We came to Utrecht to stay for a year but we never left
In December 2007 I, Chitra Natarajan, came to Utrecht as a trailing spouse with my husband and my then 16-month-old, daughter. My husband was offered a job here. We arrived on a very cold and dark winter day, with no one outside. My immediate reaction was where have we landed? Our trip to the local super market, not understanding what Kip (chicken) meant made it all alien. Who would have thought at that time that we would voluntarily stay here for 10 years?
My husband and I are both from South India and we had already lived in other countries such as Nigeria & the US for work. We moved to Utrecht from the US under the assumption that we would stay here for a year or two and then either move back to the US or wherever else his work took us. But that never happened…
Utrecht is a small city
Utrecht is a tiny, wonderful city. It’s laid back attitude and living a life as a family in the city was very simple and easy. Maybe it has to do with how small-scale everything was. When we arrived, I thought Utrecht was small. had seen the photos of course, but it surprised me anyway. But I got used to it very quickly though. The fringe of the city has expanded now with new neighborhoods such as Leidsche Rijn, Vleuten and De Meern. And the number of expats in the city is growing fast in both Utrecht and Hilversum.
Getting to know people
It was hard to make friends in the city those days without social media & Facebook. Facing a cold dark day with a toddler in tow was quite a challenge. I was home with my then toddler who wasn’t able to get a place in a daycare as the kinderdagverblijven were full and the waiting list was usually 48 months. I googled and found International Women’s contact Utrecht (IWCU), a social club for all English-speaking women. This group made me feel that I was not alone in a new place and found my way to settle in well. My closest inner circle of friends are from IWCU and I am so grateful to have found them. I also believe that the degrees of separation in The Netherlands are much smaller because of the sheer size of the country. That makes it somehow easier to connect and network. I now have two really good Dutch friends.
It’s truly hard to learn to speak Dutch especially in our case as we both come from India. After all these years of living here I am still a very hesitant speaker but my next year goal is to up my speaking ability. Luckily everybody here speaks English and that helps a lot. Our daughter, on the other hand, speaks Dutch very well. She is perfectly bi-lingual. She goes to the International school in Hilversum as there were no International School in Utrecht then. We also wanted her medium of education to be in English.
Daily life is good in Utrecht
Grocery shopping in Utrecht is more like in India than in the US. We love going to our local grocer to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Albert Heijn is a stone’s throw away so we usually buy things for only a few days ahead. On the other hand, while living in West Africa or in the US, we would go grocery shopping over the weekend and stock everything up in our fridge. With a tiny fridge and even tinier kitchen shopping for a few days ahead works out really well. I loved living in Utrecht and compare to Amsterdam it’s a lot less touristy and it made it easier for us to feel at home quickly.
Good Work Life Balance, time to explore
The work-life balance here makes it so much nicer for families. You are not expected to work on the weekends. That’s different from what we were used to. We could never completely switch off from work in all other places we lived before. Weekends we usually go have pancakes at Lage Vuursche. In around Hilversum there are so many beautiful heaths and woodlands that we go for long walks.
There are many good restaurants for food. For authentic North Indian & Nepalese food, Surya in Hilversum is fantastic and now they are in Utrecht as well. We recently tried a Lebanese restaurant, Comptoir Lebanais at Hoog Catherijine and loved the food. They had lot of vegetarian options so that was a big tick for us. Oh, and the Ethiopian restaurant Sunshine is delicious. We have celebrated our anniversaries there. Nothing fancy but just really really good food.
The good thing about living in this region is that there are a lot of after-school activities available for our daughter such as tennis, swimming, art, dance and guitar lessons. And I personally loved going to HRNSTR33 in Utrecht for my workouts.
The only –really- bad thing here is the weather. But you just have to learn to cope with it. It sucks on some days when the weather is horribly bad, when its windy and rainy but then the more you accept that it is the way it is then you’re fine.
I was working in Corporate HR before moving here. I was supposed to join the same company as my husband in HR but the unavailability of daycare meant that I had to be a stay at home mum to take care of my daughter. This gave me time to explore my interests in what I really wanted to do. I was very intrigued by the Dutch Maternity care/midwifery and explored various opportunities to do something on my own. I was very surprised by the fact that so many children here are born at home. Not in a hospital like many other countries. This is how my interest in the birthing field blossomed and I went to the US to do my certifications and started my own practice here in 2010. My practice is called, Akriti – www.akriti.nl (Meaning “The Beginning” in Sanskrit). I provide childbirth courses specially designed for expectant parents to have a safe, gentle, calm birthing experience. My classes are in English and I teach at Utrecht, Amsterdam & Hilversum.
I, along with three other like-minded women entrepreneurs have started a community in Utrecht called, This Woman’s Work. Our community is built on the purpose to connect closely on business and women topics that help support us all in becoming stronger, more confident and most importantly, feel supported as we each go out into the world doing our work. You can check our facebook community page for more information https://www.facebook.com/groups/thiswomansworkcommunity/
And our website is www.thiswomanswork.eu/
Everything is close and easily reachable
We lived in different neighbourhoods of Utrecht such as Vogelenbuurt and Lombok. In Hilversum, we now live in the city center. All of these places have a school, a local grocer and all the shops easily accessible by foot or on a bike. Every place is well connected with biking paths and public transport.
I regularly commute by train to Amsterdam and Utrecht. The train ride from Hilversum to Utrecht is 15 minutes and there are trains every 15 minutes. For the first 3 years after starting my practice, I commuted by train for work and only after 3 years I decided to use a car as it made my life easier with all the stuff that I need to carry for my work.
Make the move and embrace the culture. Go out into the cold, on your bike, eat Oliebollen and wait for Sinterklaas to leave before you buy your Christmas tree.