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Feb 172016

Amanda van MulligenLast August I took my eldest two sons to their first eredivisie match at the Kyocera Stadion in The Hague. We’ve been to almost every home game since.

It’s reminiscent of my own footballing childhood; from the age of seven I stood on the terraces of my local football club at Vicarage Road. Up until I left England in 2000, at the tender age of 27, I was a serial season ticket holder at Watford Football Club.

It’s amazing what you can learn as a football supporter when you are a child: loyalty to a cause; dealing with disappointment; emotional involvement; commitment; social connection, cohesion and a sense of community; something to identify with and most importantly of all you learn to believe in dreams and miracles. (I write this hours after I watched ADO beat Feyenoord in De Kuip.)

As a child I associated football with family time. My brother (actually a Liverpool supporter) and I travelled with my parents the length and breadth of England to follow the Hornets. I have fond memories; it was an activity that brought us together – football was a passion we shared. So it’s no accident my own little family can be found in the family section of ADO’s home ground this season. I have been waiting for my children to be of an age where they are ready to embrace sitting in a football stadium every week for ninety minutes at a time.

On one occasion this season my husband accompanied us, as did our four year old, but it proved to be a little much for the attention span of our youngest. (The lesson he learnt that day was patience!) So the composition of my family representation changes each home game – but in one form or another we are there. We are part of the ADO Den Haag community.

It’s a community that was caught up in a scandal in January when a handful of fans chanted racist and insulting slurs against Ajax. There were two appeals over the loudspeaker to stop. It didn’t. It was disturbing. It was uncomfortable. This was happening at my club. Our club. I left the stadium with a bad taste in my mouth that, for once, wasn’t attributable to ADO’s defeat or on pitch performance.

As we walked to the train station after the match, I took the opportunity to speak to my eldest son who was at the match. I asked him how much he had understood about what had been going on. He hadn’t got any of it – he was focused on the match and we couldn’t hear the specifics of the songs or chants from where we were sitting. I could have left it there. But I chose not to.

I chose to use it as a learning moment. We talked about what had happened as we walked. We talked about it again when it was announced that supporters had been identified, faced prosecution and had received a stadium ban. We talked about it again after the next ADO home game, when the ADO club staff tackled the issue themselves with videos of the players and staff about the kind of support they wanted to hear from the terraces, and a banner which asked for racism to be given the red card.

We talked about what and why it had happened. We talked about whether it was right or wrong, and why he thought what he did. He was shocked that racism exists. He was shocked that people would insult a football player because of his origins. He looked puzzled as he told me,

“We are all the same, just different colours.”

I realised I didn’t need to give my son a lesson about racism – he has it covered. My son showed me that it’s not just as children we can learn a thing or two sitting supporting our local football team – it’s a lesson that other football supporters would do well to learn too.


  • There is also a great website for expats to keep up to date with the “Haagse” club in many different languages – ADO for expats

This article was written by: Amanda van Mulligen

Amanda van Mulligen-093I am British but have called the Netherlands home since 2000. I live in a void between being British and being Dutch. I am ‘mama’ to three boys aged seven and under. All three were born in the Netherlands and have dual nationality but the reality is they are more Cloggie than Brit….. and that makes life interesting. Motherhood abroad throws up challenges, questions and amazing memories. My “Expat Life with a Double Buggy” blog is my tale of living, loving and mothering abroad in the Netherlands, about the ups and downs of life in a foreign country.

Dec 152015

Anastacia HacopianDecember is upon us. The Dutch refer to the phenomenon of the “decembermaand,” because here, we celebrate three times: Sinterklaas, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve. It is a busy and stressful time for many. The weather is cold and wet. In other words, our health is often wanting.

I remember my first winter in Berlin as an American university student. I went through many a general practitioner, yearning for a doctor who would give me antibiotics for the flu. Most German doctors would confirm that I was ill and send me home to drape a towel over my head and hover above a pot of boiling water. When I finally found a younger doctor who gave me penicillin, I rejoiced. The next year I showed up for my flu shot like a good American, and he commended me. He said that it was unusual for the younger German generation to vaccinate against influenza.

Imagine my surprise when I moved to the Netherlands soon after and met the seven-year-old granddaughter of the couple next door. When she visited her grandparents during school hours, I asked her if she was home sick. “Sick?” she replied. “I’m not sick! I just have a cold.”

Ten years of Dutch life have passed since then, and my attitude toward illness, treatment, and antibiotics has changed significantly. As I write, three of our four kids are down with aches, congestion, or fever. Only one, however, has stayed home from school this week – the youngest. My seven-year-old daughter has an earache. When I asked her this morning whether she wanted to stay home or go to school, she said: “Well, my ear hurt all yesterday, and I was at school, and I was fine.” Off she went.

In another country and other culture, she or I may have acted differently. Different cultures reflect different attitudes toward illness. I see young American parents post on Facebook posting about flu shots for the whole family. Meanwhile, here in the Netherlands, as in my last adopted country, Germany, the flu shot is a ritual primarily associated with the older, senior citizen population.

