An ex-pat's life

May 19, 2022

Culture

By Kristin Baird Rattini
Seeing the world from a perspective outside your own is the best education.

Think of classic images and Instagram shots of Dutch life, and Susan Ailleris, W’89, has lived them all as a 31-year expat in the Netherlands. 

Living on a houseboat? It was romantic, yes, but more importantly all she could afford when she first settled in the country in 1991. Tulips? “The fields are spectacular every year,” she says. “Their beauty always surprises me.” 

Skating on canals, à la the classic children’s book Hans Brinker, or the Silver Skates? She and her children Luc, now 19, and Emilie, 16, glided along the canals of their town of Haarlem (and even past two windmills) just last year. “It is a quintessential Dutch experience,” she says. 

Riding her bike everywhere? That was how she knew she was no longer a fish out of water. The moment she had one child on the front of her bike, one on the back, a neighbor child riding beside her, and bags of groceries astride each handle was “when you feel, ‘I’m really here,’” she says. 

Ailleris’ expat experience has been the education of a lifetime, as she has immersed herself in Dutch culture, traveled the continent, and raised her two “third culture” kids with her husband, Philippe, a French national. She mastered Dutch early on and worked in contract management positions, then transitioned to being a “football mom” and holding leadership roles with the Amsterdam chapter of the American Women’s Club, an international organization that’s a lifeline for expats worldwide. “The club is like a nice warm blanket,” she says. “It’s where you can go and everyone knows what you’re talking about. I’ve made some lasting friendships there.”

She encourages all Richmond students to study abroad if possible. “Expand your horizons,” she says. “Seeing the world from a perspective outside your own is the best education.”