October 27, 2007

The big money question

It's hard to aggressively save money while living in one of the most expensive cities in the US (and the 15th most expensive city in the world), and saving money needs to shoot way up on my priority list if I'm really going to be able to make this whole life-abroad thing happen. I thought through all of the possibilites, tried to create some kind of budget based on this raise I'm supposed to get in December, got a bit of a reality check at work, and I came to a realization: it's just not going to happen here. I really want to move to Amsterdam with at the very least $5,000 in savings (which thanks to the shitty exchange rate right now, works out to be €3,474) , and I'm nowhere near close to that goal. So I came up with an idea, talked it over with my mom, and at this point it sounds like the most realistic option I have.

If it all works out with The People In Charge, I'm going to leave New York City at the end of Janurary 2008 and move into her house in Los Angeles, California until April 15th. While I'm living at her house (which has plenty of room) I'll be exempt from paying rent and I'll work about 50 hours a week at her accounting firm. I've worked for them in the past and they were pleased with my performence, and since they always need extra help in tax season... it looks like I'll be welcome on board again. I'll make more than double what I make now and my only real expenses will be food, gas, and my cell phone bill.

This is going to be a pretty drastic move for me, even though it's only temporary (8-10 weeks). I haven't lived with one of my parents since I was a teenager, I haven't driven a car (which is necessary for LA) on a regular basis since 2001, and I don't even particularly like Los Angeles. However, I do have a lot of family and friends that live out there, and I might be able to meet some good film contacts if I make the effort. And most importantly, I would be able to save a lot of money - enough to get an apartment in Amsterdam. This does push my moving date back a bit - I orginally wanted to be in Amsterdam by mid-March, but arriving in mid-April shouldn't mess up any plans. I still want to apply for that Creative Producers Program at Binger, but the website says:

"The selection procedure takes place in two stages: a meeting of the international selection committee and an interview of the short-listed applicants.This procedure takes place between 5 and 6 weeks from the application deadline, and applicants are advised as to the outcome within 5 working days of the final interview."

Since the application deadline is March 15... if I was accepted and placed on the short list, I could arrive in Amsterdam right around the time I would need to be there for an interview.

It's a little shocking to think that if I follow through with this plan, I have just a little over three months left in New York City. That doesn't seem like much time, so I better do my best to make it count!

October 25, 2007

One idea...

I've been getting a lot of really amazing support from my family about the upcoming move, which means the world to me. Really, I couldn't ask for a better network of friends and family, and it really does feel good to know that people believe in me.

Since it doesn't look like I have to spend a lot of time and energy doing a visa application, I get to spend all my time and energy getting my shit together, to put it bluntly. I need to update my resume and possibly put together a reel, though honestly, I don't have anything I would be willing to put on a reel at this point. So in the next few months, I need to get back into producing my own video projects. I'm going to start making a series of short documentaries - no more than five or six minutes - and putting them up on the web once every 8 weeks. I would love to do more than that, but I honestly don't know when I'm going to find time to even start researching the first project. I suppose that one of the benefits to being totally broke this month is spending lots of time at home, where in theory I can get a lot of work done. Before I move to Amsterdam, I'm going to need a very polished resume, a newly updated website, and a final draft of my film proposal. I need to start applying for grants, figuring out what type of equipment I need to buy, and of course, I need to save money.

I've been looking at this school with great interest lately, especially their Creative Producers Program, which sounds like it would be perfect for me. It's a five-month program that would begin in September 2008, which is great timing. If I move to Amsterdam in March/April 2008, I could spend three or four months focusing on learning Dutch, continuing to make short documentaries and trying to find subjects for the longer documentary project. Then in July/Aug of '08, I would like to spend 4-5 weeks in Bosnia, Serbia, and Croatia doing a lot more "in the field" type of research (and maybe even some filming). Then, if I can get into this school and the program really is as good as it sounds, I could study for the next five months. I really like that this school is specifically a post-academic training facility and is meant for people who have already have professional experience. Again, if it's as good as it sounds, it would be a wonderful way to meet other filmmakers, writers, directors, etc. They even offer scholarships, which would certainly come in very handy in my situation.

