Tag Archives: expat

six months

“You get a strange feeling when you’re about to leave a place, I told him, like you’ll not only miss the people you love but you’ll miss the person you are now at this time and this place, because you’ll never be this way again.”
– Azar Nafisi, Reading Lolita in Tehran

Six months ago, I said farewell to Amsterdam, my home for nearly seven years and a city that I came to know as my own. It’s amazing to receive something so unexpected. The Netherlands. Who knew that I would end up feeling at home in that little country in Northern Europe.

I miss it and I miss who I was there, Carly in Amsterdam. Much has changed, but that’s what life does. I am thankful for the experience and the fact that Marcus boarded that one-way flight to Portland with me. If I could bundle up my favorite things about Amsterdam, I’d happily pay an extra baggage fee for these:

The people. My friends, colleagues at World Press Photo, the friendly waitress at our favorite restaurant, the neighbors who safeguarded my packages while I was at work, the Turkish grocer and his family, the Dutch in general. Pragmatic and refreshingly, brutally real.

The lifestyle. Biking everywhere. Coffee with a cookie on the side. Customer service without frills. The rhythm, routine, and slow(er) pace of life. The ease with which you could find yourself in Cologne, Brussels, or Paris. Waking up every Saturday morning to a delivery from De Krat. The Kinderboederij.

The social system. I would happily pay much higher taxes to live in a society that takes care of its people and infrastructure. Where people see themselves as a community rather than isolated individuals that need freedom above all else.

The ongoing sense of wonder. Amsterdam is so beautiful and not a week went by where I didn’t stop to appreciate it. The canals, the architecture, the history. As I would ride along, sometimes I just couldn’t believe that such a place exists and that I knew all the small alleys and bumps in the road.

There could just as well be a list of things I gladly left behind. Or a list of things in Portland I wouldn’t want to give up again. But at this six-month milestone, I’m happy to reflect on what it was and why it meant so much.

leaving Amsterdam

Amsterdam to Portland

It’s official. After nearly seven years in Amsterdam, I am heading home. The move has been in the works for a while now, but the tangible reality of it is really emotional. It hasn’t always been easy, but this little country has been good to me.

In July 2006, I arrived in the Netherlands with two suitcases in hand. It was my first time stepping foot in the country, enticed by a full scholarship for a two-year Master’s of Arts program. The first year was a rollercoaster as I adjusted to living in Europe, a mix of awe at the beauty of the city and confusion as I wondered where my place was in the world. I had lived in Seoul the year before and, although I loved my family, I didn’t want to live in America. A year into my studies, I wondered if Amsterdam was the place for me. At the height of wanderlust, I imagined moving next to Berlin or Paris. And then…

In September 2007, I met Marcus. A sweet German who had lived in Amsterdam for two years, played music, worked with technology, and is the epitome of stability and love. When I received my diploma in June 2008, I couldn’t imagine leaving him and decided to stay. I entered the Dutch workforce in August 2008, building my career and an amazing network.

Moving to a new apartment. German lessons. A job offer from World Press Photo. Traveling the world. An engagement. A wedding. And then it was 2013.

The two suitcases I arrived with in 2006 have evolved into five cubic meters to be packed in a transatlantic shipping container. I now have my MA degree, a solid professional career, friends from all parts of the world, and an amazing husband. And somehow, despite the distance, I am closer to my family than ever. I don’t mean to make it sound easy. There were moments of tears and frustration, times of loneliness and wondering if I would make it along the way. But I did.

A new life awaits in Portland and there are so many details to arrange before the end of February. But for now, I am going to enjoy these last days with the city that has brought so much to my life.