In America, I also used to think that antibiotics were a normal course of treatment for any infection. Every doctor’s visit ended with a prescription in hand. In the Netherlands, I have learned that antibiotics only help in the case of infection instigated by bacteria. This may be obvious to others, but it is something I have only learned here, where antibiotics serve as a last resort.

Here, I have learned to let my children’s immune systems run their course. I have learned that most fevers break on the fourth day; that my kids can play and take part in family life with fever; that the bigger picture of my child’s particular situation is more relevant that the horror stories parents pick up through hearsay and social media. I do not discount the possibility that a doctor can misdiagnose meningitis, and I mourn for the families where this has been the case. At the same time, I have learned to practice “informed doubt” – to use my reason and instinct to assess my children’s situation instead of to panic at the possibilities lurking behind every new symptom.

After the doctor listened to my toddler’s chest this morning, he announced that her lungs were clear. “It’s just a cold,” he said. I walked out the door, reassured, even though her breathing was rapid, her fever was high, and she was miserable. Ten years ago, I would have felt short-changed, angry that the doctor did nothing.

My most useful resource in the last decade has been a small, paperback pamphlet of fifty-six pages in length: Kinderziektes published by pharmaceutical company Glaxo-Smith Klein. I picked up a free copy in a waiting room years ago, and I still use it with my fourth child. The most helpful aspect is the paragraph at the end of each section, labeled “When do I need to call the doctor?” The answer is this: always a lot less sooner than I found customary before living in the Netherlands.

While watching a doctor’s intern look up a symptom one day, I noted the title of the book that she kept pulling off the shelf. Later, I ordered my own copy of Kleine kwalen bij kinderen (Minor Child Illnesses), which has since saved me many a diagnosis at the doctor’s office.

A free resource is the website The index, symptom and case-based, is easy to navigate. It offers an app to download to your smartphone or tablet: “Moet ik naar de doctor?”

Finally, I rely on the knowledge that medical staff here take children seriously. My husband and I do not call the off-hours Huisartsenpost in the weekends as often as we used to. Four children onward, we know that the chances of the doctor wanting to see the child “for good measure – better safe than sorry”— are very high. If we are in our pajamas, it is pouring rain, and our sick child is sleepy, we only call the doctor on weekends if we are certain it is necessary.

Otherwise, we wait until Monday. Most of the time, the worst is over by then, and we are all the better for it.

Anastacia HacopianAnastasia Hacopian, Ph.D., is a Californian American of Japanese and Iranian descent. She studied German language and literature in Berkeley and Berlin before following love to the Netherlands. She is married to a Dutchman and is the mother of four children. Her essays have been published in the Dutch newspapers nrc next and Trouw, as well as the VARA op-ed website, She also writes for (@ahacopian) and her own websites, and

Oct 212015

Little Steps to the BasisschoolMy youngest son will soon turn four. In the Netherlands this means he can start at primary school.

He currently attends a peuterspeelzaal for two mornings a week. He’s well aware that he’ll soon be going to school every day like his two elder brothers. He also knows that the class he will spend his first two years of school life in is ready and eagerly waiting for him.

He’s currently busy with wennen, a few mornings before he actually starts as an introduction to his teacher, his classmates, his classroom and how his days will look in school.

There have been tears. There have been bursts of anger because he doesn’t want to go to a new school. Through the eyes of my highly sensitive three year old all that change is bad, scary.

“Te spannend!” he shouts through his tears.

And I agree. It is a huge amount of change in one big bang; from a few hours a week to full time education just around the corner of his fourth birthday.

So his school life will begin slowly but surely, one step at a time. First he’ll just do mornings, one day at a time. Whatever he can manage. I’ll let him take the lead.

I want the basisschool to be a fun, positive and exciting experience right from the start for the last of my brood. Third time around I know exactly what a drain starting school can be on a brand new four year old. I know how difficult a new environment for a highly sensitive child can be.

Unfortunately, I also know that without the understanding and support of a teacher starting in school can be a negative, upsetting experience for a highly sensitive child.

My eldest son didn’t have the benefit of my experience and wisdom when he first stepped into his classroom. His school start was rocky to say the least. It ended in a change of school.

So now I’m planning ahead. I’m talking to my youngest son’s teacher. She knows he’s sensitive to change, nervous about new things. I stayed for the duration of his first morning in school. The second morning there were tears, but there were already trusted faces in the classroom so the tears quickly subsided.

There are still tears as I leave him in the classroom for a third time, short-lived ones, but tears nonetheless. However, this time around I know he will be fine as I head out of the school.

This morning he asked, as he lay snuggled in bed,

“Mama, am I going to the basisschool today?”

“Yes,” I told him, and he leapt out of bed with cries of “yippee”.

“I’m going to big school, I’m going to big school,” he sings as he dances around our living room wiggling his bottom at us.

I drop him off and he barely looks at me as I leave his classroom. He’s deep in conversation with the little girl sitting next to him on their tiny chairs. There are no tears, just smiles and excitement. My heart soars as I walk home.

