Interview with Michelle Powell a phenomenal pianist from Canada living in Limburg, the Netherlands
My name is Michelle Powell and I come from Canada. I completed my Masters and Artist Diploma in Montreal in piano performance. Living in Europe has always been a dream and we had the opportunity to come overseas when my husband and I received some funding for our studies. I had private lessons in Switzerland and he completed a Masters at the conservatorium in Maastricht.
In one day you can hit four or five countries!
We live in a tiny 200 person village of Oost Maarland next to Maastricht, in Limburg, South region of the Netherlands. I am a classical pianist, so I spread my time between my concerts, teaching studio and accompanying projects. I am the Artistic Director of Opus 16 Concerten, which is a concert series in Limburg. We have two venues, in Heythuysen and Eijsden. I also, together with my violist duo partner from Paris, visit International schools, giving outreach presentations and working with the students. We just returned Friday from Madrid and visited Switzerland, Poland and Bratislava last year. A large reason I love living in Europe is because of how easy it is to travel, seeing completely new cultures, fashion, language, ideas and trends. In one day you can hit four or five countries!
Limburg 15, gezellig and new family
People in the Netherlands are very open and friendly and always enthusiastic when I share that I am from Canada. The level of English is phenomenal and I have had many nice conversations with interesting locals. It is also very beautiful here, with the fields and the “mountain” of St. Petersberg in Maastricht and I especially love in the month of May when the cherry trees bloom.
I love in the Netherlands how people value things being “gezellig” and the intentions and efforts that I see people make to feel connected. For example, it is standard to be offered coffee or tea when you arrive at someone’s home. I also love the “Limburg 15”, and although I was surprised at a concert I recently performed where we didn’t actually start until 20.15, I do appreciate that people take time to chat and generally enjoy each other and the evening.
My favourite places in Maastricht
I also have my favourite places in Mastricht. Our favourite coffee place is called Koffie bij Joost en Maartje. You can find one of us there almost daily. Another great spot is the newly opened Erix, right along the Maas and close to the Markt. Speaking of the Markt, don’t miss the €5 fruit bag at the Friday market, and I love the Amazing Oriental Market for many Asian food items, spices and sauces. I also love the Moroccan deli “Le Souk”, and the close by “Le Salonard” for nice gourmet items, also great for gifts.
I also love to walk my cyprus poodle in the beautiful St. Petersberg or the Eijsden Beemde, which is very nearby my home.
We are really fortunate to have a strong community here in Limburg, both professionally and personally. I think a support system is crucial as an expat because it helps you integrate into society, learn things that locals know, and gives you people to have a good coffee and conversation with. My husband and I attend a church called Nieuw Leven Maastricht where we lead the worship team. These people have become family to us.
Rocky Mountains still in my heart
I miss the Rocky Mountains in Canada, as it is my favourite place in the world. I actually come from near there, in the province of Alberta. Nothing can describe the feeling of having hiked up a mountain and seeing the view, with the enormous amount of space.
Maastricht is a bit of a smaller city, and I prefer the energy, hustle and bustle of a larger centre. However, Paris and London are very close by and with Ryanair and ride shares, also very affordable!
One of the first culture clashes I experienced was when a new friend invited me for dinner. I gladly accepted, but was so surprised when she whipped out her agenda and replied “Ok, when?” In my previous experience in Canada, inviting someone for dinner is more of a kind way of saying “I like you and I’d like to spend more time together.” However, after living here for four years I think I prefer the method of planning it immediately, to make sure it happens with our busy lives!
In Canada, a typical greeting is “Hey how’s it going?” This is the equivalent to “Hi”, and an expected answer is “good, thanks!” When I came here and tried to ask people, “hoe gaat het”, I found some puzzling looks. I later found out that the Dutch think I’m asking for a detailed account of their day/week/lives, which isn’t really an appropriate conversation starter. I’ve since switched to “gaat goed?” to which I receive a shorter (and usually positive) answer.
We were surprised to find that there are no cheques here in the Netherlands as this was a way that we frequently paid for things (or were paid.) Of course I agree that the electronic system is much faster and better! But it was still an adjustment. It’s also a bit of a problem because I have a couple foreign cheques I can’t cash here without paying a large fee at the ING.
Share tips and tricks
I have found that the best way to handle new challenges is to be flexible, willing to learn, and to keep an open mind. Things will be done differently in your new country than what you are used to, but that doesn’t mean it is a bad thing. In fact, you may realize that you prefer the new way! Seeing things from a different perspective is a rewarding experience that will help you develop and grow your character. Don’t hesitate to ask a lot of questions to expats, locals and internet forums. There are even facebook groups where people ask about day-to-day life. I personally have received so much advice from others about how to handle the challenges of a new life; everything from starting a company and taxes to where to find the best deals at the market. People are always willing to share tips and tricks if you just ask!
Community is invaluable
I am a member of the International Women’s Club which is so great to meet other women in the community. I also run with the Maasrunners and have made many new connections just by becoming active in the local community. I have also learned a bit of Dutch and people are always pleased when it is clear that you are making an effort to respect your new environment, integrate and contribute.
Life as an expat
Life as an expat is not always easy but it has been such a rewarding time of life. It is interesting because when I travel back home I remember so many things of how it is done over there, things that I had forgotten or had not noticed before I lived abroad. I even find myself adopting some of the more European tendencies! I count this towards having grown and developed as a person and hope that I can make a better contribution to whatever community I am in by having lived these life experiences.
Michelle Powell website:
Her concert series has a facebook page, check it out!
For her upcoming events, she will be performing a solo concert in June in Eijsden, more information will be available here soon: www.michellepowellpianist.com/events
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