Those who have left Preston: Living the Dream in Europe (part two)
What I love about social network sites is catching up with friends who now live abroad. It has inspired me to write this series of articles about Preston ex-pats. Charlotte Walker is one of the people I’ve been able to catch up with. Hailing from Fulwood Charlotte has had an interesting life, living in Montreux, Switzerland and San Sebastian, Spain. She now lives in a village just a few miles south of Amsterdam, with her two young children. Here she shares her story about life in Europe.
Charlotte, 38, moved to the Netherlands in 2003. She had previously studied at Universidad de Deusto, in San Sebastian and spent a year at the Pierrefeu Finishing School in Glion.
“As a ‘monitrice’ I had a full school timetable, where the focus was on French and the arts – history of art, etiquette and protocol, flower arranging and so on,” she says. “The ‘working’ element consisted of tasks supervising the girls on the regular school trips and holidays, which included issuing fines for chewing gum!”
When an opportunity came up at the international headquarters of Deloitte Consulting B.V, the management consultancy firm she worked for in the UK, she jumped at the chance, despite the position being in the Netherlands and not knowing a word of Dutch!
“I advise Deloitte on their legal contracts with clients. As part of that, I deliver training sessions to Deloitte Consulting to increase awareness about contracting and the risks and common pitfalls, and produce tools and templates to facilitate the contracting process,” she says “ The international clients communicate in English, public sector clients in Dutch, so I use both languages every day.”
What was the biggest challenge moving abroad?
“In the beginning, it takes much longer to get anything done,” she says. “Driving on the other side of the road, different shops, different red tape, tax rules and there was the language. I had studied French and Spanish at university and here I was faced with Dutch which resembles neither!”
Charlotte says that she and her family enjoy an excellent quality of life in the Netherlands, it is safe, clean, affluent and family orientated, “Everyone has to have private health care which seems to cost a fortune but from my experience to date has always been very good. There are high taxes but again I can see the results – clean, well lit streets, tidy gardens and playgrounds managed by the local council.”
She says that in the Winter it is much colder than in the UK, with an icy East wind, so much so the canals close to home freeze over and the family go ice skating. In the summer it is warmer than in the UK.
I wondered what she missed about Preston?
“Family!” she says. “Simply irreplaceable and easy access to the beautiful English countryside. The huge supermarkets, supermarkets are on a much smaller scale here, assuming you do a daily shop. And the friendly, open nature of Prestonians generally, ‘alright love?’”
So would she consider moving back?
“Mmm well that is a daily consideration,” she says. “Yes to be reunited with my parents, sister and wider family. If I could simply uproot our house, school, job and childcare back to Preston then yes we would.”
That said Charlotte outlined many benefits to living in the Netherlands, “For me, the main benefit is achieving the desirable combination of a city job whilst living in a quiet village, without any commute. It’s just a 25 minute drive from home to office.”
“For the children, the benefit must be developing language skills early, having been raised bilingual Dutch/English from birth, and being aware of Spanish, German and Italian languages through our friends here. That should work in their favour later on the job market. “
So has she any advice for people who are seeking to relocate to the Netherlands?
“See if you qualify for the 30% tax ruling whereby you pay less tax for the first ten years of residency. Learn Dutch, even if most people can speak English, it will still help you get around.”
Next time in Living the Dream Blog Preston talks to Sarah Bousfield. She is about to return to Preston from Peru, where she has been volunteering. We’ll be chatting to her about that and her five year stint living and working in Sydney.