We find that it's exciting to know about what motivates our volunteers, what brings them to the Netherlands, how they adapt to life here, and what they’ve learned from their experiences in a country that's become their new home. We've seen many people come and go, but they will always be a part of the ACCESS family. In this interview, Andrew shares some of his memories as a former ACCESS volunteer, the challenges of being a trailing spouse, and some tips for anyone planning to move to the Netherlands.
Where are you originally from?
I am originally from the English Midlands (near the UK’s second largest City, Birmingham).
What brought you to the Netherlands?
My wife is a marketing director for a large international baby food company. She left her role in the UK to join the firm’s Dutch business, which is based on the outskirts of The Hague. Ironically, given the nature of my wife's job, we don't have kids , but we relocated our two cats to be with us!
How long did you live in the Netherlands?
We were in the Netherlands for around three and a half years from July 2010 to November 2013 when again, we moved with my wife's job to live in Dubai, UAE. The cats came too by the way!
What was your role at ACCESS?
Of course I did regular session on the Helpdesk as well as taking part in re-writing and updating the ACCESS Guides. But I also worked on a special project assessing the effectiveness and sustainability of an expat information event, which had been jointly run with the city and the International Community Platform (a committee representing mjor expat employers in The Hague metropolitan region). o I wrote a report after extensive research which, recommended continuation of the event but in a heavily revised form and then I subsequently was the lead in organising the event (ACCESSING The Netherlands – Meet the Experts) with the support of our fantastic CEO and the rest of the ACCESS team! We also started to do ad hoc information sessions for the newly arrived employees and their families for large firms employing expats locally as well as some firms that were relocating to or setting up in The Hague with a large expat team.
What was your favourite part about being an ACCESS volunteer?
Working for ACCESS as a volunteer was instrumental in getting me to turn my life in The Hague around from a position where I felt pretty isolated and lonely as the “trailing spouse” to an expat employee: to a situation where my network and consequently my confidence grew exponentially in a very short space of time! I made many friends with whom I hope to stay in touch for many years to come wherever I am in the world. It also taught me valuable lessons about giving something without the expectation anything in return only to find that subsequent rewards that come might way exceed the contribution provided that you are positive and have an open mind. There are lots of people out there having similar issues (or who have previously experienced similar issues). If you are open to it lots of people are willing to help. ACCESS was like a family to me.
Was it easy making friends and meeting people in the Netherlands?
You need to work hard at making friends especially if you don’t have kids at school (school can provide a great opening for parents to make friends with other parents)!
But ACCESS and other organisations can provide great vehicles for extending your social network! ACCESS and Toastmaster International certainly were instrumental in building my network, but whilst Dutch people can be a little reserved in sharing friendships I found that the positive attitude that I got from ACCESS meant that I made friends with Dutch people in my neighbourhood too just by going to the shops and bars, and being positive and friendly.
What is your educational and professional background?
I am a law graduate and I also have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) qualification, as well as having qualifications in executive coaching and careers coaching. I spent many years in executive recruitment but moved into training and leadership development after completing my MBA in 2010.
Do you speak Dutch and do you think it's important to speak the language?
No, I regrettably do not. But I would advise anyone wanting to spend any reasonable amount of time in the Netherlands to do so. It might not be easy to learn and the widespread ability of most locals to speak English can nullify the requirement somewhat, but it is really limiting if you want to work in the country. Even multinationals will choose a multilingual Dutch speaker over a native English speaker with similar experience. Who can blame them?
What are your favourite Dutch words and phrases?
Uitsmijter, kaas and bitterballen! Yum yum!
What are your top 3 tips for anyone planning to move to the Netherlands?
- Learn the language.
- Join groups that will expand your social and professional network (like ACCESS).
- Be open to new ideas for your career etc. People can reinvent themselves when abroad and the Dutch have an entrepreneurial culture, which can be inspirational!