A Canadian in Utrecht

Today we speak to our first Canadian in Utrecht.

Lisa moved to Utrecht from Ottawa, the capital of Canada. Her hometown is Calgary, which is in western Canada near the Rocky Mountains. Lisa is an infectious disease epidemiologist and mom. Her husband is an anthropologist, and they have followed each other to China, the U.S., Western and South Pacific, and the Caribbean! She enjoys reading, cooking, yoga and rowing – although she hasn’t yet joined a rowing club in the Netherlands.

What brought you to Utrecht?

I was offered a position with a European public health training programme, based at the Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu (RIVM). It is the Dutch national public health agency, but I think most Dutch people know it as the organization that sends you reminders about vaccination and invitations to screening programmes. It was a great opportunity for me, and my family was enthusiastic about moving to Europe.

 

Lisa at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, Alberta, Canada

Where is your favourite place in Utrecht?

I think my favourite place is my neighbourhood, Vogelenbuurt:  I walk my dog to the Griftpark, around the Singel, and all over the streets around the Molen Rijn en Zon on Adelaarstraat.

Does Utrecht inspire you?

I find it inspiring to be in a city full of students: I think it adds a lot of energy and creativity to the city to have so many young internationals coming together to study and socialize here.

What is a perfect day in Utrecht for you?

I love how Utrechters embrace getting outdoors when the sun is shining. A perfect day for me is exploring the city on foot or on bikes or taking a kayak out on the canals and finding a nice spot to stop for a beer or a cup of coffee.

What is the main difference between the Canadians and the Dutch?

I think Canadians pride themselves on being very polite, and the Dutch of course are proud of being very direct. I find that Canadians can be a bit more reserved and cautious than the Dutch, but we like to make fun of ourselves. Of course, Canadians and Dutch share the experience of being a ‘small’ country with bigger neighbours.

Do you miss anything about Canada?

I miss Montreal-style bagels! I also miss the mountains and some of the natural spaces for hiking and camping and really getting away from people.

Do you think there is a Dutch way of life?

That’s hard to say: I think the “Dutch” way of life is changing as our lifestyles change and the Netherlands becomes more diverse, although Dutch people really enjoy sharing their traditions and their quirks. I was a bit surprised to observe that the Dutch really honour their work-life balance: while they are productive at work, they also make the most of family and leisure time.

Do you know many Canadian expats in Utrecht or do you make friends with the Dutch?

I haven’t met too many Canadians in Utrecht: because our daughter goes to the International School, we have made more friends in the international community. My Dutch coworkers have been very friendly, and luckily, we have made friends with our neighbours.

Do you think you fit in to the Dutch way of life?

I seem to blend in well enough that people address me in Dutch all the time! But we have embraced the Dutch way of life as much as possible and of course we love being able to live in central Utrecht without owning a car and ride our bikes everywhere.

Do you think the Dutch could learn anything from the Canadians?

An observation I have made, working in the public sector, is that parental leave is really brief: in Canada, my husband and I shared 12 months of parental leave and I feel like that should be the minimum standard. However, one of the nicest things about living here is that it seems the Dutch hold Canadians in high regard. Our first year in Utrecht, I hung a Canadian flag from our house on Bevrijdingsdag, and our neighbours sent their children over with a bouquet of flowers to say thank you, which I thought was amazing.

Will you be staying in the Netherlands?

We think it’s important to stay in one place during our daughter’s adolescence, to allow her some continuity in her education and friendships. Because we have been so mobile, it’s hard to know where we will end up, but I have become very attached to this city and country!

 

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Jon Wilkins

Jon Wilkins is Welsh and lives in England. He is a writer. A Europhile and Remainer, he is a regular visitor to Utrecht and has set his crime novel series in the city.

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