It's been a little over three weeks since I made the decision to move to Amsterdam. I have been thinking about it for a long time, but it wasn't until I was there in early October that I was able to be sure. Of course, until I actually step foot in the country again everything is subject to change - but my mom said it best. "I know you, and if you decide that you want to do something, you're going to find a way." She's right.

October 22, 2007

Coming up with a plan

I intended to write up this post with all the paperwork next to me, but me and my paperwork aren't in the same spot right now, so let's just see if I can do this off the top of my head.

If I understand everything correctly, it seems like there's not much that I can do before I get to Amsterdam in terms of telling them I want to live there. Because I'm American, I don't have to apply for an MVV (Machtiging voor Voorlopig Verblijf - authorisation for a temporary stay) before I get there. This is a huge difference between France and the Netherlands (in a good way!). When I moved to Paris, I had to apply for a long-stay visa while I was still in the states (which required three separate trips to the French consulate in Washington DC) and then basically repeat the entire process when I got to France. But in moving to the Netherlands, I get to skip this step altogether ... which is just bizarre and kind of wonderful. The only people who DON'T need the MVV are EU/EER nationals, Americans, New Zealanders, Australians, and of course anyone from Switzerland. My nationality also exempts me from having to take a TB test once I'm there, and again, that's something I had to do in Paris (and that chest X-ray cost a lot of money).

However, once I arrive in Amsterdam, I'll have to go to the City Hall in the municipality where I live and apply for a residence permit. This requires a ton of paperwork and a lot of money... between €330-430, depending on which permit I apply for. I know that sounds extreme, but when I think about how much I ended up paying altogether for my Paris visa and carte de sejour, it's actually about the same. The residence permit application gets sent off to the IND (Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Dpt), and they have six months to decide if they want to let me stay. And during that time period, I'm considered legal. This page explains everything rather simply, though the first place I learned about all this was the 30-page IND brochure, which gives a lot more details.

If I'm granted the residence permit, it will be good for one year, which I think is great. One year will be enough time for me to figure out if this whole Amsterdam thing is a good idea, and if everything is going well, I'll be able to extend the permit (the IND will send me an extension application three months before the first one expires).

I still have a huge amount to do (like save money) to prepare for this move, but it's all very manageable and just requires a lot of self-motivation. The hard stuff will happen once I'm there - like finding a place to live in one of the most most over-crowded cities in Europe. That may have scared me a few years ago, but after budget apartment-hunting in NYC (which was even more difficult than Paris) on two separate occasions, nothing can scare me. Even the prices in Amsterdam aren't a huge concern, and again, I have living in NYC and Paris to thank for that.

October 18, 2007

The obvious questions

I've come to terms with the fact that I am not going to find a magic loophole that will allow me to obtain an EU passport. My closest European relative was a great-grandfather who was born in Ireland, which doesn't help me. And let's be honest, I don't have any super amazing skills or talents that Amsterdam is just dying to have that they can't find in a Dutch or EU person.

"So how will you make money?"

Good question.

I did get one lead on an American post-production facility that has an Amsterdam office. The best case scenario is that I would find a company to sponsor me - not totally unrealistic, but it's nothing I can count on.

The best chance I have of making money, assuming I can't find a "real" job in Amsterdam, is to continue doing freelance work for this accounting firm in Los Angeles and the tour company in Paris. The accounting work is great and pays well and could be a huge means of support - I would even be able to get documentation from them proving that they'll keep paying me no matter where I live. The tour company might be paying me to research and design new walking tours, and even train the guides at the start of the season. I also know that once I'm IN Amsterdam, opportunities will present themselves (they always do).

