emails, we continued paying the rent agreed (also based on an email saying we would be upgraded for free if they couldn’t provide what was agreed). They then started sending increasingly unpleasant emails demanding more money.

We were, of course, flat hunting, and found one (with an agency not only used by a friend, but rigorously vetted by me) with relative ease. Then followed the agonisingly slow process of getting the contract sorted. Considering our experience, we were not confident to say we’d found somewhere to move without that contract signed and in our possession! We had a four month contract with Fundatie, but had been given the option to leave after two months because they had messed up.

Five days before the two months were up with Fundatie, they cut off our electricity. At 8am, with no notice. Just a note on the door.

I’m sure you can imagine how stressful this was, especially in January (it was stormy weather; hail, rain, wind). It wasn’t until 3pm that afternoon that the new contract was emailed to us! Not a moment too soon! The agency confirmed that they would meet us the next day with keys to the property.

So, only one night to survive with no heating, no hot water, no fridge or freezer.

We are now settling in to the new flat. What a contrast; a lovely, cosy home, and decent (if that’s a thing) estate agency. At this point, I’m not sharing this just to rant. If, by some chance, one person is helped by being more cautious due to our experience, then it’s worth reliving it.

I sought legal advice, and was assured we were well within our rights not to pay the money Fundatie were demanding, as they had no paperwork supporting their claim. I was also told (spoiler) that cutting off the electricity is illegal in the Netherlands.

I don’t believe I was an idiot in this situation – go check their website, it’s believable, right? But now I know. If I had to do it again, we would opt for an extended Airbnb let, as at least you are protected by the company, should anything go wrong.

I would also advise reading up on the laws regarding tenancy before finding yourself in a difficult situation. These are the things predators like Fundatie rely on. Expats who haven’t got a clue. At least we were savvy enough not to pay them the money and find out our rights.

Let’s finish this serious chat with another cat pic. That’s better.

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I don’t believe in luck

Luck (n)

success or failure apparently brought by chance rather than through one’s own actions

It’s the “rather than through one’s own actions” bit I disagree with. Richard Wiseman, a psychology professor in the UK, (I met him once, when I was studying psychology for my undergraduate degree) has spent years researching luck, only to find that you can change your “luck” by changing your outlook on life. Doesn’t that then mean that you are no longer leaving things to chance?

I’ll run through a few scenarios that bug me.

1.  I’m ill. A friend says: Oh, you’re so unlucky, you get ill so easily. WRONG. That’s my immune system, not bad luck. SCIENCE. When I started my teaching career, I was stressed and overtired. That led to several bouts of tonsillitis. I didn’t take the time to recover properly after each bout and this led to my immune system suffering. The less teaching I do, and the more I take care of my body, the more my immune system improves. Funny that.

2. My life situation is improving. An old colleague whom I hadn’t seen for years (we weren’t friends) says: You’re lucky you don’t have to work as much. WRONG. That’s teamwork with my amazing, supportive partner, who is willing to take his turn as the main earner because not only does he enjoy his chosen profession, but wants me to find something I can enjoy more. Plus we both work fucking hard to achieve our life goals, and like everyone, we have our ups and downs. Saying I’m “lucky” devalues all of that!

3. I’m having a bad day and everything seems to be going wrong. My mood is horrid, the day continues to get worse and I’m grumpy. Some might say I’m having bad luck. WRONG. My outlook and negative energy is causing the cycle to continue. I KNOW THIS and yet, I still find it hard to break out of the cycle. But through years of yoga and meditation practise, reading, listening to intelligent people, and my aforementioned amazing and optimistic partner, I am slowly learning that only I can make these negative days better. I can choose to ask a friend for help, or take myself outside, or read a book, or do some exercise.

I’m a bit introspective today! I’ll do a something more lighthearted next time. In the meantime, here’s a picture of a cat who doesn’t know he’s born. He’s living a charmed life! ;P

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