Bicycles and lunch sandwiches - Experiences from Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

“To live a year in the Netherlands” idea was born about a year ago, when me and my husband, were wondering what to do next Autumn. We looked at the world map and noticed that we have already lived in Asia, North America and North Europe. The Central Europe was quite unknown to both of us, so why not move there next. We chose the Netherlands since both could find a suitable position as a visiting researcher in Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU). In addition, we are both already involved in co-operation with Dutch researchers. At the end of summer, we packed the most important belongings in suitcases, left the rest in our house in Lohikoski neighborhood, and moved to a new country. At the end of August, I started in a position of the visiting researcher at the Faculty of Science / Laser Lab and my husband at the Faculty of Behavioral and Movement Sciences.

VU is good-quality European research university and provides an internationally-oriented community for students, researchers and professors. Amsterdam is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world, boasting 179 different nationalities. English is widely spoken all around the Netherlands but learning a few words of Dutch pays off as well.

The atmosphere, at least in VU at Laser Lab is more hierarchical than in my home institute. However, the community is open for scientific discussion. In post-docs and PhD student level, researchers interact actively with each other and share their measurements problems and science questions. If you open your mouth, you will be sure to spark a few minute conversations in the corridor how the measurement should be organized. Laser Lab community is also international, even in my office room there are researchers from Italy, China and The Czech Republic who work from the field of molecular biology to time-resolved spectroscopy.

Living with a family in the in the Netherlands

Moving abroad with two school-age children requires a certain amount of effort. Our preparations for the move began in January 2016 when we started to search information about school options for our daughters and possible cities to live in. In the Netherlands it is quite common that people don't live in the same city where they work. Extensive bike trails and the railroad network makes commuting between the larger cities easy. After a couple of the month of the research, we decided to settle in Utrecht, the fourth biggest city of the country. The next step was to fill in the admission forms to get the student positions for our daughters in the International School Utrecht. All the arrangements for moving and settling in the Netherlands are too complicated to explain in detail. The chart above gives a rough image of what has been required this far. I hope that until Christmas we have mostly overcome the peculiarities of Dutch bureaucracy and can concentrate fully on enjoy the work and life below the sea level.

Anyhow, after three months, the Netherlands still appears kind and friendly country even though the weather has already changed from the heat wave of early September into the darkness and rain of late November. Finnish people are quite accustomed to isolation so sometimes I find it somewhat strange people keep the curtains of their huge front windows open all day long. In the evenings, these large windows offer an unobstructed view to peek into the life of ordinary Dutch families. A bit like to watch people living in aquariums.

Academy of Finland postdoctoral researcher Heli Lehtivuori