It’s early days but he feels at home in his new classroom. His teacher already gets him, makes time for him, does all she can to make him feel comfortable in this new place, to prepare him for the following day.
He smiles broadly when he talks about his school. He chatters about being a big boy going to the basisschool.

More importantly he is the picture of happiness when I pick him up on the school playground at lunchtime. He runs out, beaming, eager to tell me about all the things he has done. He has made friends already.

The tide has turned. Getting him to go to the last few peuterspeelzaal sessions has become challenging,

“But I’m done going to baby school,” he exclaims indignantly. “Ik ben een grote jongen en ik ga naar de basisschool!”

He’s ready.

 Quick Tips and Info:
  • Children enter the Dutch education system as soon as they turn 4. There is therefore a constant stream of new children joining group 1 throughout the entire school year.
  • School is only actually compulsory from age 5 when children become leerplichtig.
  • Schools in The Hague may have long waiting lists so register well in advance with your preferred school.
  • Before a child turns 4 it is usual for a school to invite you for an intake meeting. Your child will also be invited for a few intro hours (om te wennen) before they actually start. It is a great way to get your child prepared for the big transition.

This article was written by: Amanda van Mulligen

Amanda van Mulligen-093I am British but have called the Netherlands home since 2000. I live in a void between being British and being Dutch. I am ‘mama’ to three boys aged seven and under. All three were born in the Netherlands and have dual nationality but the reality is they are more Cloggie than Brit….. and that makes life interesting. Motherhood abroad throws up challenges, questions and amazing memories. My “Expat Life with a Double Buggy” blog is my tale of living, loving and mothering abroad in the Netherlands, about the ups and downs of life in a foreign country.

Sep 222015

Anastacia HacopianDuring our holiday this summer in the Drents-Friese Wold, a national forest in the north of the Netherlands, I read a news item about the Dutch King, who was also on vacation. The story was headlined “The King’s Vacation is Not a Vacation” and described how the King continued his regal duties while vacationing with his wife and three children.

I had to laugh. Was this news? Which parent did not continue ‘working’ while on holiday? In this remote wood, there was no room away from my kids, literally. The cabin was small and their requests imminent. I was seeing them more than I saw them the rest of the year, even when it was my job to take care of them.

Then, on the morning of the fifth day, it stopped raining. The kids went into the yard and my husband settled with a book into a lawn chair. I put on my running shoes and said I would be back, eventually.

After I ran the perimeter of the park where the cabin was located, another trio of runners appeared and jogged past. They trotted onward around the driveway that led out of the park, and I followed them to see where they were going. I watched them cross the street, which doubled as the local interstate, and run onto the parallel bike path. After a minute, they disappeared into the forest.

I did not know if I wanted to go that far. The park perimeter felt too small, but I was not sure if the wood was for me. The world on the other side of the interstate seemed big. Everywhere I looked, there were trees. Who knew where I would end up or how long it would take me to get back? What if I got lost? What if a crazy hermit was waiting in the woods for a clueless tourist to run past? Were there bears in Drenthe?

Standing at the threshold, I was suddenly aware of a wilderness which was not my own. It was as foreign to my experience as an Antarctic fjord or a South American jungle. It was unfamiliar, and as long as I was out there, I would be on my own. It would be just me, the path, and the wood.

Nevertheless, I was not ready to go back. So I crossed the narrow interstate road. My heart beat a little faster as I stepped onto the bike path and began to run.

The morning air was cool and marked with the scent of pine. The wood was tall and quiet, towering over my muted steps. After a mile, I passed a gray-haired pair on bikes. After another mile, I took another forest turn, and suddenly found myself in the middle of a race. Runners in pairs moved around me, parading numbers pinned to their shirts. They smiled, nodded, and raised their hands in the runner’s greet.

To these athletes, I was just another woman on the path. Though our meeting was spontaneous and I wore no number, they affirmed me. They knew nothing of the four children I was raising, waiting for me in a cabin a few miles away. They did not even care where I was from. They did not know about my grumpiness of the last five days, or the courage it had cost me to build a life here the last ten years. They did not measure my worth by my mothering, my expatriation, or my history. I was just another sweaty runner, and I was instantly affirmed.

The thresholds we cross in our lives abroad are often higher than the ones we might have met in the places where we are from. We may harbor universal goals and ambitions, yet we face these in a foreign language, in an unfamiliar context, and most of the time, with a different set of social codes. How terrifying can that be? Very.

It takes courage to move through this life in a different place, and above all, to continue moving forward. You have to be brave to cross the narrow and untrodden interstate road. It requires a certain resilience to insist on the right to run on the bike path, against traffic.

When I did, though, I was surprised by the way that I fit. There was a place for me, all over again, which welcomed me into a role I had never held.

I am so glad I crossed the path. I am so glad I did it again the next day, and the day after that. By the time our holiday was over, I was sorry to move on, richer for having run in the woods.

