Issue 26 - 11th November, 2009

Pleasant Experiences
Vasudevan Rajagopalan, Regional HR Manager - Benelux, Tata Consultancy Services, came to live in Amsterdam in January this year. Between managing their two kids, Pranav (3 years) and Vishakh (1 year), Vasu and his wife Gouri spoke to us about their experiences as an Indian expatriate family in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

How you did you come to be in the Netherlands and what was the reaction of you and your family when you heard you were going there?
Vasu: We come from Chennai in India and have, in an earlier stint, lived in Sao Paulo Brazil. It was a long awaited choice for us to move to a developed economy, mostly from a work perspective and also from a lifestyle perspective. We got to know about my possible relocation to Amsterdam sometime in July last year.
Back in India one doesn't really hear about the Netherlands too often. People were excited at home because they knew we were going to be in Europe. They consider Europe at the same level as the US and UK in terms of the facilities available, but very few have explored it.
I started my preparation for the Netherlands by trying to find out what was available and what wasn't. I was told before moving here that there are around 20,000 Indians living in the Netherlands, which was something we found very comforting.
What were the first few days here like, especially at the home front?
Vasu: Our first few days were spent inside the house, considering we came in January and we were not used to the extreme cold!
Having said that, our living so far in Amsterdam has always been very pleasant and each experience is only adding value. We moved and stayed in a temporary accommodation for 1-1.5 months. For housing, there are a lot of choices available, if you look at the right time for the kind of accommodation you want. But yes, it is a bit expensive than the other cities in the world.
Gouri: When we were in India, we were staying with my in-laws so we miss that support, obviously. But things are a lot easier otherwise. When we came, we moved into a furnished house, so we had everything except for the groceries.
Also, the medical facilities here are very good, which is important for me as a mother of two small kids. If you have any problem they immediately take care of things, so that really made me a little more relaxed.
Vasu: Amsterdam is a city where there are a lot of international employees and expats. We have five to six stores in and around Amsterdam where you get the complete stock of Indian food items. There is a large Turkish population, and the Turkish shops stock lots of fresh vegetables, so as vegetarians, we really appreciate them.
Every other person here speaks English, which is a great difference from other countries in Europe. The Netherlands as a country is open to all international communities. You do not see any instances of any discrimination or any kind of abuse. And your family is absolutely safe. Sometimes we return at 11 or 12 in the night, and sometimes even later and there is a great sense of security.
Gouri: And they allow you to remain Indian with all the bindis and everything, which is really comfortable.
Vasu:In the summer it is very common to see a lot of visitors come to Amsterdam and they are very comfortable with sarees.
Did you know of the Expat Centre and did you avail of its services?
At TCS, as an organisation, we started using the Expat Centre extensively July onwards this year. Every new arrival at TCS in the Netherlands goes through the Expat Centre. It is a complete one-stop facilitation agency. The people there are extremely understanding of the needs and requirements of any expat family that comes here. They have simplified the entire process. It's completely transparent. My experience with them for the past six months has been that they really help expats settle down well. They have services like helping you find a school or other things related to your family.
I have never seen an agency like the Expat Centre in any other country-even countries as mature as the UK and the US haven't come out with something as friendly as the Expat Centre. All companies here in the Netherlands that have a good size of expat population use the services of the Expat Centre. The Expat Centre recently completed one year.
How easy is it to manage the kids?
Gouri: When the season changes, catching the cold becomes very common, and so are visits to the doctor. But as I said, the medical facilities are good and well organized. All my other housework is taken care of by the dishwasher, washing machine, and other such gadgets, so I can devote my time completely to the kids and don't need nannies.
Vasu: In India, we are used to domestic help. Here, there is very limited availability of that. It is very uncommon for people to go for it. But if both the parents are working, there is day care. That mostly covers the work day. You can leave your children at 8 and pick them up at 5 or so.
What impressions do you have of schooling in Amsterdam?
