Local Expat in the Spotlight – Petra Benach tells us how art and Amsterdam feed the soul.

Thanks Petra for taking the time to do our Q&A and giving us your great insight into Amsterdam living.

1. Where do you live now, and where did you move from?

  • In 2011 my husband, Dave, and I moved from Oakland, California to Amsterdam. We lived right by the Heineken Experience for just over a year before buying our apartment right by Westerpark.


In Westerpark, for “Sunday Sessions” shot by Robert W Mason –


2. What do you miss most from home?

  • I miss my family a ton, but Skype makes it a bit easier between visits. They all live just north of San Francisco, in Petaluma. The second runner up is authentic Mexican food – which I eat as often as I can when I am back.


3. How did you make new friends in your new home?

  • I met a lot of new friends through networking. I spent a year or so going to as many networking events as I could and met some great people.

Networking with Stephanie Ward.jpg

Networking at AABC, photo with/by Stephanie Ward (


4. What do you appreciate the most in your adopted country?

  • The pace of life here in Amsterdam is really balanced, even for a larger city. It seems like there is a better work/life balance here than in the states. It took me a while to unwind from the hectic pace of life I had in California and now I have a much better understanding of the stress that can happen when you live in such a fast competitive environment.


5.  What is your favourite restaurant here? Favourite expat bar?

  • It’s hard to pick just one favorite restaurant – I’ve recently been hooked on Bella Storia – they do great Italian right around the corner from us. As for bar life, Check Point Charlie is one of my favorites, followed by Sound Garden – they both have mixed crowds and really great atmospheres.

Dave at Check Point Charlie.jpg

Here I am on my birthday loving the London Police ( murals all over the outside of Checkpoint Charlie – photo by Dave Benach.


6. Have you started learning the language? Any tips on the best way to do it?

  • After being here for five years I have a pretty basic grip on Dutch. Because my husband is half Dutch, my immigration was processed based on his Dutch citizenship, which meant that the government paid for my Dutch classes. That gave me a great start on the language – there’s some great teachers out there that do intensive workshops, which is the best way to tackle the language. I recommend trying to use what you do know daily, and when the Dutch reply back to you in English, just keep on speaking Dutch.


7. Favourite place in the world?

  • Right now, my favorite place in the world is my parents backyard in the summer time. They have a pool and a million books to read. Last time I was home for a visit it was just wonderful to be able to sit there on a quiet afternoon and just hang out.

Dad in the backyard in Petaluma.JPG

Sitting in the back yard in Petaluma with my dad.


8. How often do you go back to your hometown?

  • I try to go back twice a year – mostly because the nieces and nephews change so much, it’s great to try to catch up. Next year my brother and his family are coming to Europe for a visit, so I’ll skip my summer trip – that will be my longest time away from California, it should be interesting.

9. Do you obviously stand out as being foreign? What’s your experience with this?

  • Petra is a familiar name over here in the Netherlands, so I think people usually think that I am Dutch. It’s when I start speaking Dutch that they know I am from the states – apparently I have an english accent when I am speaking Dutch.


10. What were the biggest challenges you faced when you moved?

  • Culture shock was a huge challenge for the first year I was here. Coming from California, I was used to people being polite to strangers and my first few encounters with strangers in Amsterdam were a bit negative. It took me time to understand the “frankness” of the Dutch people and appreciate their candid way of communicating.


11. And the nicest surprises?

  • One of the nicest surprises was discovering how valued art is here. Unlike the states a career in the arts is fully supported in society as well as sponsored by the government. There is a rich artistic culture here that provides a lot of opportunity to artists.


Working in my studio at Broedplaats ACTA, shot by Alan Nguyen (


12. Any tips for beating home sickness?

  • Set up regular times to Skype or Facetime with home. I made sure to set up my parents with a camera and taught them how to use Skype so that we can at least see each other on a more regular basis. It can be challenging to set aside a regular time with a busy life, but it’s really worth it, even if it’s just for five minutes.


13. How do you occupy your time? Do you have a job?

  • I have set up an arts consultancy business here called exposingARTS and also sell my own paintings online. I still do a bit of accounting consulting in California remotely, which keeps both sides of my brain



Here’s me right before my talk for Creative Mornings at Zoku last week, photo by Silvia Falcomer Photography (


14. How do you spend your free time (in your adopted place)?

  • Westerpark has the largest leash free area for dogs in Amsterdam, so I am there a lot with our dog Stella. I also love scheduling big chunks of time to do nothing but putter around the house… our apartment is a lovely place to hang out, watch movies, sew and just unwind.


15. Is this it for you? Or is there a new destination?

  • For now, yes, yes it is. We thought we would only be here for a couple years, but there’s a lot more we both want to do here.


16. And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to someone considering moving to where you live, what would it be?

  • Start networking before you leave so you can hit the ground running, the more you get out there and meet people the faster you’ll find people to connect with, which is what makes a great foundation for home. Even if you’re here just a short period of time, the connections you make can last a lifetime.

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