Anastacia Hacopian Anastasia Hacopian, Ph.D., is a Californian American of Japanese and Iranian descent. She studied German language and literature in Berkeley and Berlin before following love to the Netherlands. She is married to a Dutchman and is the mother of four children. Her essays have been published in the Dutch newspapers nrc next and Trouw, as well as the VARA op-ed website, She also writes for (@ahacopian) and her own websites, and

Jul 082015

Ute Limacher-Riebold

The last weeks before summer holidays can be quite frantic: many goodbyes, parties, exams, and emotions usually run high. The fact that children have six or seven (or more!) weeks of summer holidays before the next school year or University starts again, mixes despair into the common excitement.

Summer holidays can be a great challenge for families. We usually plan them well in advance to make sure that the children are taken care of, or “do something” when we need to be back to work: summer camps, time with family, for older children maybe some jobs, courses.

What makes our holidays spent together feel like a burden is when we feel that our need for some rest and a real “time-out” from the usual routines and responsibilities are not met. Usually this happens before the family leaves for holidays or right when they come back home.

How can we make sure that we don’t get back into the parent-does-it-all routine? Long summer holidays are actually the right time to change some rules in the family. Some of the household chores can easily be shared among all family members when nobody needs to go to work, prepare for exams, go to school…

Household chores are not a choice, they are a must, and each member of the family can participate to the best of his or her ability. During holidays these chores can seem a waste of time and a burden, if done by one or two persons only. If done together, however, chatting and making it fun, it can even become a precious one-on-one moment with our child or partner.

The youngest ones can take over simple tasks like setting the table, emptying the dishwasher, sorting laundry, tidying up (toys etc.), helping prepare meals by chopping up some vegetables or fruits etc. – under your supervision – or washing fruit etc.. Older ones can help to clean up the yard, mow the lawn, pull the weeds, write shopping lists and help cleaning the house, taking care of the pet.

Teens can already take on tasks that involve even more responsibility and dexterity like cleaning out the garage (or any another room), ironing or cooking, taking out the dog for a walk, running errands, taking care of younger siblings. They can help you with the maintenance of the car or the bikes, learning some basic repair skills. – Find more ideas for chores for teens here. You can also download chore lists/charts from the internet here or here for teens.

The summer period is the time where we can teach our children important life skills without any pressure: how to bike/skate/swimm safely, how to take the train, bus or tram on their own, how to pay at a counter or run errands etc.

If our children will leave for University in October, this summer is the right moment to make sure they know how to live independently. We may want them to learn how to: do laundry, cook a healthy but affordable meal, budget their money, travel alone – maybe they get their driving license before leaving – or take a first aid course, just in case…

The positive side effect of involving our children in all these tasks and in teaching them new skills is that they will become more confident and ready for the next school year or for University. And we, parents, will have the feeling that we got the most out of our holidays too.

I wish you all to find a great balance between chores, tasks, and enjoyable and memorable moments spent with your family this summer!

UteLimacher-Passionate ParentingUte Limacher-Riebold is a multilingual expat-since-birth. She has a Dr. in Romance Literature and Languages and a Master in Bilingualism. She is a writer, researcher and language trainer and blogs about expat life, multilingualism and raising Third Culture Kids on Expat Since BirthUte’s Expat Lounge and Expat living in The Hague on Angloinfo. She also is a counsellor and coach for internationally living families in The Hague.

Jun 152015

6 Ways to Make Sure Your Summer Holiday Really is a Holiday When You’re an ExpatThe school summer holidays are fast approaching; a six-week break when the alarm clocks are redundant and many of us take to the skies or hit the open road for a couple of weeks of well-deserved “r & r”.

The reality for many expats however, is that summer is the time to return to base, to travel back to the passport country to visit friends and family. Even for those whose birth country is a hop, skip and a jump away, summer destinations soon become repetitive and clash with the knowledge that the world is a big place.

Let’s be honest, does hopping from one family member’s house to another really constitute a holiday? Is it really the relaxing break you and your children need after a long school year? Probably not, at least not when you do it for the third year running and your travel bucket list just keeps growing.

For my first few years as an expat my husband and I spent most of our holiday allowance travelling to and fro to England for long weekends. Once we had three young children the ‘popping back’ for short stays stopped, but our children do not do house-jumping between various friends and family members well. It isn’t their ideal summer holiday, no matter how wonderful it is to see everyone. They find it difficult to settle and tend to arrive back in the Netherlands more tired than when we set out. So we had to get creative and work out ways to see loved ones without the lodging hopping and constant travelling.

