“What are you doing here?”
As I have traveled around Europe over the past few years, I often get asked the question: “So, what are you doing here?”. I don’t have a standard, short answer for that question, and tend to answer it differently every time. And the funny thing is that, however I answer it, where ever I am, who ever I’m talking to, they often reply by repeating the question, even more baffled. “But what are you doing here?”
To answer that question, it may be helpful to look back 20 years. I was employed by a large medical insurance company, and had worked my way up to a specialized, technical position. I was making good money and had good benefits, and did all the things you do: got a better apartment, took myself to Morocco, bought nicer Stuff…. and then I started thinking about the future. I was on a leadership path with this company, and knew that if I worked there for 20 years, I could become the vice president of my division. But then… I knew my vice president, and didn’t want her job. And I didn’t want any of the jobs between mine and hers. I quit that job and went to art school to study animation.
It wasn’t the first time I made a dramatic life change, something that seemed random and unexpected to everyone around me. And it wouldn’t be the last.
After I graduated, I spent the next 10 years working very hard to build my career in the animation industry. It often meant 18 hour days, 7 days a week, but I was making good money, and my animation career opened up new opportunities for me to travel and see the world.
“Travel broadens the mind”
Of course, traveling exposes a person to new perspectives on life, and how other people experience the world. And I was fascinated by how Europeans interacted with work and with their careers; that many of them seemed to find a way to be successful at work, but also have thriving personal lives. That their careers didn’t dominate every aspect of their lives from morning to night, and demand everything they had to give. It made me think and examine my situation.
Once again in my life, I had a good job and good Stuff. But I wasn’t truly happy, and, as far as I could see, I would have to forever be sacrificing my time and my energy and my life in order to have this Stuff, in order to shelter it and keep it and drag it around with me. But I didn’t want to live like a snail with a big shell of Stuff; I wanted to live like a bird, resting where ever I landed.
I had always excelled at English, and had dabbled in literature and creative writing when I was younger. My time in animation and advertising had exposed me to a lot of advertising and marketing techniques and strategies, and I’m a great project manager who knows how to scope and schedule a job. So I started exploring ways of becoming a freelance writer, someone who could earn money from anywhere with an internet connection. The more I did, the more I realized that it was a viable way for me to support myself.
“Let it go”
In the summer of 2014, I quit my job, got rid of my Stuff, and bought a one-way ticket for Germany (it didn’t really matter where I landed; it was the most affordable flight at that moment). For everyone else, this all seemed sudden and dramatic, but I had actually been researching it and planning it for a year. Which doesn’t mean it was easy, and I didn’t have a lot of moments of doubt, but… but overcoming doubt and fear is the only way to do anything good in life. I felt the trepidation and did it anyway. I only had what I could carry, and followed my impulses from place to place for the next 18 months or so.
While I expected to learn new things and be challenged in unexpected ways, I didn’t expect the degree to which travel would reveal and inform my own American-ness. I think it’s true that often you can’t really see something until you step outside of it, and, while my European friends often say that I’m not a “typical American” (and I know they intend it as praise, and I take it that way), I also know now that I am more deeply American than I ever realized. I have come to understand a lot about what being an American really is, at a time when “American values” are shouted louder than ever, with even less examination and scrutiny.
“What brings you here?”
In the spring of 2016, I got a job in Amsterdam through a friend, producing an animated TV series at a new studio there. I was excited for the opportunity, and the job also sponsored me for a visa, which I very much wanted. A year later, in the summer of 2017, the show was done and I was trying to figure out my next steps. I had no personal desire to go back and live in the US, and find the current political climate intolerable. I had been working so much that I felt like I barely scratched the surface of living in the Netherlands (I STILL don’t know how to ride a bike!), but there are so many things I love about the country that I didn’t want to leave it.
“What brings you here?”
My apartment in Amsterdam was incredibly expensive, so I was looking for somewhere more affordable to live while I sorted out what I would do next. Almost by accident, I stumbled across Roermond, which is such an incredible, charming place, and got myself an apartment there. I started a business of my own, working as a writer and content strategist, specializing in inbound and content marketing, and settled in to see if I could make it work. It turns out, it does work, and is going better than I expected. I offer my clients a rather unique set of skills and experiences that have a lot of value.
With everything there is to love about Roermond, and as infatuated as I am with the city, it doesn’t have much of an expat community. I felt lonely and personally disconnected, and was so happy to find The Hub online and realize that there is such a thriving, vital resource for expats so close by. I have gotten involved with The Hub as a way to form deeper connections, and try to make my own contribution, in whatever way I can.
Some of the things I have learned along the way:
- There is a special skill involved in writing in English for European audiences, particularly when the readers are Dutch. They like their marketing language to be factual, informative, and direct, without a lot of the superlatives that other countries respond to.
- Despite what some people say about the Dutch, I have always found, from my earliest visits to the Netherlands, people to be incredibly open, giving, generous, and thoughtful. I have so much affection and respect for the country, and am honored to be here.
- I am the luckiest girl in the world.