How soon should you visit your neighbor after they have a baby?, the question asked. Possible answers:
a. the next day
b. the next week
c. 3 weeks later
So, what’s your answer? I’d say it depends on the relationship you have with your neighbor. This was one of the questions I was asked on my Dutch immigration test. Yes… I had to take an immigration test in the first year I lived here.
What is the immigration test? And why did I have to take it?
My residency permit to live in the Netherlands is based on my relationship with my boyfriend. As a couple living together, he is allowed to be my “host” here, as long as we live together and meet an income threshold which can theoretically support two people. Everyone from a non-EU country who moves to the Netherlands to be with their family – be it blood or otherwise – has to take the immigration course and test called the inburgeringscursus.
The goal of the course is to educate immigrants on Dutch society and teach them the language.
To my surprise when I moved here, the Netherlands considers me an “immigrant” moving to the country to “start a family.” Starting a family could not have been further from my mind when I moved at the age of 22, but regardless of the name my permit went by, I wanted a way to live together with my boyfriend – legally.
So, because I am American and therefore not moving from within the EU, I was obliged to take this course and complete the test.
Immigration Course Content
Before I started my immigration course, I knew it was coming, and I wasn’t looking forward to it. I didn’t have a job yet – actually I was still applying to do my master’s degree here – so I had plenty of time on my hands. To get through the class as quickly as possible I taught myself Dutch.
Many people have asked me how I learned the language and if I took classes. The answer is no. I was really motivated to get out of that immigration class as soon as possible, so I bought a teach yourself Dutch computer program, and got to work, studying several hours a day. I’m so glad I did it.
On the first evening I went to my class, my instructor asked me to write a few sentences about myself in Dutch so she could assess my language level. Ok, easy, I thought. I wrote a few basic sentences down saying I’m from California, I lived in the Hague, I was there with my boyfriend. Simple things.
When she came over to check my writing she immediately told me I was ready to take the immigration test.
Huh? How can this be that after just a few months of spending time learning the language that I was suddenly so proficient that they could sign me up for the test? Was this really the only judgment that she needed to make? I had stressed myself out by realizing I didn’t know how to properly sing the ABC’s in Dutch. Luckily this was an immigration test, not kindergarten.
The answer, of course, is that the level of Dutch needed to pass this course is pretty low – you really only need to be able to read and write the basics and you’re already done.
Unfortunately for me, the test wouldn’t take place for another two months, and in the meantime I’d have to attend the night class two days a week.
I was out of place
I did my duty, and attended my class twice per week for those two months. Except for one glorious week I got to skip because I was skiing.
They gave me 3 or 4 huge binders full of worksheets with exercises I had to fill in – the type you have in elementary school. To be honest, they were all very easy. I had some vocabulary to learn, but that was about it. I had to complete everything to deliver in time for my test, since the school would check that I’d done all the assignments.
I hoped that in my classes I might meet someone like me. A woman from another country who moved to be with her boyfriend as well. To be honest, there was no one like me in the classes. I think I was one of the few participants who spoke a language that uses the same alphabet. I was very likely the only participant who had any higher education.
We had to do exercises with other students. We would ask each other, in Dutch, where the others were from, what they did, and why they were living in the country.
All of them moved in search of a better life. They all wondered, what I, an American was doing in these courses?
I wondered too. I was obligated to be there, but it felt strange. Sure, there are differences between Dutch and American culture, but not such big differences that I needed to be integrated. Still, I had to play by the rules (fair enough).
What kind of job would you like to have? The exercise book asked in Dutch. Would you like to work in a flower shop? At a super market? Perhaps in a warehouse?
None of the above. None. I felt completely out of place and completely removed from the people around me. For me, moving to the Netherlands was an adventure. I wanted to live with my boyfriend. I wanted to live in Europe together. For them, this was a means for a better life. I felt guilty that I had to be in this class under a completely different circumstance. I felt guilty when the teacher praised me for my level of Dutch.
Of course my Dutch was better than the others. My boyfriend was supporting me there – I wasn’t working yet and didn’t have to take care of a family in a strange country like they did. I moved to the Netherlands for fun. I didn’t share any of the concerns about my life abroad that they had. For them, it was much more serious.
I barely learned Dutch in the immigration class.
I don’t know how the government expects people to actually learn the language from these courses. There was very little attention paid to teaching the students how to speak the language – most of it was focused around educating the participants (in Dutch) about how to get a job or take care of children. What to do you do if your child is sick? What do you do if you find out you are pregnant? What do you do after you give birth?
All of these things are of course useful to know, even if I never experience them here, at least to understand how everything works. But these weren’t the topics I was expecting to cover.
These are just some of the topics we covered (thankfully I wrote these down in a previous blog post, or else I would have forgotten them all):
- how to get a job
- how trade unions work
- who you can go to with government problems
- what you have to do to start a business
- what taxes you have to pay
- how to divide your chemical garbage from your normal garbage
- how to buy a house
- how to rent a house
- which vaccinations are required for babies
- when children go to school
- how the Dutch government works
The Immigration Test
Before the test, I was nervous. Nervous that I would fail. Nervous that I wouldn’t understand the questions and would have to spend more nights in the awful classes. I was also really curious about what type of questions there would be. A lot of the Dutchies I knew told me that this immigration test has famously been given once on national television, and that there was a question about what to do if you saw a girl in a short skirt? Ignore, throw a stone, or whistle? Something along those lines. It really shocked me that the questions would be so clearly aimed at immigrants from non-Western countries. It also made me wonder – is this really how the immigrants have behaved here, or is this how people expected the immigrants to behave? Were the questions based on the biases of western culture?
In reality, there weren’t really any questions like that (except for the one below) and the test was a breeze. I don’t know what I was worried about because I flew through it and finished it well in time. Nearly all the topics I had learned about in the class weren’t even on the test. They didn’t ask which vaccinations kids need, or how the elections work. The questions were mostly reading comprehension, with a few curveballs thrown in like the one I mentioned at the beginning of the post. Questions that are so specific to your personal experience that you could hardly imagine that these could be tested.
What do you do if a colleague hits you?
a) tell your boss
b) quit your job
c) hit your colleague back
This is literally one of the questions from my test. It seemed really strange to me, but there it was in front of my face. I chose option A, but to be honest, if any of my colleagues hit me, I’d probably smack them right back 😉
Thankfully we aren’t too violent in my office.
But seriously, this is what I was asked.
So, I passed. And with I was paid for passing the immigration test Yes, the government actually paid me for passing the class ahead of schedule. I think I was paid around €300. For me it was incredible since I wasn’t earning any money then. But honestly, can you believe it? I can’t imagine this happening in any other country besides the Netherlands. I’ve heard that the people running this program finally got their heads screwed on straight and stopped paying people for finishing the test. I’ve never received cash for following the rules before, but this time it was worth it.
Have you taken an immigration test? What do you think about these? Share in the comments below!
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Gabby is a native (Northern) Californian who spent the majority of her 20’s living the expat life in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, exploring Europe and beyond. 27 countries later, she’s relocated back to her home base in California where she explores her passions for the travel and the outdoors.