Here’s what we have come up with over the years:

  1. Stop half way
    Choose a holiday destination that means you can stop off half way and see friends and family en route. For us this has meant holidaying in Cornwall, England with stop-offs at family on the way to and from the Eurotunnel or boat, sometimes staying a night or two and other times just popping in for lunch.
  1. Invite loved ones
    Ask your friends or family to join you in your chosen holiday venue. Book accommodation big enough to invite others to stay with you, either for a few days or the duration, or make sure you stay somewhere where loved ones can also stay nearby. This way you get to explore new sights and spend time with those that matter.
  1. Announce your arrival and sit back
    Let people know when you will be back in town and where you will be staying and ask them to come to you. This way you don’t end up traipsing from one house to another. People will usually understand that you have already done the travelling to get back and find their way to you, particularly if you have young children. It’s a great excuse to organise a family party so you can see everyone at the same time.
  1. Explore ‘home’ like a tourist
    Take the opportunity to explore ‘home’ through the eyes of a tourist. Do some planning before you return and find places you either have not been to for a while, or have never visited. Challenge yourself to see ten new things in the area you once lived and explore the local area. This way you can alternate or combine sight-seeing with visiting loved ones – a win-win situation for the children especially.
  1. Show your children your cultural roots
    Use a trip ‘home’ to share the life you led before you moved overseas and share your cultural roots with your children. Let them see where you went to school, where you used to work, where you played with your friends. Introduce them to food and events that are typical of your birth country’s culture. Encourage them to practice speaking the local language. Immerse them in your heritage.
  1. Staycation
    Invite friends and family to you over the summer and explore close to home instead of traveling far. So often we head further afield but don’t visit the sights under our nose. Make a list of things you haven’t yet seen or done in the Netherlands, or take your visitors away for a short break in Belgium, Germany or France. Or you can involve your visitors in a bit of summer culture fun using their countries of origin. Either way, you get the best of both worlds.


This article was written by: Amanda van Mulligen:

Amanda van Mulligen-093I am British but have called the Netherlands home since 2000. I live in a void between being British and being Dutch. I am ‘mama’ to three boys aged seven and under. All three were born in the Netherlands and have dual nationality but the reality is they are more Cloggie than Brit….. and that makes life interesting. Motherhood abroad throws up challenges, questions and amazing memories. My “Expat Life with a Double Buggy” blog is my tale of living, loving and mothering abroad in the Netherlands, about the ups and downs of life in a foreign country.

May 182015

My daughter attends a Dutch school here in the Netherlands in a combination class with other seven, eight, and nine year-old students. She came home one day after a dance practice with some older girls and started to twerk in the living room.

When she caught me staring at her, she giggled and stopped.

“What, Mom?!”

“What are you doing?”


Oh no, I thought. I’d heard about this – and it had involved an MTV Awards performance, a nude-colored latex suit, and a cannonball.

“Where did you learn to do that?”

She rattled off a few names.

“Well, please don’t,” I said, fully knowing that I couldn’t just leave it at that.

“Why not?”

“Because when you do that, and you’re seven, you just might be sending the wrong people the wrong idea.”

The conversation moved on to more things the twerking girls did. In gym class, they wore only undershirts, rolled up above the belly button so they could “look sexy.”

There it was, the magic word.

“So what does sexy mean?” I asked.

She said she really didn’t know. Yet it was clear that whatever “sexy” was, it had everything to do with her friends – and their very young focus.

I remember being two years older than my daughter is now, sitting in an American elementary school class receiving sexual education. I remember the sound of a whirring fan in a slide projector, lighting up a wall image of the moment of conception. I remember raising my hand and asking how the sperm actually met up with the egg. Did it sort of crawl across the bed sheet and meet the egg halfway there? My teachers didn’t give me a straight answer. At home, neither did my parents.

According to a recent article in the Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad, Dutch parents also find it difficult to talk to their children about sex. Nevertheless, the Dutch are doing something right. Dutch teens enjoy fewer unwanted pregnancies than American teens – six times fewer, according to statistics. They’re having relaxed conversations about sex both at home and in the classroom.

Anastacia HacopianTelevision persona “Dr. Corrie,” the Dutch teen sex doctor, exemplifies this open approach. Dr. Corrie uses humor to teach middle school students about sex. She’s the brainchild of NTR, the public school television network, and Rutgers WPF, a national information center for sexual education. Her program airs every Sunday evening and is broadcast again on the internet and as part of Dutch school curricula. Dr. Corrie takes the “awkward” in sex and exaggerates it, making jokes while answering the questions teens are too embarrassed to ask. She’s everything but subtle, giving kids the space to approach sexual education on a level of honesty they might not feel able to share with their own parents.

Parents in the Netherlands, however, also deserve praise for the conversations they’re having with their kids: not in the form of a sit-down lecture about the “birds and the bees.” According to the Algemeen Dagblad, Dutch parents take cues from their children, enabling an ongoing dialogue by answering the questions their kids ask about sex, in passing. Dr. Amy Schalet’s eye-opening study Not Under My Roof even cites the common Dutch practice of allowing adolescents to have sleepover dates at home. Dutch parents would rather allow their teens to have safe, informed sex in their own bedrooms down the hall, than somewhere beyond the front door cloaked in shame, secrecy, and negative consequences. By keeping communication lines open, they encourage their kids to understand and practice responsible sexual intercourse.

At my high school in Southern California, we debated whether the school should install vending machines providing condoms to help students protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. But for some, this went too far because it encouraged teens to have sex, at all. Consensus could not be reached between the two groups – one opposed to unsafe sex, and the other opposed to any sex.

