Challenges of Expats – Interview of the month November

Every month, I take interviews, revealing great expat stories and advise. Whether you are an expat or thinking to become one, you can enjoy these stories. Some of you might relate and some may find interesting advise. Arriving in a new country is such a change, and how to feel ‘’at Home’’ can be a challenge.  Do expats integrate easily?

Let me introduce you to Claudia, the Austrian girl, living in the Netherlands. Enjoy her true story 

Interview with Claudia

From Innsbruck (Austria) to the Netherlands…

Who is Claudia?  

’I am 33 years old, engaged and have no kids. I consider myself atypical Austrian because I prefer water to mountains, heat to cold, and fish to meat. My hobbies are travelling, psychology and philosophy, as well as Zumba and wave surfing.

During my business administration studies I spent 1 year in Seville, Spain, and also took a 1-month train trip through Europe. After Spain I went to Delhi (India) for a 2-months internship at the Austrian Trade Commission. I just knew that I love to work abroad.

When did you move and why the choice of the Netherlands?

‘’ My professional background is in B2B Marketing and Business Development. I worked 6 years for the international lighting company Zumtobel in Austria, thereof 2.5 years in Guangzhou (China) including a project in Dubai and Mumbai and 2 years in Singapore. After 6 years I was ready to step into a new industry, and just in time I got a convincing job offer in the Netherlands to join UNStudio, an international architectural office as strategic business developer. In March 2013 I moved from Singapore to Amsterdam and enjoyed working in the architectural industry for 2 years. Mid-2015 I steered my career into a new direction to get trained as professional life coach and launch my own company: Coaching by Claudia.

You have gathered a great experience of both East and West culture. The job offer was the first step,  but what other steps are needed before the actual move?

‘’ As European citizen there is fortunately less paperwork compared to moving to Asia. I got my BSN (Burger Service Nummer) and local bank account. A major challenge was to find a nice accommodation, as I wanted to live by myself and affordable studios or small flats are rare. I finally found the perfect flat in Indische Buurt, Amsterdam East. In the first weeks after arrival I started a 10-week Dutch language course which was very useful to become more local, an Inpat.’’

I can relate 100% to your sequence of steps, because each time I moved, I 1st looked for a job, then housing, and then getting to know the neighbourhood, to become more familiar and sort of ‘local’ or inpat.

Absolutely important is indeed the language which also helped me each time to understand the culture better.’’

What was your first impression of the Dutch people and culture?

‘’Working in an international office, I had colleagues from around the world, which I liked a lot. There are cultural similarities between Austria and the Netherlands, so I was familiar with Dutch culture. I had a couple of Dutch friends who I met in China and Singapore. What really surprised me was the direct way of communication.

After 4.5 years living in Asia I learned to adapt myself and understood the importance of “keeping face” in private and professional environments. Most Asians beat about the bush and try to be as polite as possible. Criticisms, curious questions or directness is not part of Chinese or Singaporean culture. That was the opposite in the Netherlands. I remember the moment when I made a proposal at the first team meeting. Within seconds the team lead commented ‘We don’t do it that way’ and that was it. I couldn’t believe it, I felt offended – most probably because I adapted already to Asian sensitivity. A sort of minor reverse culture shock.’’

Did you integrate and adjust smoothly with the Dutchies?

‘’Due to my social and curious personality I found it very easy to make new friends. A successful way were the Internations events. I met a couple of my girlfriends there. I already knew a couple of Dutch friends before and was easily integrated also in local groups of friends. Wherever I live I tend to have both, international and local friends. It’s the most energizing way to learn from each other.’’

What’s your opinion on the living standards compared to Austria?

‘Both countries have strong economies and the cost of living is comparable as well. Therefore, my guess is that the living standards are similar. Nature and sustainability, education as well as high-quality food are important both in the Netherlands and in Austria. Likewise, transportation and cultural offerings are high in both countries. The main difference is that one has more water, and the other more mountains 😉

What was your biggest Challenge moving to the Netherlands?

‘’ The BIGGEST challenge is to not take Dutch directness personal. Although I consider myself open-minded and culturally savvy, I was surprised that in the first weeks I took constructive criticism (Dutch directness) personal. I unconsciously adjusted some of my behaviours and values as a result of living almost 5 years in Asia. ‘’

I think the KEY is to have your type of attitude: open-mindedness. You were able to learn and understand the directness very fast.’

Please tell us your Number ONE TIP when coming to The Netherlands.

TOP tip # 1: Do what the Dutch do. That means: get a bike, go to borrels and explore cities and the countryside.

Top tip #2: Meet locals and insist to speak Dutch (if you really want to learn the language). Most Dutch speak English well, and they like to help – which is convenient but doesn’t support your Dutch language learning. Therefore, give it an extra push and simply say ‘ik spreek graag Nederlands”. Keep repeating it for as long as you get English replies 😉

Thank you very much Claudia!