They Call Me A Follower: a reflection on what it means to be a spouse (and my own person) in Rotterdam.

“What brought you to Rotterdam?” We’ve all heard this question, whether at a casual gathering or a professional networking event. My response is that my husband is studying at Erasmus, and I work as a freelance marketing consultant.

“So you followed him?” Is a common reply to my answer.

For a long time it bothered me, partly because they sounded condescending (but most likely just being matter-of-fact). But it actually made me realize that I’m telling my story wrong.

My husband and I after we signed the lease for our Rotterdam apartment

Yes, his choice to attend Erasmus required us to relocate to Rotterdam. But we were able to make that choice because my job allows us that flexibility.

But that wasn’t always the case. The first time I moved for my husband’s work, I left job opportunities in New York and San Francisco to live in Atlanta, Georgia in 2010. I didn’t have any prospects or connections, but in the depths of the 2008 financial crisis, I managed to land a job in wholesale account management.

(My degree is in photography, but the company didn’t seem to mind.)

Then, in 2015, we moved to Germany for his job. Again, I moved with no connections or opportunities. But this time, I moved to a new country. It took me an entire year to find a job.

We're happy to spend time together (like, 95% of the time)

And during that time, I struggled with my role as a follower, but everyone around me was in the same boat. We had all followed our spouses from the States to Germany – and most took one of three paths. Spouses either started their own businesses, became stay-at-home moms, or volunteered with hopes of finding work.

After a few months of not finding employment, I tried to think of what type of business I could start instead. I just wanted to work. Luckily a freelancing friend needed help with her graphic design work, and so I dipped my toe into the freelancing lifestyle.

That’s one of the reasons my marriage works as well as it does. My flexible career allows me to be a good follower. But that doesn’t mean I’m any less of a decision maker in this marriage.

2019 resolution: be a BOSS

In fact, it really means I’m a creative problem solver. After restarting my career for the third time in Rotterdam, I consider myself resilient. I can adapt to change.

I didn’t use to think I could be anything useful. I didn’t think I had anything to offer. Of course, it’s required some flexibility in my choices, and creative exploration into industries I never considered before.

But as a spouse – as a meaningful member of a relationship – it’s imperative that I stay strong. Not necessarily for the sake of our marriage, but for the sake of our own sanity and happiness.

Throughout my time as a spouse, the word “resilient” has become a buzz word I nearly despise, but ultimately accept. Because it’s true. I’m resilient as fuck, and you are, too.

Photo by Krati Agarwal
Photo by Krati Agarwal, an IWNG member

So maybe you were a speech therapist for children, or a sales manager for a medium-sized business, and you had to leave your job, friends, and life in your previous home because your spouse’s boss told your family to come here.

But is that your story? You can also look at the story this way: you made a decision to end that chapter of your life in order to start a new one. Because if you think about your story without the element of choice, you will struggle to be the best version of yourself.

And that’s not to say that this change in perspective will find you employment. It will, however, help you think more creatively and openly about how you will write this new chapter.

Why am I living in the Netherlands? Because I want to. What about you?

the International Women's Networking Group has an offline networking dinner at Alfredo's Taqueria in Rotterdam

If you’re interested in getting to know other international women in Rotterdam, check out our upcoming events!

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Sterling Schuyler
Sterling Schuyler moved to Rotterdam in June 2018 from Bavaria, Germany, but she is originally from the United States. As a result, she has restarted her career three times, and currently works as a freelance marketing consultant. Whether you want to know more about her professional development, have questions about her own struggles, or just want to grab a coffee, she’ll be happy to hear from you.

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