Coming from a cultural background where sex education was anything but open, the conversations I’m having now about twerking and sexy gym clothing do not come naturally to me. If I’m totally honest, Dr. Corrie and teen sleepovers make me nervous. But I value that sex isn’t a dirty word in Dutch culture, and that Dutch teens are given the credit to have sex responsibly. As a parent, thirty years later, I am glad I live here. I am thankful for the choice to look back and respond differently.

Anastacia Hacopian Anastasia Hacopian, Ph.D., is a Californian American of Japanese and Iranian descent. She studied German language and literature in Berkeley and Berlin before following love to the Netherlands. She is married to a Dutchman and is the mother of four children. Her essays have been published in the Dutch newspapers nrc next and Trouw, as well as the VARA op-ed website, She also writes for (@ahacopian) and her own websites, and

Apr 142015

Ute Limacher-RieboldDuring this time of the year, many internationally living families are preparing for their next move. They tick off the list of “things to do”, preparing for the move and the next chapter in their life.

Internationals are used to saying goodbye and you would assume that they’re very good at it, but, in fact, it is one of the most difficult moments for them. They may need to learn it and it’s one of the things their children will need to face from a very young age. – We all say goodbye to some extent ever day. Either to a project, a wish, a thought: the only constant thing in life is change.

While busy organising a move and everything that’s related with it, parents often forget to sit down and listen to their children, partners or friends, or observe them during the last months (or weeks) in the old place – and the first ones in the new location.

It is very common that during the last phase in one place and at some point when we’ve moved abroad, we all experience what has been called the “expat grief.   It doesn’t only affect adults, but also children and it is a myth that “children don’t grieve like adults”. They might live more in the present than their parents and seem to cope very well after a loss – and leaving a place and moving to another is a kind of loss! , but assuming that grief in childhood is short-lived, is a major mistake. Children don’t exhibit “the stigma of sadness and despair, but they grieve”; often in silent because they’ve learned to be resilient.

Fact is that transition always involves loss, no matter how good the next phase will be. And loss “engenders grief and the greater you have loved a situation or place or people, the greater the grief”.

“The layers of loss run deep:  Friends, community, pets.  Family, toys, language.  Weather, food, culture.  Loss of identity.  Loss of a place of comfort, stability, a safe and predictable world.  Home.”

Children on constant move lose the worlds they love, over and over again. They go through the stages of grief each time they move. And if they don’t take the time to grieve, if they push it down and submerge it, it surely will bubble up later in life, unexplained.

This is the main reason why when moving abroad or having friends who are moving, we want to make sure that we say a healthy good-bye by thinking forward and having a proper closure.

David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken** suggest to build a R.A.F.T. in order to have a proper closure.

R for Reconciliation

During the leaving stage we tend to deny or avoid confrontation with those we had disagreements with. We think we won’t see them again and since we are going to leave anyway, why bother? Fact is that unresolved problems will stick with us like a mental baggage.

Avoiding reconciliation is an unhealthy habit because it can cause bitterness and our discontent can affect our future relationships. Therefore it is important to resolve any problem and to forgive and be forgiven before moving. – And so do our children, but they may need a mediator for this…

A for Affirmation

The key is to leave in peace. We’ve encountered and befriended many people over the years, and in order to be really emotionally and mentally moving on, we need to let them all (!) know that we appreciate them.

Many fear the tears and the sad feelings that leaving entails. But we have the choice to focus on the positive moments we have shared together and to solidify our relationship with them. – Closure doesn’t mean that we have to say goodbye forever. We say goodbye to this phase of our life they were part of. But they can remain our friends.

If we look at the terms used in different languages to say “goodbye”, they are not forever but usually mean “see you again”: auf Wiedersehen, arrivederci, au revoir, hasta la vista, now vemos etc.

By planning a gathering together after our move or regularly scheduled skype-chats can make it easier to say goodbye. We might not meet as frequently as before, but there’s still a chance to keep in touch. – Through social media we can still stay in touch and share happy moments with friends living on the other side of the globe.

We can help our children to do the same with their friends by letting their favourite friends, teachers, neighbours know that they like them and that they want to stay in touch. – Throwing a farewell party in the middle of all the preparations for the move seems overwhelming, but it’s really worth the effort! If you want to keep it simple, a kind of gathering in one of your (or your kids’) favourite places with these special friends will do it.

Affirmation is important also among siblings. When one of our children leaves for college or boarding school, it’s important that the siblings who are left behind are reassured that they’ll still keep in touch. A commitment to call, skype or regular visits will reassure everyone that this is a phase, a change and not an ending.

F like Farewells

Saying “goodbye” can hurt since it marks an end. It’s the end of a chapter in our life. Denying this will not make it any better. It’s important to take the time to pay attention to things we’ve enjoyed. – Doing things we’ve loved, meeting friends: every member of the family will benefit from gradually saying goodbye to the 4 “p’s”: people, pets, places and possessions. A good way to remember them in the “old” place and “life” is to take pictures. We and our children can make a goodbye book. They can collect pictures of their friends, teachers, the favourite areas, pets, possessions and assemble them in a scrap book. They could also insert a small thing which reminds them for example of their home, like a piece of bedroom curtain, a scrap of wallpaper, a pressed flower from the garden or a ticket to the cinema. Or they can make alternatively a short movie of their friends. A friend of mine once gave me her favourite soap. Every time I smelled it, I thought of her and still do. – Let your children guide you as they have an eye for the small details we adults often miss.