The other thing I'm not totally ruling out is coming back to the states once or twice a year for a few months at a time to work in NYC. There's always work in NYC, and I feel pretty established in this city now. I have pretty good contacts and I'm pretty certain that it wouldn't be difficult for me to freelance here. Sometime in the next month or so, I'm going to start telling everyone I know who works in tv/film production to keep me in mind if there are ANY European projects that need someone on location. The best way to find work is still through personal recommendations and word-of-mouth.

The real question is, how am I going to convince the Netherlands to give me a residence permit and allow me to live legally in Amsterdam? - that's something I'll go into in my next post.

"So, do you know Dutch?"

No. I do plan to learn the language when I get there. I also know that I could probably manage a very long time without learning the language - that's the curse of moving to a city where pretty much everyone speaks flawless English.

"Do you even have any friends or family in Amsterdam?"

Well, there's exactly two people there that I count as good friends. There's one other guy (also from upstate NY) with whom I drank beer and talked about photography with for about 30 minutes, and he seems really nice. But no, I don't really have a huge group of friends out there. Fortunately, I do still have a lot of friends in Paris, and a few others scattered around Europe. I know there will be homesickness and it's going to feel somewhat lonely at first, but that I can handle.

I have spent a lot of time in the past week or so going through Dutch immigration law and informing myself of all the options that are available to me. In my next post I'll go through everything I've learned and try to figure out the best plan of action.

So... why Amsterdam?

Lots of different reasons, but there's one reason that is more important than just liking the bikes and the attitude of the city.

I have plans to make a documentary about the rebuilding of Sarajevo (and possibly other cities in Bosnia and Serbia) - not just the physical rebuilding, but rebuilding the spirit. This topic is something I've been thinking about ever since I was lucky to spend about 3 weeks traveling around Bosnia, Montenegro, and Croatia in August 2006. Ever since I graduated from college, all I've wanted to do is make documentaries. Other than travel, this is my passion. For as idealistic as it may sound, I want to do something that will help change the world - I will always hold on to the belief that things can get better with enough communication, education, and information. Once I was done with formal education, I realized that the way I was keeping informed and the way I was still learning was by watching documentaries. I took film classes in college and I had big plans to make all kinds of movies... and I did make a few, just for fun, with friends. I was fortunate enough to work at a great non-profit, independent cinema from age 22-25 and was a big part of the Philadelphia independent film community. My boss was an amazing woman - in addition to running a huge film program, she was an activist and did camera work for Big Tea Party on the side. I learned so much from her over the years, and even got to be involved in some Big Tea Party productions.

I have two bosses at my current job, and both of them are brilliant executive producers. They're both British and both women - and I mention that because those are two things that don't make it any easier to be successful in the United States. Film and TV Production is still a male-dominated world, and an accent still isn't always looked upon favorably here. I consider myself very lucky and very fortunate to have worked under such brilliant women in my short career. My bosses are also Emmy-nominated documentary filmmakers. Two of the documentaries that they produced were released on HBO this year to all types of critical acclaim. Over the past year, I have learned so much from them that it almost makes the low salary and lack of health coverage worth it (only in the US can someone work on salary for more than 40 hours a week and still have no health insurance at all).

And now I'm finally going to make my own film. The timing is right, the idea is there, and now I just have to make it happen. In order to do this right, I'm going to need to go to Bosnia and Serbia at least twice a year for 3-4 weeks at a time, if not more. A lot of the inspiration for the film comes from my friend Lada, a young Bosnian woman who currently lives in Paris (we met and became friends on an organic farm in the north of France in May 2005). Amsterdam is only 4 hours away from Paris by train, and although I adore Paris, it's just not where I want to live. Maybe I will again one day, but it won't happen anytime soon. So when I started thinking about other European cities that I could call home, the first thing I thought about was Amsterdam. It has everything I need - close proximity to Paris, a thriving arts community, the amazing bike culture, and it's a huge transportation hub to the rest of Europe.

