Everybody’s different but everybody’s the same.
At an airport arrivals lounge in California some years ago, Jessie Rodell took one look at her husband’s face and the big grin there upon and knew she would move to the Netherlands. Her husband had secured an 18-month contract in Rotterdam, which as it turns out was not nearly long enough for the family. The Dutch lifestyle has turned out to be appealing and the safety and security of the country is something that Jessie has valued in providing a great place for her children to grow up.
The family arrived in the Netherlands having spent a month in preparation; this was in complete contrast to their stint in Salvador, Brazil when they learnt Portuguese for 10 months. Jessie describes Salvador as a ‘big odiferous but wonderfully charming city’ and acknowledges that they enjoyed their time there as well as here.
Jessie is now in her 30th year here in the Netherlands and very much enjoys the company of her ‘adopted families’ with a happy remark, "we are never alone on national holidays". She knows a crowd or two, we had not even sat down, when a young violinmaker ran in to the café after us to say hello to her. Jessie has a way about her that makes her very easy to talk to; she is naturally interested in people and inquisitive about their lives and experiences.
With 25 years at The American School as the Director of External Relations and the former Admissions Director now behind her, Jessie reflected on her time there with me. She immensely enjoyed meeting the vast number of families and being a guide through any troubled times and advises anyone moving to a new country to ‘learn the language, try new things in a new place and ignore the rules.’
As a board member of ACCESS, Jessie works hard to keep the focus on the counselling service, which was the fundamental reason for the formation of ACCESS. At the American School of The Hague, a high level of mental health issues was noticed twenty-five years ago in the English speaking community and this led to a feasibility study and subsequent grant from the U.S. government to found ACCESS.
Even with two young children of her own, Jessie did not hesitate to pick up the mantle of reaching out to other expatriates in need and the counselling service remains close to Jessie’s heart. She was also instrumental in setting up ‘A Safe Harbour’ to facilitate intercultural understanding at the American School of The Hague (ASH). Despite having taken her leave of ASH, she remains involved in the international community through the Board of Overseas Americans Remember and recounted with great enthusiasm the recent musical celebrations to commemorate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Hailing from Portland, Oregon in the United States, Jessie’s maternal roots lie in Sweden. She recalls growing up with the Swedish customs and enjoying culinary treats such as very special cookies and cherrynut bread. Although Jessie regrets not fully learning the language, she did proffer one phrase of her Grandmother’s, which may or may not come in handy:
"Har du fått din byxor på idag?" which means "Have you got your underpants on today?"
The Dutch way
None of the family wanted to go back to the States when her husband’s contract ended but no one wanted to say so; the matter was resolved around the table in a family meeting and they are still here some 30 years later, although Jessie’s daughter is now firmly ensconced in The States and loving it.
When asked about tips for new expats arriving in the Netherlands, Jessie replied Patience and a quiet smile. And most importantly asking your question three different ways to increase the chance of really having the information you need! "Gentle Persistence is the key."
Just because the answer comes from the official or the shop assistant, "that’s not the way we do it", does not mean it is not possible, it just means it is not usual to do it in that way.’ Often you will hear visitors or expats in the Netherlands complain about the service here; an acknowledgement that things are different in different countries and a smile will certainly help you with a little persistence and creativity thrown in for good measure. Jessie recounted a story about a mortgage she needed to arrange in a hurry with the delightful phrase of:
"I’ve got two little kids and a hamster in a hotel".
She did get that mortgage arranged pronto, yes it was not the usual way of doing it, but her determination in doing the running around herself paid off and the kids and the hamster got their home.
Everybody’s different but everybody’s the same.
She admires the manner in which the Dutch bring up their children in that the children easily gain their confidence under the watchful but not too demanding eye of their parents and the children are relatively free to choose what they do. There is a quality to life in the Netherlands that you don’t see in other places and this is largely related to the idiom of life and let live. Jessie says that the reason they have stayed so long in the Netherlands is that the Dutch culture values everyone and that everyone deserves a chance and hence life is good here.
In between shepherding and watching over expat families in the Netherlands, Jessie enjoys tennis, a brisk walk and a good book. After spending a good couple of hours discussing life with Jessie, I have learnt a thing or two about life in the Netherlands and thank Jessie for her time and most of all for her generosity of spirit that has helped so many in the international community in The Hague.