T like Think destination

Ute -sea

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What do we need where we’re going? What are the drawbacks and benefits to expect? How will our life look like in the new place? – While saying goodbye, it’s also important to focus on the future and to prepare ourselves and our family for the approaching transition.

Thinking about practical aspects of leaving will help us to be more balanced emotionally. – We can help our children in this by involving them in the planning by taking pictures of the new house or area we’ll live in, studying maps of the city and collecting information and details of the new school. Maybe we can even meet new classmates before the school starts. All this will help them (and us!) to plan ahead, to picture us in the new place and get the impression of how we’ll feel in this next place.

Children have a peculiar outlook on life. Parents should try to answer their questions unambiguously and clarify that nothing will change within the family.

During the whole transition, our children need to be repeatedly reassured that all is well. You should expect to have (many) ups and downs.– This is all perfectly normal since (young) children thrive on routine and stability. If you can keep up normal routines in your new home, such as the way of having breakfast or dinner, the bedtime routine, or certain other habits, you’re halfway through the battle. Especially new routines need to be introduced gradually such that the children (and we too!) can adapt easier to our new life.


Ute Limacher-RieboldI would add another “T” to the RAFT: T like Time. During this part of the transition stages we easily run out of time. Therefore, planning extra time to slow down and build the RAFT helps everyone to have a smoother ride.

We can avoid goodbyes by just ignoring them or we can consider them instead as a chance to re-center ourselves and to focus on what is really important in our life. – Allowing ourselves and our family to create closure in whatever way will help us all to say happy and healthy hellos in the next phase of our life.


** Book: Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds -David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken

 (parts of this article have been previously published on

UteLimacher-Passionate ParentingPreviously a lecturer in Linguistics and Literature with a Dr. in Romance Literature and Linguistics and a Master in Bilingualism, Ute Limacher-Riebold is now multilingual coach and trainer for internationally living families and owner of “Ute’s Expat Lounge” in The Hague where she lives since 2005. She is a writer, researcher, language trainer and blogs about expat life, multilingualism and raising Third Culture Kids on Expat Since Birth, Ute’s Expat Lounge and Expat living in The Hague on Angloinfo. She holds regular workshops about parenting multicultural and multilingual children, and topics related to international life.

Mar 142015

Amanda van Mulligen“I started working here eight years ago and I can still remember the day you walked in for the very first time – a newborn baby in your arms. A brand new mother,” said the lady at the front desk of the consultatiebureau to me at the end of my last visit.

I can’t even begin to count the number of times I have set foot inside my local consultatiebureau since 2007. But the woman who has weighed and measured all three of my sons over the space of eight years gave me reason to stop and reflect on my visits there; the same woman who remembers the name of my eldest son despite his last consultatiebureau visit being four years ago.

Eight years ago, when a nurse came to my home and made an appointment for me at the consultatiebureau, I had no idea what to expect from the government funded child wellness clinic.

I knew it was the place where my children would be vaccinated. It was a place where their growth would be meticulously measured and recorded. It was a place where I could ask questions, ask for advice and ultimately ask for help if I needed it.

It became a place I got used to visiting but not one I relish going to.

I learnt quickly it was a place that always smelt of dirty nappies – sometimes the air was merely faintly tainted but other times it was a full-on assault to my sensitive nose. I’m put off by the waiting (they’re invariably running late), the mess of baby clothes strewn across neatly arranged rows of dark blue changing mats, by having to console my baby who, funnily enough, never seemed to appreciate having a needle stuck in his soft chubby thigh. And all whilst listening to the discordant sounds of an unpracticed baby and toddler choir around me.

It’s a place we’ve had development checks, help with sleep issues, advice on raising bilingual children, discussions on bread intake (he should eat how many slices of bread a day?), eye tests that have lead to referrals to eye specialists at our local hospital and emotional support during periods of parenting lows.

The consultatiebureau has been a springboard to other services within the Dutch youth services, services that gave us direction when there was the threat of losing our parenting way.

As my eldest approached his fourth birthday his time at the consultatiebureau came to an end but his younger brother had barely started his consultatiebureau adventure. Shortly afterwards my youngest son was born and I juggled appointments with two boys at different stages until last summer when my middle son turned four. Then his relationship with the consultatiebureau ended too.

And now as I stand in the consultatiebureau listening to the lady behind the front desk tell her tale of our first meeting I fight back a nostalgic tear that threatens to escape. I hold back a wave of melancholy thoughts and memories of my journey here with my three tiny babies who have grown into little boys before my eyes. And before the eyes of the ladies who work in my consultatiebureau.

I realise I have one more appointment in this place before my family parts ways with the consultatiebureau. Our time here is almost done.

