This website ceased updating on March 19, 2012 and was archived on January 30, 2014. Links may be broken/misdirected and emails will not be replied to. Please use your best judgement when using this website. For more from the creator, visit

Surfing Sunday

Surfing Sunday is just a mix of articles and posts about the Netherlands that sounded interesting. Hope you enjoy!

I’d like Surfing Sunday (or something of similar name) to be a regular feature. If you’d like to suggest a link, share it below or email me.

Podcasts for Dutch Learning

If you follow me on Twitter (please follow me on Twitter) you know I’m struggling through the third course in a series of Dutch for Expats courses offered by Maastricht University. Everyone has their own problems, but for me the biggest hurdle is being able to understand the Dutch that is spoken to me. In the real world, Dutch people speak much faster than the teacher and other people in my class (and the people in my class, like myself, don’t have the proper accents). The shop keepers must be telling all sorts of stories to their families about that weird American girl making funny faces over whether or not she wants a bag.

Of course my lack of vocabulary makes it difficult to respond too (I always want to say something more complex than I’m equipped to); but I don’t like to start a conversation I can’t finish.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been listening to Dutch language podcasts in an effort to build up my ability to understand native speakers better. I can’t say I actually know everything that is being said, but this little exercise is really about hearing the distinction between words and the way they are strung together. Here are a couple that I’ve been enjoying:

  • Laura Speaks Dutch: This is actually a bilingual Dutch/English podcast for teaching you Dutch. The creator teaches your conversational phrases about specific topics. The early episodes are a little easy for me, but the later ones ramp up a lot and its a good way to pick up some vocab and pronunciation training.
  • DeBuren Podcast: An all Dutch podcast with interviews and presentations about culture, politics, and art. These last about 40-60 minutes and are, frankly, much more interesting than the exercises we do in class. [website]
  • Radio Taalblad: Short (8-10 minute) episodes about a variety of subjects, this podcast appears to be part of a larger Dutch learning program online. Comes out of Belgium.

I try to listen to two or so hours of Dutch every day in the hopes that it’ll improve my comprehension. It can be pretty exhausting to actively listen to Dutch right now (reading is tiring also), but I think it’ll be worth the effort. I hope so. Nederlands is moeilijk.

Call Your Mother! VOIP

Dan & I have a great relationship with our families across the pond, so when we moved we knew we needed a cheap and easy way to keep in touch. Enter VOIP via Skype. So easy my 96-year-old grandfather-in-law can do it.


Voice-Over IP is software that allows you to make phone calls over the Internet to another computer or directly to a land line. The biggest reason to use VOIP is that it is much cheaper than making direct calls abroad. Skype is free to call any other computer, and approx. 17 cents a minute to call a landline or cellphone (rate depends on your location). If you make many calls you can also purchase a monthly plan to call landlines.

Of course we opt to call computer-to-computer as much as possible for the better experience. When calling a computer, many services has a video option, so if you and the person you’re talking with have webcams you can see each other while chatting.  The quality of the sound and video will be dependent on the Internet speed on both ends, but I can call my parents in Vermont without too much trouble; and they have satellite cable. Being able to see everyone back home helps alleviate some of the anxiety of living so far away.

Although less used, Skype also has a chat function. I find it handy for checking in with friends and family when I want a quick chat but we don’t have time for a call. The chat is realtime but uses less bandwidth and therefore is less dependent on having a good connection.

Getting Everyone Set Up

sue and gary with beer
Although there are a variety of packages out there, the one I am most comfortable with is Skype. Skype has been providing VOIP services for a long time and they have services in many different countries.  If you have it, Google Voice can provide an even cheaper experience (sign-ups are by invite only).

To set up Skype you will need to download the software to any computer you wish to use and set up an account for yourself. The website has an English option for those of us with paltry Dutch skills. If you wish to call a landline (say of your luddite great aunt), you’ll need to purchase a phone number for your home country and either calling credits or a monthly subscription.

Once you’re set up, you can start calling landlines and mobiles without the other party doing anything. If your family wants to use the video option they’ll need to download and set up a Skype account too, as well as make sure you both have a microphone headset and webcam.  Built-in microphone/speaker hardware is usually sufficient to get you started, but you can get much better sound with a USB headset. After that, its just a matter of waiting for your family member’s account icon to turn green so you can give them a call.

Business Considerations

The other reason I set up an American number via Skype was to facilitate my freelance work. I knew I’d be working with people in the US and having a US number makes it easier and cheaper for them to call me when necessary.  When I send people my Skype number I let them know that it is for a VOIP service so they understand if I pick up and then scramble a moment for the headset.  I actually feel more comfortable talking with someone on my headset than I do via my mobile.

One Short Warning

VOIP is a great service, but it shouldn’t replace all your phone services locally. Firstly, local calls are generally free with a landline or mobile plan. Secondly, Skype does not support emergency calls, so be safe.

Happy chatting!

Vote Maastricht in the Expat of the Year Competition

Expatica’s Expat of the Year contest is now open for voting in three areas: Expat (individual), Employer, and Expat Services. There are many fine finalists, but I want to draw your attention to a couple of local finalists. I’d love to see one or both of them win and bring a little recognition to our area.

Expat of the Year Finalist: Sueli Brodin

Sueli is in many ways my idea of the ideal expat person. She’s lived in many places and has a wonderful graciousness and generosity about her. I’d be happy if I could have half her confidence. She’s been personally supportive of me and my fledgling writing, and I’m sure she extends that same kind spirit to everyone around her. Sueli now lives in Maastricht with her husband and children and works for the European Journalism Centre and is the Crossroads Magazine editor.

Expat Service of the Year: Maastricht Region Branding Service

As you may recall, I began blogging with Maastricht Region a few months ago, but that’s not the only reason I am pleased to see them as finalists for the Expat Service award. The Maastricht Region site and accompanying International Desk are making a real effort to address the needs of internationals in this area. Certainly I would have been thrilled to have had access to such a regional site two years ago when I started researching for our move. As time goes on I expect the value of Maastricht Region to grow, so I hope they can get a little extra props now as encouragement.

And yes you’ll see me in the video. I won’t be winning any awards, but I don’t look quite as stupid as I thought I would. There was some question as to whether the video should be recorded in Dutch (with subtitles) or in English. I stand by the decision to record (mostly) in Dutch. I think it supports the character of the region.


Voting for the Expat of the Year awards is open until March 14th and the winners are announced on the 23rd. You can watch short videos for each contestant and vote once in each category. I hope you’ll take the time to check it out.

…A vote for Maastricht is a vote for bitterballen. >_>

Logo is (c) Expatica.

Expatriate Archive Centre

archive suitcase

image (c)

Starting from a humble beginning as an old leather suitcase full of diaries and yellowing documents, the Expatriate Archive Centre has grown into a lovely residential office where a trove of expat-related documents and ephemera are collected for future research.

Why an Expat Archive

“To collect, preserve, promote and make accessible a collection of primary source materials documenting the social history of expatriate life.” – Expatriate Archive Centre Mission Statement

That is the mission of the Expatriate Archive Centre and they take it very seriously. Living and working abroad is one of the most influential decisions an expat can make, but the reasons behind that decision and the experiences after it vary widely. By bringing together the experiences of expats, organizations, and their families left at home, the Centre is creating a collection useful for all sorts of researchers interested in multicultural experiences, immigration, and even genealogy. The materials can also be used to support future expats by creating higher value experiences for them or simply by letting each of us know we are not alone. (more…)

« Previous Entries Next Entries »