Vasu: There are two options for this. If you are here for a longer stay, you can place your children in a Dutch school. It is the least expensive choice, since they are largely subsidised by the government. And then there are privately managed international schools, but they are a bit expensive. In Dutch schools, the medium of instruction is Dutch till grade 12. Pranav has started going to an international school since last month. It is a bit expensive, but I would say that for Indians planning on a short stay here, they should go for these English-speaking international schools.
Another option is now emerging. The Dutch schools have started an international section as a pilot in Rotterdam and Haarlem. They also want to start this in Amstelveen. There is also something called the Amsterdam International Community School (AICS). But again, it is just starting off in a small way. Most schools offer French as another language. Hindi or any other Indian language is not available. So some of us carry school books from India and educate our children at home.
How do you typically spend the weekend?
Vasu: We have two bicycles, one each for Gouri and me, with the kids strapped in with us. On most weekends we set off in a direction and see where that takes us, spending the whole day outdoors. Even if we don't go anywhere, all apartments and housing complexes have some parks where the kids can play around.
The Netherlands also has a wide variety of restaurants. I have been told that there are as many as 140-150 countries' restaurants here. So we are not necessarily limited by the choice of going to an Indian restaurant. We have tried many things, Thai restaurants, Indian restaurants, Chinese restaurants. There are about 12-13 Indian restaurants in and around Amsterdam. In most restaurants you get choice in vegetarian food. It's not so much of a problem. McDonald's, however, does not serve veggie burgers here!
Gouri: There are a lot of Indian families. And in the place that I am staying I know nearly 22 families. We have formed a club, and we meet for celebrations and maybe once a month go for outings with the families and kids. We have a potluck party and for the kids we have dance or something. We went to the Amstelveen Diwali Mela and were there from 11:45 till the fireworks!
Vasu: The Amstelveen event was great a gesture and definitely signifies the importance of India for the Dutch.
Did you participate in the cricket tournament on India Day in June? What was your experience?
The cricket tournament was great. It was a good day out. There was obviously cricket happening there, which was fun in itself, but there was also a lot of socialising amongst the Indians that was happening around the ground. Although I am sure all of those people had been around earlier as well, we hadn't met them because the winter kept us indoors very often. So it was a good place for us to start getting integrated in the community. The food was very good. I think there were around 200-300 people and I am sure for the Dutch it was a big crowd!
Gouri: It was for the first time that I met so many Indians here!
As part of HR interaction, what impressions do you have of other expats' level of comfort in living in the Netherlands in general, and Amsterdam in particular?
Vasu: They are absolutely happy coming to the Netherlands. Europe is one of our preferred destinations when it comes to employees coming here. For the Netherlands now the impression is that is one destination with access to other places in and around Europe. And the comfort in public transport is something that they really appreciate. The experience of not being discriminated against, in comparison to the US and even the UK, is a huge plus.
Amsterdam is a very small city compared to the other large cities of the world. But within this small city you have access to all facilities that you would need. That's a great advantage. My office is just 6 minutes from home. Many of our employees stay within 10 minutes of office and cycle to work.
Also, for those on the Knowledge Migrant visa, all the dependants are on the same kind of visa, so other family members are also free to work. A lot of the spouses are working here and there are options available in the local market for them to get into. And since they have the visa, it is a great advantage for any company that is employing them. The first thing that they do, if they are qualified, is that they start looking around for opportunities.
When you go back to India for a family visit, what is it about Amsterdam that you miss the most?
We are planning our visit next month. I think what we will miss the most is peace. There are no three-hour hold ups in traffic. And quality of life is definitely unmatched to what we have in India. Here, when you reach home, there is nothing else you do. In India, though you are at home, there are a lot of things you get involved in, and a lot of people even work through weekends. In terms of other experiences, where else will you see such wonderful things like a windmill at 30-45 minutes' drive? But that doesn't take away from the things we miss from home!
Gouri: My kids enjoy the dairy products here, they will really miss that.
Vasu: Doctors here do not believe in prescribing unnecessary medicines. They believe in natural cure and building the immune system and that is something I will definitely miss. Along with a lot of chocolates, biscuits, milk, yoghurt and I can go on!

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