01 May 2010

Discovering my comfort zone

Last week, I traveled to Amsterdam by train. Though it used to be my daily reality, experiencing Amsterdam has become a rarity. After moving to Leiden in 2007, I only commuted to A'dam for about 1 1/2 years before my new job started in Rotterdam. Yet the other day on the train I was overcome with the sensation of heading to a familiar, comfortable place. Why was this, and why has it never developed for the Rotterdam commute?

As I pondered these thoughts, we approached Schiphol. The train conductor announced our upcoming destination, but then repeated it in English. At first I was surprised, but then I remembered this was the norm; again in both languages as we approached Amsterdam Central Station. Then I hopped on a tram, and listened to a computerized voice tell me (first in Dutch and then English) to remember to scan my OV-chip-card as I left the tram.

Then it hit me: I am more comfortable with the Netherlands that provides an English translation. With these easy translations, where I can confirm my intermediate knowledge of Dutch with the English that
follows, I feel more confident of my knowledge. But south of Schiphol, this ceases. And all the way down in Rotterdam? Well, when a transportation problem presents itself, one can be assured that only Dutch explanations are given. These situations usually lead to frustration on my part - a frustration that they don't translate, sure, but more of a frustration that I still haven't mastered the language enough to be completely confident of my understanding.

Moving south has removed me from my comfort zone, but perhaps that comfort zone was what was holding me back all this time. Approaching two years of commuting to Rotterdam, I'm realizing that Dutch really does come in handy, especially when the train or tram freezes in its tracks.


  1. Hi,

    I used to live and work in Rotterdam and sometimes people back in the States couldn't understand why I sometimes I became frustrated with daily life because I only spoke and understood limited Dutch. But everyone there speaks English, right?


    It was all I could say. I so understand you

  2. Thanks, Michelle! I'm glad it made sense to someone else. I've heard for years that it's possible to live in the Netherlands without speaking a word of Dutch. Possible, yes, but...difficult.