That brings me to all the other reasons I want to live in Amsterdam. I simply want to be back in Europe. I miss traveling, I miss the feeling of waking up on a train and not knowing what country I'm in, I miss being surrounded by a society that values travel and languages. While I was living in Paris, I visited at least 20 different countries. Having the freedom to travel and expose myself to different cultures simply by taking a short train ride is very important to me.

And of course, anyone who is into biking would fall in love with the bike culture in Amsterdam, and I'm no different. It almost seems like a fantasy land at first, and I admit, I haven't quite gotten over that.

So now there's all these practical questions to answer, like "but how will you make money?" and "what about the language?" and "but you just barely know two people in that entire city, are you sure you want to leave your family, friends, and job behind?"

The answer to the last question is Yes, I am sure. And the answers to all the other questions will come in the next blog post. Now it's time for me to get back to my Dutch immigration research...

October 16, 2007

The Introduction

I decided to start this blog to specifically keep track of my moving-to-Amsterdam progress. Now that I've made the decision and told my friends and family about my intentions to relocate, it's time to get the ball rolling... there's lots to do.

I'm originally from upstate New York, in the Hudson Valley. I moved to New Jersey when I was 18 to go to school, and stayed in Jersey until late 2002. From there it was off to Philadelphia, PA, where I lived happily for 2+ years, until March 2005. On March 8, 2005, I moved to Paris, France with my then-boyfriend. We didn't have a "real" reason for wanting to live in Paris, other than falling in love with the city when we visited in 2001 (but really, that's not so hard to do), and we both left behind good jobs and a lot of stability - it was the best decision I ever made.

The only thing that really set me apart from the other expats living Paris was my lack of a "reason" to be there. I wasn't in school, I didn't have a job, and I didn't speak French. Yet I was granted a long-stay visa by the French consulate before I left the US, and once I got to Paris I spent about 8 months dealing with the process of getting a carte de sejour. The many, many visits to the police stations and doctors offices and city halls and whatnot were hardly what I would call fun - but it all worked out in the end and at no point was I ever living in France illegally. That's the other thing that set me apart from most expats I knew! While I lived in Paris I tried my best to learn the language and spent a great deal of time traveling. I had saved a lot of money before moving abroad and worked odd jobs in Paris for cash - dog-walking, baby-sitting, and teaching English. I enjoyed teaching English more than I thought I would, but that may have had something to do with my students - two Japanese kids who were already almost fluent. In March 2006 I was hired to be a tour guide (2 hour long walking tours) and finally started to earn a regular income. It was a great job - I worked about 4 hours a day and got to meet people from all over the world, right there in my home city. It also prompted me to learn a lot about French History and do something I love - walk around Paris!

I moved back to New York City in late October, 2006. After almost two years of not working that much and traveling around, I was actually anxious to get back to work in my field. I started a job with a great TV/Film production company in Manhattan, where I'm still currently employed. I do a little bit of everything. Though my title is Post-Production Supervisor, I also help out with coordinating productions, managing the office, supervising the interns, updating the website, and act as an assistant editor when needed. I really love my job - it's drastically different every day and I get to work around smart, interesting, and creative people.

So why would I want to leave and move to Amsterdam?

Well, lots of reasons, but I'll save that for another post. First I want to explain why I started this blog.

When I decided to move to Paris, I had a huge amount of support and help from random strangers that I met on the internet. There's a lot I can learn from the Dutch consulate in NYC, the Dutch Immigration and Naturalization Service (IND), and so on. But the most helpful tool to find out how to REALLY get this stuff done and what to REALLY expect comes from reading blogs and getting to know people online. I've spent hours googling expat-in-Amsterdam blogs and have already learned way more than the IND could have told me.

One day, I hope this blog helps out another expat the same way all of the blogs on the internet are helping me. With any luck, I'll have a successful story when everything is said and done, and I'll be publishing from a beautiful cafe across the street from an Amsterdam canal, my bike locked up nearby and a fresh apple strudel on my plate.