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Louis la Grange

Louis la Grange lives in the Netherlands since February 2023. Louis wrote about his experiences.

Louis, why did you emigrate to the Netherlands?
I’ve been wanting to experience a new culture and gain international experience ever since high school. I was actually looking at other European countries like Denmark (I heard they like cycling) and Portugal (I already speak Portuguese). What ended up happening is a natural progression of meeting my desires somewhere in the middle, geographically speaking – also known as The Netherlands. A few of the motives behind this decision are my love for great infrastructure and efficient urban development, learning a new language, gaining knowledge from one of the ‘skills capitals’ of the world, and of course simply travelling to all of the Schengen member states. I would be lying if I said the current economic and social state of South Africa weren’t also factors – although I would classify these factors as catalysts, rather than motives.

Can you tell us something how you do like the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is a wonderful country so far, based on my relatively short time since arrival. There are obvious differences such as infrastructure and processes working, and moreover working efficiently. In the Netherlands most things seems to be designed to ‘fit’ well together. Everything has it’s place, and the cities feel much more human-scale than what I’m familiar with. The biggest difference from my perspective would be the higher level of trust and virtue exhibited here, and the various forms it’s expressed in. Some examples are self-scan cash registers (for groceries) and leaving your bicycle parked outside (even without locking it for shorter periods). I also witnessed a colleague going back to a street market a week after he noticed his card payment bounced the day after buying – even if doing nothing was the easier option. While this behaviour isn’t necessarily representative of every Dutch citizen, it is definitely much more common than in South Africa. The fact that travel options are so diverse and interconnected is another thing I’m not necessarily used to. For any given trip you always have 3 to 5 options in terms of mode of transport. My office commute is consistently 45 minutes (65km) door to door – and almost none of that time is wasted because I’m not the one driving. Ultimately I would say there’s not one single big difference or “culture” shock for me, people are still people even on the opposite end of the world, but what I like most is how all of the small differences add up to a robust, consistent, balanced community that makes good decisions which benefit all. It’s a team effort after all.

Please tell us something about the projects you are currently working on.
I’m working as a Frontend Engineer for a company called Topicus, in their Public Health division. The tools I’m building can be summarised as “appointment planning dashboards”. Our team previously built and maintains the Covid-19 test and vaccination website for the GGD (Municipal Health Services) that allowed Dutch citizens to schedule tests or vaccinations, and also view the results. The platform has been used by almost 18 million people, and a lot of those learnings are now being used in follow-up systems and dashboards, such as for HPV vaccinations. These systems therefore have to be very scaleable and reliable. The tools and frameworks I use most are Angular & Tailwind, and the backend mostly consists of Java Spring micro-services. There is plenty of infrastructure as code involved for the building of pipelines, deployments, and hosting of services on AWS. We also have quite an extensive testing suite for the whole stack, and a daily set of unit tests are run with Katalon.

Did the process of emigration go smoothly?
Extremely well. As so many other people have also mentioned, the only things that didn’t go as planned was on the South African side. I’ve been in the Netherlands for 2 months at the time of writing, and I still haven’t received my UBC (unabridged birth certificate). Luckily the municipality/citizen registration has made provisions for delays like this (specifically so for South African UBC delays) and the registration could continue without being held up – even though I still have to bring my UBC to the municipal office when it’s finally arrived. At the Dutch consulate in Cape Town I had a slight hiccup due to my passport photos being too small by a few millimetres, but even then they were so helpful and directed me to a nearby passport photo shop. I was back within 15 minutes and the total appointment – including detour – took no longer than 35 minutes. The actual VISA was ready within 6 work days and my residence permit was ready for collection only 2 days after arriving in the Netherlands. These experiences are a testament to how well the emigration process is laid out and provisioned for – even and especially when things (out of my control) are not perfect. This was really reassuring, because they try their best to work WITH you, and not AGAINST you like we’ve sometimes come to expect in South Africa.

Can you explain to the South Africans who are considering to go overseas how you did experience the support from us?
Efficient. Effective. Empathetic. Ton, Matthijs, and Paulien are really at the top of their game and are even still continuing to support me with any of the questions or concerns that I might have. They have always made the next steps clear and keep an open line of contact. When I arrived at Schipol, Ton was there to receive me with a big smile. All of the essentials – such as heating, electricity, internet, water, and rental contracts – were set up with my agreement before even arriving, which means I had these essentials the moment I stepped into my apartment. There was also good support and advice given for follow-up requirements – such as health insurance, GP registration, and bank accounts. They are consistently checking in and reminding me of requirements which I haven’t yet concluded (mandatory TB test as an example). I don’t think I would have been able to manage (or even known about) all of these requirements and processes by myself. I’m greatly grateful for the support received from summit developers.