At Home in Leiden: Magdalena Palma

| Municipality of Leiden

Magdalena Palma: 'I take a piece of Leiden back with me to Chile' 

The story for every international in Leiden is different. For the spontaneous Magdalena Palma her story begins in the Chilean capital Santiago.  'At the end of 2019, my partner and I started preparing for our temporary move to the Netherlands'.

'As my partner was going to work at Leiden University, we were looking for a house in the city for ourselves and our newborn daughter. Whilst looking at the map of Leiden, I had one big wish: to find a place inside "the star".' It was a wish that came true. The family enjoyed four wonderful years in the Sleutelstad. 

In Chile Magdalena, worked as a "periodista" (journalist) for the Ministry of Energy. Magdalena knew from the moment she met her husband that he wanted to do a PhD in Europe as a lawyer. 'After three job applications, the universities of Heidelberg and Leiden remained. This was an exciting time and after deciding on Leiden, he was eventually able to join Professor Wim Voermans here in the city.'  


The move was made to the Netherlands in 2020; however, it included many bumps for the Chilean family. 'We found a wonderfully suitable/perfect house on the internet on a beautiful canal, called the Zuidsingel. I was so happy that it wasn't a house that had an enormously steep staircase which I had often seen on housing websites. I did not want to have to think about that with a little baby.'

Magdalena's husband flew ahead to the Netherlands and then on 20 March she and her little daughter were due to follow him and catch a plane to the Low Countries. 'However, of course, that was no longer possible due to the global corona measures. My husband slept in our Leiden home for three days before it became clear to us that the only way to be together during the pandemic was for him to return to Chile. He only just got out of the Netherlands.'   

It wasn’t until June that the young family could leave together for Leiden. 'That flight was a bizarre experience said Magdalena. I think we were on the first plane allowed to leave Chile for Europe again, and it was so full that the plane was almost too heavy to fly.'   

Finally, the family arrived in Leiden in the middle of a heatwave and without any luggage. 'That only came days later. I remember it well, sitting in our sweaty dirty winter clothes, in a self-imposed quarantine. All I could think then was: "I can't get sick, ... I can't get sick ... because then I'll be here alone without my family. And then who will take care of my baby?" I didn't feel safe enough to be sick.'   

Fortunately, she quickly got to know people. 'I can only advise others in a similar situation: to get outside and meet people. When you have children that goes without saying, but with a dog, for example, this can also help you to get out and meet others. In our first summer in the Netherlands, I met many people on the street and in the park.' This young family also quickly made contacts in their neighborhood. Magdalena said 'There are such nice people here. Everyone says hello to each other!'   

A special memory for her was her daughter's first birthday in July 2020. 'We celebrated her birthday together with the family of a colleague of my husband, in the Plantsoen. We made it into a party and my mother-in-law from Spain was even able to attend. These kinds of memories make Leiden very special to me.'   


Magdalena did her best to integrate into Leiden. 'I took an A1 beginners course in Dutch, but when you know you won't be staying in a country forever, you aren’t always motivated enough to put a lot of effort in. However, I really studied hard, mainly because I wanted to be able to talk to my daughter in Dutch, but to "survive" I didn't have to.'   

Furthermore, she learned to ride a Dutch bike properly. 'I wanted to feel safe in traffic first before putting my daughter in a seat. It took me a few months to get there.' 


Due to information the information found on the website of Leiden International Centre, she read about an English-language course called "Masterclass in Leiden Studies" given by Bureau Blaauwberg to commerate their 25th anniversary. 'There I got talking to people and got the chance to write down the life stories of Leiden internationals in a book for them. I was able to do that, and I really enjoyed it. I am really lucky!'   


She encourages other internationals especially to seek contact with other people from Leiden. 'By going out and about talking to people I found out, for example, that there is a WhatsApp group for Spanish-speaking women in Leiden with over two hundred participants. I got a lot of my contacts from that group. There are also Facebook groups where you can meet other people or go to the library, there are many activities to get involved in there. Be active and participate. Leiden is a city full of activities!'   


Magdalena did not experience any real culture shock. She did, however, remember being surprised by the number of fathers she saw, alone in the park with their children. 'While the older children were playing, they were giving their littlest ones the bottle. Amazing! That is not so common in my culture yet.'   

 A less positive experience she had was, for example, calling the family doctor. 'If you don't understand anything in the recorded message, you also then don't know which number to dial in the menu. As a young mother, that can be quite stressful.' Magdalena also learned to cycle in the rain. (Smiling she says): 'Only when it's windy do I leave the bike at home. In Leiden, I have learned to enjoy the weather.'   



Magdalena also enjoys the clean air and the lack of massive traffic jams in Leiden. 'In Santiago, there is a lot of dirty air and a lot more noise. The silence in Leiden is a gift. Add to this the fact that you can cycle everywhere quickly, to school or friends, and that makes living here relaxing. Leiden is a pleasant, safe city. Overall, it is a city full of nice, happy people, where even the older people don't have wrinkles.'   

'I love it here! I am really spoiled in Leiden: everything is close by; everything works well, and the city is safe. I'm going to try to take a bit of Leiden back with me to Chile!'   

In mid-March 2024, Magdalena Palma flew back to Chile because her time in the Netherlands was over, and she thinks back fondly on her wonderful years in Leiden.