Valentine’s Day From the Archive: Did They or Didn’t They?

February 14th 2012

Our Archive holds many letters from couples who speak about their life abroad or who met while living in another country. The good and the bad of expat life is reflected in their writings.

For Valentine’s Day, we found this little exchange from 1947 between a couple who had hit a rocky patch in their relationship. The letters are translated from the original Dutch.


Dear Niek,
I have reconsidered the whole situation but really Niek, it can no longer be between us as it has been lately. I do no longer care enough about you to sustain this. I now only care about you as a good friend. With Herman my relationship is also only friendship. As I mentioned to you yesterday, I will only see you as a friend but that will be all. When you do not want this I can understand it.
For now I wish you all the best,

Little girl,
For what now has happened I myself am the only one to blame! In the past few months I have treated you mean and have bickered with you, used you as a doormat. You must hate me for this! While you have always done everything for me I had the guts to tell you to be patient. I beg for forgiveness! Small wonder you feel that you no longer care about me. Now you have to decide! If you want to see Herman, who is a much nicer chap than I am, I will understand. But it will hurt. Eef, do what your heart tells you, May God help you!


You may be wondering why we selected such a sad tale for Valentine’s Day. This is because the letters do not tell the whole story.

The next document in their collection is an invitation to the wedding of Eef and Niek in December 1950. What happened in between, and what happened to the Herman mentioned in the letters? We can only speculate.

Eef and Nick were married for 36 years and had two children. Eef died in 1986 and Niek in 2005, but in their life together they lived in Turkey, Norway and Libya. Our archive holds material about their life abroad, including family film footage from Turkey in the 1950s.

The Expatriate Archive Centre collects stories of families who went abroad to work and live. If you would like to know more, please contact us at To see other Valentine’s Day stories from archives around the world, follow the #loveheritage hashtag on Twitter.

Categories: Donations

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Book Review: “Drums on the Night Air” by Veronica Cecil

February 14th 2012

Veronica paints a vivid picture of her move to the Congo, with her husband and one year old son, in the 1960’s. Trying to forget her own experiences as an expat child, she tries hard to become a part of the community with her Congolese, Ghanaian, Belgian and Dutch neighbours. With help from the doughty Mrs van Royen (herself a survivor of the concentration camps in Indonesia) she builds a life for her family despite the food shortages and growing unrest among the local population.


Struggling to analyse the political situation, murky at best, Veronica is rare among expatriates of the era, most of who tended to turn a blind eye to what was going on around them. The prevailing attitude was one of endurance and voluntary isolation from the locals, tolerating the boredom and amusing themselves at the ‘club’ until the contract ends and it’s time to return to their home country. The exceptions seem to be the stoical missionary expatriates who at least feel they can make a contribution to local society.

Still trying to make sense of why ‘the company’ (never named) is still keeping a firm hold on the manufacture of palm oil in the Haute Congo, Veronica relishes the move to Elizabetha, on the banks of the Congo River. Once settled in to their new home she befriends and soon comes to rely on their houseboy, Nicholas. Of course Nicholas is all too aware of the impending attacks by rebel groups in the foothills, but it is his duty to take care of the family and this includes protecting them from the approaching rumours of disaster.

“Drums on the Night Air” is both an adventure story and a personal journey of discovery. Veronica struggles to comprehend the impending civil war which contrasts with her ideal vision of an independent Congo. Finally fleeing Elizabetha just days before the birth of her second child, Veronica grows from the naive young wife into a strong and capable mother of two. Altogether a refreshing and candid look back at a tumultuous period of expatriate life.

Authors: Veronica Cecil
Published by Constable & Robinson Ltd, London (ISBN 978 1 84901 641 4)

Review by Donna Worrall

Categories: Library

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2011 Additions to the Archive

February 2nd 2012

Here are the latest additions to the archive:

Maureen Cass (2004-2010)

The diary of an Australian, who came to the Netherlands in 2004. During her six year stay she visited many European countries,the Baltic, the Rhine Castles, Alaska and the Holy Lands. In the rare moments Maureen was staying at home, she welcomed visitors from Australia or wherever, who used her home as a stopover in Europe.

‘Riek’ Uittenbogaard (1913-2004)

A collection of private items, business related items, photos and documentation that belonged to a teacher who later became the director at the school for home economics in Waikabubak (Indonesian island Sumba, 1947-1951).Riek was sent by de Zending van de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland onder Heidenen en Mohamedanen (the Mission of Reformed Churches in the Netherlands amongst Pagans and Muslims).

Bob & Karen Coster-Unfried (1939-2007)

Private items and documentation that belonged to Karen Coster-Unfried who worked as a teacher for the Colegio Americano de Guatemala (1960-1961). Later she moved to the Netherlands were she taught at the American School of The Hague (1958-1971).

Darin Attard (2010-2011)

A Maltese, who came to the Netherlands in 2010 as a supporting spouse. During his one year stay in the Netherlands he worked for the Expatriate Archive Centre as a volunteer.

If you are of have been an expat, we would love to hear your stories and experiences too. You can enrich our archive by donating your personal letters, email exchanges, diaries of any kind, scrap books, tickets, old documents, photo albums and films etc.

Find out more about sharing your story

Categories: Donations

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Book Review: “The Mission of Detective Mike Moving Abroad”

February 2nd 2012

In the expatriates’ on-the-move life, people often have to deal with all sorts of distressful situations concerning logistical and economic aspects or emotional issues. When children are involved, it might be quite difficult to help them accept a new international assignment as they have a different perception than adults. They sometimes find it hard to adapt to international transitions.

This book can be a great tool, not only for parents but also for educators and mobility professionals, for helping children to go though a smooth transition and have all their concerns positively processed.


The authors, Simone and Ana are respectively a psychologist and intercultural coach, and a storyteller. Both of them have been expatriates and have children.

The story is very simple and deals with a young boy, Mike, who will soon be moving abroad with his family because of his father’s work. Acting like a detective in search for clues and with the help of his best friend and his family, Mike will successfully face fears and difficulties arising from expatriation.

This story has different chapters regarding all the small but big issues that might come across a child’s mind when it’s matter of moving abroad, leaving a safe environment for an unknown new place. The book deals with changing a house, town and school, leaving good friends behind, being challenged with a foreign language, loosing track of personal belongings and so on. I think for most expatriates, this is a “Deja’ vu”!

This is a book that has to be read together, parents and children, as it gives the opportunity for the kids to talk about their emotions and personal memories. Furthermore, I have noticed that while reading the story, children get passionate about it and come up with more and more good tips for Detective Mike.

The book seems to be more aimed for school-aged children, whose life has already been influenced by the use of computers, Internet and web-cameras. Small children might need a different approach to the issue of moving abroad.

Authors: Simone T. Costa Eriksson and Ana Serra
Illustrator: Maria Isabel Vaz Guimares (Meri)
First published Great Britain 2010 by Summertime Publishing

Review by Patrizia Bazzoni.

Categories: Library

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