I grew up in the Appalachian mountains of Eastern Tennessee. A beautiful area, for certain, but I could barely wait to escape. College was merely a pit-stop on my quest to see the world.
No one was surprised when I fell in love with a Dutchman. They were even less surprised when I bought a one-way ticket to Amsterdam, crammed all my belongings into a couple suitcases, and set off on a string of adventures that consisted of a map, a duffel bag, and a Eurail pass. I’d only been talking about doing so all my life. What surprised everyone, including myself, was that my European vacation lasted for twelve years.
And no, not all of it was vacation. Not even most of it. Life in the Netherlands turned out to be pretty much the same as anywhere else, filled with jobs and to-do lists and babies and mortgages, only in a place where people are freakishly tall and there are more bicycles than humans.
But Holland quickly became my new home, one that taught me to speak the language like a native, challenged me to adopt another culture as my own, and stretched me to limits I didn’t know I had. For me, Holland was like that crotchety old college professor you thought was being mean for mean’s sake, but who ended up teaching you the most. Ultimately, my time there taught me to stop and smell the tulips, and to bloom where my bulb is planted.
My family and I returned to the States ten years ago, and we’re still learning to navigate our in-between world, the one that straddles, not always gracefully, American and Dutch cultures. I’ve gotten used to the fact that Dutch people think I’m Dutch and Americans think I’m American, that I long for one country whenever I’m in the other, that spring flowers and rainstorms and the color orange make me homesick for a place that’s not technically my home.
Because even when I’m not there, Holland will always feel like a safe place to land.