Expat Essentials

DIY Expat: How the road less taken led us to a quaint village in the Netherlands

ONE OF THE OLDEST HOUSES IN LEENDE.

(Editor’s note: This is the first installment of DIY Expat, a series documenting our move to the Netherlands to found Dispatches Media.)

Why don’t we turn the clock to zero honey
I’ll sell the stock we’ll spend all the money
We’re starting up a brand new day

Sting, Brand New Day

BY TERRY BOYD AND CHERYL BOYD

We have a lot of close friends who value the sure thing. The predictability and certainty of waking up every day in the same bed in the same city in the same country, going to the same job and having a drink with the same friends.

All I can say is, “God bless ’em,” because the truth is, the only sure thing in life is that it will end way before you’re ready. They say no one wishes on their death bed they’d worked more. But I think a fair number of people wish they’d traveled more and seen more of the world. That’s why we decided in early 2015 to start a new company in Europe.

VILLAGE LIFE

A month ago, after weeks in hotels and short-stay apartments, our family woke up in our own 149-year-old farm house in a Dutch village straight out of Town & Country Magazine, all horses and hedges. World-class horsewoman and Gucci model Jessica Springsteen, daughter of The Boss, lives just a few kilometers away in the village of Valkenswaard. Our village of Leende is a place we could never have imagined in our wildest dreams, but is – we assure you – quite real.

unnamed

EVERYTHING GOES BETTER WITH BEER …. (ALL PHOTOS BY TERRY AND CHERYL BOYD)

In Leende, everything is glossy and manicured from the elaborate espaliered trees carefully shaped along lattices to the bronze scripts on houses announcing who lives inside. If there’s one word that describes where we live just south of the industrial/high-tech center of Eindhoven, it’s “tasteful.” People here actually rake the gravel in front of their homes.

Our house in Leende was built in 1887, a 'new' house in this old village.

OUR HOUSE IN THE VILLAGE OF LEENDERSTRIJP WAS BUILT IN 1867. NOTE THE ESPALIERED FRUIT TREES, WITH LIMBS BOUND TO A LATTICE.

Every day, we walk brick roads and treelined lanes past the ancient thatched-roof North Brabant houses, back to the forest and horse farms. And we wonder how long we’ll be able to stay.

DO-IT-YOURSELF EXPATS

Being a Do-It-Yourself expat is two things … thrilling, and totally uncertain. For the moment, we have something of a payoff, but without any real security. For us, every day is a master’s class in learning the details of immigration.

In the coming weeks, we’ll share with you everything we’ve learned from how to apply for long-term residency in the Netherlands to how to get your BSN (burgerservicenummer), or social security number, to how to establish a business account at a bank.

We’re not going to mislead you. All this stuff is really hard if you are an independent expat, trying to negotiate the bureaucracy outside the embrace of a Big Friendly Corporation. Even things that should be simple, like getting a realtor to show you rental houses or registering your new company with the Kammer van Koophandel, the Dutch version of the Chamber of Commerce, take weeks to accomplish and multiple trips to multiple offices.

We’ve either done these things, or are in the process of doing them, so stay tuned.

We have been corporate expats, with the U.S. Department of Defense taking care of the hard work of moving us around the globe.

But this time, we’re Do-It-Yourself Expats, and negotiating Dutch bureaucracy is by far the most difficult thing we’ve ever done. Because there are expats, and there are expats.

There are those fortunate corporate gypsies who go from one great job to another across Europe, often moving from grand legacy apartment to grand legacy apartment in the best sections of Europe’s loveliest cities. Their companies take care of everything from housing to schools.

THE CRAZY ONES

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A FARM ON THE EDGE OF THE LEENDERBOS.

Then there are, to quote Rob Siltanen, the crazy ones. The round pegs in the square holes.

That would be us, the Boyds, who – after they sold our digital news company in 2013 – decided to sell everything else, including a grand apartment in an elegant neighborhood, leave their hometown connections and move to the Netherlands. And we did.

We’re doing this not because we’re crazy (well, not that crazy) or because we’re risk-addicted travel junkies. (Well, we are risk-addicted travel junkies, but that’s just part of our overall profile.)

We’re doing this because we anticipate the global mobility of talent will be the defining social phenomenon of the 21st Century. In short, expats will become crucial to innovation from Silicon Valley to Eindhoven to Shanghai, and we’re building Dispatches Media to be part of that. 

We expect a lot more people will be doing what we’re doing in pursuit of opportunity, especially with the rise of the gun culture and Alt-right extremism in the United States.

The payoff is not just living a fantasy, but winding up in a place that exceeds our expectations. And that’s what we want to focus on for this first installment … Leende.

LEENDE

leende-panoramic

THE FIELDS AND FORESTS AROUND LEENDE PROVIDED A MUCH-NEEDED RESPITE AFTER A 12-HOUR DAY.

After we decided to base Dispatches Media in Eindhoven, we looked at housing online and figured we’d end up in a small apartment or house in the incredibly dense and chaotic center of the city.

After all, the average Dutch family lives in 115 m2, or 1,237 square feet. We’d lived in a 1,200-square-foot apartment in Izmir and loved it, so were cool with that. But basically, because most people in Europe, including expats, want to live in the centrum, or central city, we ended up by chance and bad luck/good luck in a spacious two-story house in the village of Leende, about 15 minutes south of Eindhoven. (Technically, we live in Strijp, a “suburb” of Leende.)

We don’t have instant access to all of Eindhoven’s shops, the transportation grid and the restaurants. (It’s a surprisingly cosmopolitan city, with great dining and fab shopping for our teenage daughters.)

But we have what we want and a few things we never knew we wanted.

unnamed-1img_0717We have a house that’s perfect for us, surrounded by fields and places to walk our dogs. We have our local pub, the Café de Hospes, run by Franca and Bennie. We have neighbors who sell eggs and the best honey in the world on little tables in front of their houses for almost nothing.

And there’s a cooperative grocery, where Leo greets us every time with a smile. The Dutch are friendly without over-doing it. Most of the people around us have lived in this village their entire lives, and we’re just trying to fit in quietly and unobtrusively.

We are 6 or 7 hours from all the best travel of Western Europe, which is exciting. But Leende has all we need to enjoy everyday life. We work from home – a LOT – so it’s nice to be able to walk out the door and be in the Leenderbos, which is a local forest and nature preserve chock full of bike trails and walking paths.

FRANKA AT CAFE DE HOSPES.

FRANCA AT CAFE DE HOSPES.

After living across the road from a large park in our home base of Louisville, we knew we needed nature to decompress from the long hours and intense pressure of establishing the business and our lives here in the Netherlands. Throw in thatched roof 200-year-old homes and friendly neighbors who (mostly) speak English, and you got yourself a little bit of heaven.

Even our teenage daughters, Lucy and Lale, are happy to be here instead of in the center of Eindhoven. When we first saw our house, a horse and wagon drove past. Lucy told Lale, “Great. We’ll be Mary and Carrie in ‘Little House on the Prairie.’ ” They were not amused.

Now that we are settled and they each have their own rooms, and Eindhoven’s football revelers aren’t singing at the tops of their lungs at 3 a.m., they see the wisdom of living outside the city center.

We wish we could say every day is productive and rewarding, but dealing with endless paperwork, forms and requirements from immigration officials, bankers, international schools and tax collectors in both the United States and in Holland is exhausting. It’s what we do, now, professionally as DIY Expats. And then we walk 150 steps (we counted) down to the Café de Hospes for a Grimbergen Blonde, and for an hour or so, all is right with the world.

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