Five years ago today, I was standing at the New Year’s reception of the Dutch-German chamber of commerce in the Hague (DNHK). This was where I’d be working as an intern for the public relations department for the next couple of months. Nervously engaging in some small talk with the other new interns, I was highly concerned how I’d manage to eat my oliebol (a traditional Dutch pastry that you eat for New Year’s) without getting the powdered sugar all over my carefully chosen and ironed outfit. Making a good impression was a huge deal for me, hoping this would be the first step of a hopefully successful career.
I always have a plan. Being planless makes me nervous, and I rather have a plan that might change than not having one at all. When my thesis got accepted in the summer of 2010, my master’s degree came within reach: I’d graduate in November 2010. I had spent most of the thesis writing period in the Netherlands. Next to being more efficient than at home as I hardly knew anyone who could distract me, I made use of those months to decide whether I could see myself moving here. Turned out I could. Still, taking that step would be a scary one for me. I really didn’t want to become the girl who fell in love with a Dutch guy, moved to Holland with a freshly printed University degree in the pocket and all of her parents’ hopes and dreams on her shoulders and ended up waiting tables for years because no Dutch company was waiting to hire a Swiss girl who had studied literature and linguistics and hadn’t mastered the language yet.
So what did I do? Of course: make sure I had a plan. You can’t plan in June to have a job in January (especially not if you want to travel through Peru for a month before that), but you can plan to have an internship waiting for you. Lucky me, Switzerland in those days then still taking part in the Leonardo da Vinci scholarship programme. Like the Erasmus programme, it’s meant to stimulate the exchange of young academics within the European Union. You can make use of it after you graduate, to gain work experience abroad in a field relevant to your University degree. The support you get depends on the country you come from. As a Swiss participant, I got the trip to Holland paid, as well as a contribution to a language course and a monthly allowance. Together with a small fee from the chamber and the support of my parents, this made sure I’d be able to cover my expenses of the first months in the Netherlands.
Starting my life in Holland as an intern rather than as a job-seeker gave me the peace of mind I needed for a good beginning of living abroad and of course of moving in with my then boyfriend. It gave me the time to settle in, make friends, improve my Dutch and all while learning lots at the PR-department and getting more and more confident about my skills. Quite importantly, I also started learning about the job opportunities and ways to apply for a job in Holland. One example: while we still printed and mailed our extensive application documents in Switzerland, the Dutch were already used to doing everything electronically and very short and brief.
As I had uploaded my profile to several job platforms, head hunters started getting in touch with me after a while. Germany is a key market for a lot of Dutch companies. So I even got contacted for jobs I didn’t have any relevant work experience for because I spoke German. Some of them presented themselves as super exciting and challenging once in a lifetime opportunities – and turned out to be a call center job where I’d have to get new customers by cold calling. Quite depressing for a job seeking starter who wanted nothing more than an acceptable first job. And in my case, who wanted to prove that moving to the Netherlands hadn’t been such a bad idea.
The end of my internship was close when I got contacted for an online marketing job I had actually seen online but hadn’t dared applying due to lack of relevant work experience. As my then boyfriend pointed out back then, I was always looking for reasons why they wouldn’t hire me, rather than just focusing on the reasons why they should. Anyway, I went to the job interview and got the job! As I would later find out, no one actually had much experience with online marketing to start with. There was no course of study for it (yet), it was a new and expanding field and if you had a passion for communications and everything online, that was already a great start. It wasn’t the dream job at a dream company (I had a dream-xx everything back then). But it was a challenging first step – and what better moment to tell myself “no guts, no glory”?