With only a few more days of 2019 to go, I’m using today’s blog post for a little personal review of the year. Brexit stress aside, it’s been a good year that offered me several exciting opportunities.
However, being the insecure person that I am, just the mere thought of following up on these new chances initially gave me the heebie-jeebies. Join me on today’s short reflection on 2019 and learn about out my personal highs and lows of this year and last decade.
Of course there was my 40th birthday!
Let’s just start with a very special personal highlight of the year: my 40th birthday! Because my bestie Suzanne’s 40th birthday was three weeks before mine, we decided to throw one big party in the Netherlands together last May.
And not to brag or anything, but I’m pretty sure this was THE party of the year! Featuring only music from ‘our disco days’, i.e. the 80s and 90s and all the great classic house tracks, it was simply impossible to not get up and dance!
I haven’t felt particularly excited about my birthday party in years but being surrounded by my best friends for this festive occasion was very special. Especially considering I haven’t been living in the same country as them for over 7 years now already.
Hubby was flabbergasted as ever by the fact that all my guests went up to him not only to say hello but also to congratulate him with MY birthday. This is totally normal according to Dutch culture, but is completely alien behaviour for non-Dutchies.
Although I try to refrain myself from doing this here in the UK, I do sometimes make the mistake which leads to blank stares and awkward ‘lost in translation’ situations. This example is actually one of the tricky cultural differences between the English and Dutch that I wrote about in this article: 5 Things I’ve Had to Relearn Being Dutch in the UK.
The end of a decade: the major changes in my life these last 10 years
In just a few days time we’ll not only be welcoming a new year, but also a brand-new decade. Don’t you think 2020 sounds rather futuristic? We’ve now reached the year lots of the apocalyptic science-fiction films from my childhood took place in. And who knows, with Brexit and the irreversible consequences of climate change, we might soon face some real-life catastrophes.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves, shall we? Because a lot can happen in ten years time! I mean, just look at some of my personal milestones and significant moments from the last decade.
Granted, the last decade didn’t end on such a positive note for me after I broke up with my partner of 11 years. Having met each other when I was 19, we had grown up together and eventually grown apart from each other. It was an extremely difficult time in my life, but also a very valuable period that has taught me so much about myself and made me even closer to my parents and friends.
But then I met hubby and after a few years of both joy and confusion, I decided to follow my heart and move to the UK. Although it was pretty scary leaving behind everyone and everything I knew, the realisation that the Netherlands is only a 50-minute plane ride away made things much easier. After all, this was peanuts compared to my mum‘s emigration from Suriname, South America, to the Netherlands in her early twenties!
As I wrote in my recent blog post When the Magic of Christmas Is Gone, hubby and I went through decades worth of emotions in our first years together featuring a wedding and two funerals. Had it not been real life, this could’ve been made into a moving British drama-comedy.
Fortunately life’s been pretty stable in recent years. Until a few months ago when my dad was suddenly admitted into hospital in critical condition, suddenly making that 50-min plane ride an impossible distance to cross. Thankfully he made it through, but those few weeks really felt like every expats’ worst nightmare come true.
This year’s main motif: stepping out of my comfort zone
You would think that moving to a different country was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but do you know what I find far more frightening? Networking and talking about myself. And I don’t mean talking about my favourite films or what I like to at the weekend, but about what sets myself apart from my competitors and clients should choose to work with me and not them.
While I have no problems whatsoever chatting and mingling with people at some social event, just the thought of networking or ‘selling myself’ makes my stomach sink.
I guessed the best way to overcome this feeling of failure was by throwing myself right in it. And that’s why I pushed myself several times to step out of my comfort zone this year.
My first daunting task occurred last spring when I was asked to contribute to new English course books for one of the biggest educational publishing house in the Netherlands.
Although I’ve been editing schoolbooks for ten years now, and I was in desperate need of a new work challenge my first response to this request was: ‘Sorry guys, no chance because I simply don’t have the skills for this.’ But because the invitation came from a former colleague and friend, I felt I at least had to give it a shot.
I can’t deny the beginning was far from easy for me. My first attempt was even completely shot to smithereens! But as you might have guessed, I tried again and will soon hold the first book of the series in my hand, featuring my name in the authors’ list on the first page!
But between you and me, it’s quite a surreal feeling thinking about how those secondary school students will be preparing themselves for their important school exams using the material I came up with in my little office space!