By then it will have been nine years since I first walked into the small L-shaped room that forms my consultatiebureau, a place whose appearance has barely changed during those years. As I shut the consultatiebureau door on my way out for the last time I will be walking into a new chapter of motherhood, a new phase for my little family and I already know that I will feel like I am losing someone that has had my back for the first nine years as a mother.

This article was written by: Amanda van Mulligen:

Amanda van Mulligen-093

I am British but have called the Netherlands home since 2000. I live in a void between being British and being Dutch. I am ‘mama’ to three boys aged seven and under. All three were born in the Netherlands and have dual nationality but the reality is they are more Cloggie than Brit….. and that makes life interesting. Motherhood abroad throws up challenges, questions and amazing memories. My “Expat Life with a Double Buggy” blog is my tale of living, loving and mothering abroad in the Netherlands, about the ups and downs of life in a foreign country.

Feb 172015

If I, the immigrant parent, want my Dutch kids to remain among the happiest in the universe, then I have to love playdates as much as the Dutch do.

So there I am, waiting by my bike, standing in a small sea of parents. School doors fly open. As soon as we’ve made eye contact, my children run toward me, shouting and waving. It can only be about one thing: the Dutch playdate.

“His house or ours?” I ask. A good Dutch parent allows her kids to determine location. “And where is his mother?”

I have never met my daughter’s classmate before today. I don’t know if his mother is the school librarian, a recovering drug addict, or a full-time business executive whose son forgot he goes to day care.

“Where’s his bike?” And we’re off.

A Dutch parent’s credibility depends on how flexibly and easily she responds to a spontaneous playdate proposal. If I, the immigrant parent, want my Dutch kids to remain among the happiest in the universe, then I have to love playdates as much as the Dutch do.

Well, I do not.

I grew up in the United States as the child of immigrants. My playdates were arranged by my Japanese tiger mother, a veritable playdate filter. She set the terms, screened the parents, and determined which kids were good for me. The kids who were good for me were a lot like me. We never talked back to our elders. If we didn’t like any part of the meal on the table, we still ate it – usually first, to get it over with. Rolling of the eyes was disrespectful, even at fifteen.

And we never biked home with our friends. We commuted, buckled up, in their cars.

Fast forward some thirty-odd years to the Netherlands.

“You mean it’s normal to just send your kid home with someone you don’t know?”

“Yep,” my Dutch husband nodded. “You trust them!”

“What about exchanging phone numbers?”

He shrugged. “Meh.”

“So you only get their address if you have to pick your kid up?”

“Well, obviously?”

My husband is nonchalant, but I see the faceless families of our kids’ classmates as strangers. When our kids go home with them, I ask for digits and write down addresses on the back of receipts.

Then sometimes, their friends come home with us.

The Dutch are known for being direct. Well, their kids are direct, too, and in such a way which my Japanese mother never encouraged me to be. Dutch kids regularly tell me if they don’t like the food we’ve put on the table. If I ask them not to prop their feet on my white wallpaper, they ask: “Why not?” If I ask whether they’ve washed their hands after using the bathroom, they roll their eyes before scuffling back.

Call it culture shock, but five years after the first playdate, I’m still struggling with these cultural differences. You know those kids who say: “Oh, we had friends over all the time. Extra kids were like furniture. My friends were always welcome at our house, because my mom was so cool and easy.”

I wish I could be that mom, but I’m not.

When my daughter turned five last month, ten children were stuck in the living room on a cold and wet winter afternoon. I was in charge of chicken nuggets while my husband, much kinder than me, supervised everything beyond the kitchen.

While listening to him charm our guests, asking them in the most creative and gentle ways not to walk all over the couch or fight about felt tip markers, I dipped chicken breasts into flour, eggs, and crushed cornflakes, over and over again. Then I deep-fried the chicken.

Standing over the Teflon sukiyaki pan that my mother had given me, I watched the chicken turn brown in a shallow lake of oil. I reached for a pair of chopsticks to flip them over.

Then I stopped.

I saw my mother’s own hand, holding chopsticks over a stove in California.

I saw the omelettes with faces she’d drawn in ketchup.

I saw the apples she’d peeled to look like ladybugs.

I saw the potato chips and soda pop she’d bought, because she knew this was what my American friends were used to having.

We turn into our parents in some way or another, whether we want this to happen or not. I had inherited my mother’s strict cultural standards of “good” behaviour. Her way of arranging playdates was still the way with which I felt most comfortable.

Anastacia HacopianYet staring down at the chicken, I realized that I also had this: her hospitality. I could feed the kids that came to our home with the same energy and effort she had once invested in my friends, for me. I could make these kids feel welcome by being “that mom” – the one who fed them well.

I could manage that much, I thought to myself, looking down at the sizzling pan.

I smiled, because I already had.

Anastacia HacopianAnastasia Hacopian, Ph.D., is a Californian American of Japanese and Iranian descent. She studied German language and literature in Berkeley and Berlin before following love to the Netherlands. She is married to a Dutchman and is the mother of four children. Her essays have been published in the Dutch newspapers nrc next and Trouw, as well as the VARA op-ed website, She also writes for (@ahacopian) and her own websites, and