In five months our five years in the United States will be over. My husband started to apply for jobs in the Netherlands, my girls started their last semester at school, and I started to contact moving companies and plan my first goodbye parties.
Chronicles asked me to look back on my experience in Washington DC, and I immediately agreed. That’s not in the least because of the warm welcome IMFFA gave me. And boy, I needed that. I fully agreed with my husband, Menno, when we decided to go on this adventure (he accepted a position as the Dutch ED on the IMF Board), but in practice the first few months proved to be harder than expected. I have always been a working mom, if not defined by my career then at least by my ability to have it all. All of a sudden I was at home, taking care of my two kids, who didn’t speak any English other than yes, no, hello, and squirrel (don’t ask why) and had their own problems adjusting. Menno represents 15 countries on the Board and when we moved to DC I didn’t quite realize that he would often be on “mission” in one of those countries. After a year he also accepted the role of EURIMF, which added visits to Brussels and Frankfurt to that schedule.
IMFFA really helped me fill the void.
I took full advantage of all that was offered: picnic, craft classes, museum trips, yoga classes, and of course sessions with the IMF Career Advisor, Sheila McKenna, who helped me start my career in the US. I also began to volunteer with the the Welcoming Committee, the Health and Wellbeing Group, and I organized fun activities for IMFFA kids (preteens), and helped set up the 2012 Teen Summer Program.
I found a job.
After that summer I stopped going to IMFFA for a while. Sheila’s sessions payed off and I found a job organizing lectures on American politics and American society for a group of fellows at the House of Representatives. I loved that job. It showed me parts of this society that I am sure would otherwise have stayed hidden for me. What impressed me most were my visits to the coalition of the homeless, where we spoke with people who had been homeless for several years, and our talks with Free Minds, a book club for juvenile delinquents tried as adults. I also loved being around this group of idealistic young students ready to change the world. The program “Lantos Humanity in Action congressional Fellowship” still runs, and I highly recommend it.
By then our family had slowly adjusted to our new life and we started to really enjoy living here.
We tried to travel as much as possible in this spectacularly beautiful country. When we leave in July we will have traveled to or through 32 states, ranging from Alaska to Hawaii, and to Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Mexico. Additionally we very much enjoyed being part of US society here in the DC area. We decided to enroll our kids in a public school and I think that helped us much to understand and enjoy American life. I actively volunteered at school and was amazed at the professional attitude towards parties and events. Among other things I organized an international night, an event with no less than 140 volunteers, and it almost felt like a job on the side. Furthermore the school steered me into places unknown. It had a planetarium completely run and taught by parent volunteers. Not only did that introduce me to the joy of teaching a group of excited 10-year olds, I now will never look the same way at the night sky again!
Our whole family loved the typical American holidays.
We had “friendsgivings” with a huge turkey and pumpkin pie. But the holiday we love most is Halloween. In our neighborhood a parade of over a hundred dressed-up kids walks past the houses to one of the Cul de Sacs, where the official “Go” is given. The kids run in a complete frenzy from each haunted house to the next. One family has even set up a continuing saga. The first year they had a dragon in the yard, with gleaming red eyes and smoke coming out of its nostrils. The next year the dragon protected a big nest of eggs, and this year three baby dragons accompanied their mother in the front yard. So sad we will never know what will happen next year!
Of course it was not all fun and games.
In my second year my father had a serious heart attack that landed him in a coma. Menno was visiting one of his constituency countries, so I could not leave my daughters with him. At moments like that it is very hard to be so many miles away. I was lucky enough to have friends who immediately offered to take care of my girls while Menno was rushing to get back. Many of our friends here are expats like us and have been in similar situations. I was so grateful for them enabling me to go back home and stay with my mom at the hospital. In the end my dad recovered completely and last year they even visited us here again.
Funny enough in my last year I returned to IMFFA. Preparing for my return I enrolled in Sarah and Libby’s leadership workshops and currently I am assisting Suzette in setting up a mentoring program for Third Culture Kids. All in all we really had an awesome experience in DC and we will all cherish it for the rest of our lives. IMFFA has been a big part of it, especially in the difficult transitional years at the beginning and the end. Therefore I conclude these thoughts with a heartfelt THANK YOU.