Attending my first networking conferences
Last October marked my 6-year blogging anniversary. I know, I can barely believe it’s been so long already myself!
Truth be told, I haven’t been 100% committed to it throughout the years and was even at the brink of stopping blogging completely almost three years ago. You can read about it here: To Blog or Not to Blog: The Validity of Blogging in a Time of World Madness.
Fast-forward three years later, I still have an online presence. As a matter of fact, I’ve written the largest number of blog posts this year: 50 in total. (Can I get a whoop whoop?!)
While I regained my pleasure in writing online, my goal for this year was to improve my writing and online visibility. I’ve spent hours watching YouTube tutorials this year, which is quite a commitment for someone who’s as impatient as I am!
Although online tutorials are great, nothing beats motivational workshops by peers you can meet face-to-face. So that’s why I registered for my first ever blogger networking conference, called BorderLess Live, which brought together bloggers, brands and tourism boards. I wrote about this experience in my article “Always Have Sex for Love, Always Write for Love” – Finding Your Unique Voice.
I may or may not have had sleepless nights and tummy pains beforehand, but once there, surrounded by like-minded and equally scared to sh*t people, I felt totally at home and at ease. I even made my first pitches to brands and suggested possible collaboration opportunities!
This may explain why I felt comfortable enough to speak to a journalist from Vice Magazine. You can read some of my quotes about halfway through this article about the fall of influencers, in the same paragraph as Chris who works with Nomadic Matt, only one of the biggest travel bloggers out there.
Dutch guide in London
Do you know why I started blogging six years ago? Partly because it was a handy way to keep in touch with family and friends and share my new life with them. But it was also a savvy business move, trying to create a platform for my newly established Dutch walking tours in London.
My modest business strategy seemed to have worked out perfectly because my mailbox keeps filling up with emails requesting a Dutch guide in London.
After having had the honour of showing the Dutch Speaker around London a few years ago, I had the great pleasure of taking a group of visually challenged school students on a walking tour in Shoreditch last summer.
But of course the highlight of my career as a London city guide so far has been the wedding proposal I was involved in last week. You can read about this special event in last week’s blog post: How I Got to Play a Role in a Wedding Proposal.
And what about blogging in 2019?
As I mentioned earlier, I wrote the highest number of blog posts this year: 50 articles in total! After having almost quit blogging, I set myself a goal of writing one new blog post a week two years ago. This year I only missed out twice: last winter whilst hubby and I were travelling for a month and then again last autumn when my father was in hospital.
However, there’s no point in putting new content out if there’s no one to read it. But thankfully the level of engagement has increased again this last year and I’d like to thank you all for this!
I think 2019 was the year I wrote my most personal and intimate blog posts. Not just because I feel it’s cathartic and could potentially save me some therapy sessions, but mostly because I realised I wasn’t unique in feeling certain emotions or going through specific situations.
I wanted to share my stories with you, in the hope you could relate to them and find support and perhaps even comfort. And I was right, because the best read articles on my blog this year have been my personal articles about self-growth and expat life.
What’s planned for 2020?
On a personal level my main goal for the near future is applying for my British citizenship. I’ve started studying for my Life in the UK test and hope to take it early next year.
The application process also requires attending an interview in order to test my level of English speaking and listening skills. And once that is done, I can start the actual process, consisting of many steps (and all costing a lot of money). Of course I’ll be sharing my British naturalisation ‘adventures’ here with you!
My blogging plans for 2020 aren’t entirely set in stone yet, but at the moment I’m eager to delve into the forgotten history of London. After the many London walking tours I’ve given this year and also learning about British history for my Life in the UK test, my fascination with London’s rich history has rekindled again.
I still find it incredible that you can wander around the city for only a few hours and walk past sites that were either first built by the Romans, written about in great disgust by Charles Dickens or featured in a world-famous film. That’s why I intend to explore London’s history here in the next year, sharing all the ‘new’ great finds and stories with you.
While I’m slightly anxious for what the near future will bring us (you know, Brexshit), I’m also equally excited to see what great positive things 2020 will have to offer. But for now I want to thank you for your support and (online) friendship. After all, if it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t be writing my blog.
Wishing you a happy & healthy 2020 and hoping to see you back here in the next year of course!
Love, Zarina xx