The inburgeren process could seem daunting at least, if not entirely vexing. What is certain is that most of us have mixed feelings about it. The inburgeren process or integration process is something that incomers to The Netherlands who want permanent residence or citizenship need to do. There are several permutations and combinations in terms of who, when, where, why and how much. What we would like to share with you, is an honest, first-hand experience of a fellow Amsterdam Mama’s journey as she navigates the inburgeren space.

My inburgeren process has been spread out over many many months because of how agonising it’s been trying to squeeze in preparation time for my exams in an already chaotic life with a toddler and a pre-schooler.

1, 2, 3, 4, 5…

There are five inburgeringsexamen. The reading (lezen), writing (schrijven), listening (luisteren), Knowledge of Dutch Society (KNM) and for the unemployed or non-employed, we get the cherry on top, the Knowledge of Dutch Labour Market (ONA). If you’ve been working full-time for at least six months you get an exemption.

The first three exams were easy enough and I completed them all within a week because I’d already completed a higher level Dutch language course than is required for inburgeren which is A2. The KNM exam took me a bit longer because there were some things that I embarrassingly still didn’t know about the Netherlands. I hope I’m not the only one who didn’t know what ‘passief kiesrecht’ was. Other questions were pretty easy such as ‘what does a makelaar do?’ Some were quietly amusing such as ‘what do you do when your classmate proclaims that women cannot be leaders?’ Anyway, I eventually got done with that one too in a reasonable amount of time.

Then there was the ONA. It’s not so bad if you’ve worked in the recent past but for someone like me who has been out of the job market for five years and has barely any work experience (yes, life took me in a different direction when I got pregnant in college) it can take an awfully long amount of time. Or maybe it’s just me. But I realised what was taking me so long was flexing those long deadened muscles that required quite some time to be reactivated.

Knowledge of Dutch Labour Market or ONA

The ONA entails completing a ‘portfolio’ which checks your knowledge about navigating the Dutch labour market. This includes forms covering your job experience, your qualities as an employee, your ability to build a network, your ability to look for a job or a course/degree in the Netherlands and so on. I was stuck from the get go. The first question had me questioning all my life choices: ‘choose one desired profession out of three favoured professions’. I haven’t had any profession besides being a mother and the endless odd jobs that come with that title. And I had to come up with honest answers because there is an interview once you’ve cleared the portfolio where they check to see if you’ve really filled in the information by yourself, so I couldn’t just wing it.

Even as I was reeling with the drudgery of having to fill this document with information that I had to keep going back and forth to make sure was suitable, it dawned on me that this was a chance to get back into the mindset that I would desperately need if I was ever going to go back to work. It forced me to deal with the inevitable future where my kids would not need me so much anymore. It gave me the push to make a plan for entering the labour market again, when I really didn’t want to have to think about it. And for that I’m grateful. I didn’t expect that it would be the inburgeren process that would get me there.

Rameen Bilal

Rameen Bilal is an Amsterdam Mamas Newsletter Editor and a stay-at-home-mama to a toddler and a 5 year old. When not stuck in an endless loop of entertaining and feeding the kids, she can be found reading, writing and drinking dangerously high amounts of coffee.