Name: Betsy Laskowski
Company: American School of the Hague
Job title: English teacher, varsity basketball coach
Where are you from?
Philidephia, USA, third generation
How long have you been living in the Netherlands?
A year and two weeks. We’re so new and love it so much that we’re counting weeks.
Do you like it here?
We love it here. We recently purchased a house, so we’re putting down some roots. It just feels free here and the area has a shared communal feel. The Dutch don’t pride themselves on being free and don’t actively try to convince others that they are, they simply live freely.
Why did you want to move here?
When my wife and I met and wanted to start our life together, we lived in an area that was quite conservative, so we couldn’t live openly in the same way other couples were able to. Where I worked, my male best friend was able to keep a picture of his wife on his desk and talk about her in front of his students, whereas I couldn’t do that. As an English teacher, I wanted to be able to draw on my personal experiences in class discussions but wasn’t able to do so as I couldn’t be open about my relationship with my wife. I don’t fear doing so in the Netherlands. In areas where being a lesbian isn’t as accepted, you become very aware of your behaviour, but I have never felt that in Leiden. I haven’t felt fear or judgement whatsoever. Also, we believe at heart in social democracy. We really do believe in paying higher taxes and having a safety net for us and our neighbours, so it was really that and the community feel that made us want to live here.
What is the working environment like in the Netherlands?
I work in an American school. I love my colleagues and having a lot of diversity, but some of the policies and the day to day has a very American feel to it.
What do you feel is the main difference between internationals and locals in the area?
My wife and I are trying to find Dutch friends because it’s very important to us. The main difference we’ve noticed is the communication. Americans often bring the story back to themselves in conversation as a means of connecting with the person they’re talking to. I’ve noticed that Dutch people don’t necessarily need to do that to connect with others.
Why did you choose to live in Leiden?
For 2 reasons actually. My best friend Blake always wanted to travel to Leiden because of the University and scientific discoveries, so when I realized I had the opportunity to live here I was really excited. Also, when you go to teach at ASH, they recommend to you that you live in either the Hague or Leiden. Between those cities, we felt Leiden reflected my wife and I more.
How was your adjustment time in Leiden in comparison to other places you’ve moved?
It was a lot easier than other countries. It wasn’t my first time moving abroad and I had taught at international schools before so that wasn’t new to me anymore. On top of that, having my wife with me when I moved here let me have immediate support, and everyone here speaks English.
What was the hardest for you when you first moved here?
Not having a routine yet was difficult. We didn’t know what stores to grocery shop at and didn’t know many people in our surroundings. My wife, Kim, came home one day and was really upset that she didn’t know how to weigh her vegetables and fruits in the grocery store. Not knowing the customs at first was the hardest for us.
Do you feel like it’s easy to establish routine and get to know the customs here?
Yes! People have really gone out of their way here to make sure that we understood and that we knew where to go. One time the lock on our door broke, and our neighbour, a professor at Leiden University, came with his tool set to help us without us having to ask him.
What do you think the LGBT community is like in Leiden compared to other cities?
When I lived in Singapore, it was illegal to be homosexual there. We don’t have a rainbow flag out in front of our house, but the privilege and luxury of just being who we are in the Netherlands is huge. There’s no need to make a declaration about your sexuality here because it’s just not a thing. In the Netherlands homosexuality is so openly accepted. It’s a wonderful feeling that you don’t have to explain or defend your being.
Betsy and Kim Laskowski have a blog called “A Couple a’Broads”, where they try to keep it positive and fun, and document what they love about the Netherlands and Leiden especially. They like to write about fun quirky things that you wouldn’t necessarily notice about Leiden. Also like their Facebook page.