Deciding to move to a rock is challenging, just as moving to any other country is. On a rock, however, there are different challenges you face that only people on a rock will understand. For one: they tend to be surrounded by water. This could limit your possibilities with regards to travelling because your only option is the plane. Public transport might not be as developed as you were used to as well as many other things. Yet, this is exactly the charm that attracts people to rocks. Whether you have been an island girl for a few months or years, you will always need to adapt to something. There is no ‘finish line’ that indicates that you have reached the end of your integration process. And sometimes the struggle can be hard. You might face xenophobia, unfriendliness and prejudice. You might also face openness, curiosity and kindness. Either one could happen and you might need to adapt to both.
I had to get used to the way of greeting my boyfriends’ entire family every single time we see them (which is A LOT, but I love them so that is fine). You need to say hello to everyone, give them a kiss, tell them how you are and then move on to the next to do the same. Friendliness level 100.
I also had to get used to certain preconceptions about Dutch people. On one occasion, I called the IT department at work because my computer was EXTREMELY slow. Their response: “But Tamara, you work very fast, you know?”. I felt as if I was being punished for working fast?!
I have so many examples of funny and not-so-funny events but in general I can say that I have now settled on my rock, with my boyfriend, our boat/charter company, two cats and our baby-blue house. But the way towards it has not always been easy. If, like me, you have struggled in your integration process but think you have now settled, the following 5 signs will show you that indeed you have..
- You have found your balance
In all honesty, I thought moving would be a piece of cake. Or a sip of a cocktail, to stay in the island spirit. I had lived abroad twice before and was bitten by the travel bug about 2 years before my actual move. Moving would be super easy for me, everyone said and I thought. Little did I know! The first weeks were extremely hard and I had to fight the urge to get on a plane and go back, especially after my parents came to visit me during Christmas. I still fight loneliness and have recently made some changes in terms of hanging around with different people. I have now found the balance with friends. Your struggle could be similar, or totally different perhaps? At any rate, when you feel balanced and at peace on your rock, it is safe to assume that indeed you have settled.
- You are envisioning your future on the rock
If you are (secretly) thinking about your island marriage, baby, career or anything that involves future plans on your rock you can safely accept the fact that you have settled. Maybe you are secretly preying on a job at that-and-that firm, that fancy resort seems just perfect for… you know.. the big day and that cute island baby of your friends rattles your ovaries: all universal signs that you are ready for a new step and a future on your favorite rock on earth.
- You are no longer consumed by guilt for leaving your family/friends/old life behind
I felt very guilty for leaving everyone behind to follow my selfish dream. Social media is overflowing with beautiful memes, travel pictures etc. that inspire you to follow your own journey and to not let anyone stop you. I obviously agree, but at what cost does it come? I might not see my grandfather again, something might happen to my parents while I am 8000 km away, sipping on a cocktail while enjoying the sunset. And yes, I know that this is not realistic, something could happen when I am back home and I might not be around.. However, those are very real thoughts that anyone has (I think?) but no one seems to express. I don’t regret a single thing but I do think that it is harder than most people say it is.
At the same time, if you find moving super easy, then how valuable is your relationship with the ones that stayed behind? I have now accepted the decision that I made and it truly is in my best interest to be happy ergo to be with my boyfriend on our rock. Maybe not everyone faces this particular challenge, for some people it seems to come off super easy. Maybe that is only social media that makes it look easy but are they, in fact, facing this challenge too. The people I spoke to seem to confirm that they had a very hard time saying goodbye to everyone. They still experience homesickness from time to time but, like me, they accepted that this is natural and a normal feeling.
- You will always defend your rock even when you know you’re wrong
Yes, we know that there are a lot of stray dogs on our rock (at least on mine!). And no, we do not approve that recycling on the island is virtually non-existent. Yes, we are aware of the lunatic drivers and yes, we admit that our driving style might have changed a tiny bit too. But this is our island, our place and you cannot say anything bad about it. Period. Leave it up to us to tell you what really is annoying, you have no right to do so. We will ask you politely to stop staring at anyone you think looks different and keep your voice down when you are talking about the slow pace of the waitresses. In fact, stop talking at all and enjoy the advantages that an island brings you. You have zero right to complain when you are only here on holiday.
After island people realized that tourists too deserve the right to express their opinion a fruitful discussion may arise about the future of the island. We will sometimes laugh at your naiveté and tell you ‘That’s not the way things work around here’ (this used to piss me off so bad when I got here!). Patriotic feelings grow the longer you are on your rock but so will your tolerance.
- You have embraced the idea that your life will not be standard
This basically applies to everyone moving abroad but maybe even more to ‘island-movers’ because islands have something unique. As much as everyone wants you to a) have a house in the suburbs b) stay in your own country (because what could other countries POSSIBLY do better?) or c) “add expectation here” you have now realized that this is not for you. When I began thinking about moving to my rock I had to tell myself that it was okay to have a not-so-standard life. When my sister asked me “What does Holland not have that Curacao does?” I found it hard to answer her. Truth is, I couldn’t really answer! It is not a game of comparison and it is not black-and-white. I did think that my standards were too high and sometimes I still do. Couldn’t I just be happy with a life that everyone else has? Why do I have to move all the way across the ocean? What is wrong with my home country? And what is wrong with me? Turns out, I am not wrong, and my sister was not wrong either. I love my home country and I love my new country. If asked, I could never choose between the two of them. I had no idea if I would find happiness on my rock. But I did. Maybe I would have found happiness if I had stayed in Holland. Maybe not. Maybe I will not be happy on my rock in two, three or five years. Maybe I will. Happiness will find you anywhere if you keep looking for it. It can be in the smallest of things. From the smile of your child to a Skype call with your parents, from the amazing sunset at the beach to having dinner with friends or when you’re just enjoying your life peacefully on your own.