After researching cities around the world and various study-abroad programs, I found Amsterdam to be the most intriguing in terms of its urban landscape, seemingly progressive social policies, and central location in Europe. It was important that I live in a non-english speaking country but still be able to study in English—which is something Amsterdam would be able to provide.
My year abroad in Amsterdam
I eventually (and quite happily, I may add) landed a spot at the Universiteit van Amsterdam (via the ISEP programme) for the full 2010-2011 academic year. The university set me up with a studio in a unique shipping container complex where I had the freedom, accessibility, and opportunity to take the most of Amsterdam and its people.
I took a range of classes (including Dutch, Financial geography, the sociology of cities, and history of the Lowlands), befriended many internationals as well as Dutch, and was able to easily travel around the rest of the country and other hotspots in Europe.
To say the least, Amsterdam won over my heart that year — for a multitude of reasons. With a population of only around 700,000 – Amsterdam felt like a city of villages where you had the comfort of small scale but also the advantage of its international, cosmopolitan nature.
I also fell in love with the ubiquity of cycling. To live in a place where the majority of people cycle from A to B brought a sense of ease and smoothness to my life, something I’d never felt in other automobile-centric cities. The fact that I could easily reach any corner of the city within 30 minutes – always carrying my own weight and arriving to the next place with energy pumping into my veins—was invaluable.
The Great Return
When I finished my last year at the University of Vermont after my grand ol’ year in Amsterdam, I was determined to return back to Dam (or Dammage, Hamsterdam, Amsterjam – as I like to call it). I luckily have an Irish passport (I am American, but my father is Irish), so securing residency and work permits was not an issue. However, like many recently graduated, finding work became somewhat of a nervous scramble, and was exacerbated by the fact that I was searching for jobs in a foreign country.
With little work experience and professional connections in the Netherlands, I decided that it would be best (albeit risky) to move to the Dam without a job. With good friends I had met from my year exchange I had places to stay and knew people in the local job force who could provide me with ideas and leads.
After a month or two, I finally landed a job with Imbull, a company that runs a handful of websites including Flipit.com, a startup website that is aiming to become the number one couponing powerhouse in the world. Luckily, and rather appropriately for the theme of this article, I discovered the job vacancy from a friend I had met during my exchange year at the University of Amsterdam.
Due to the international nature of the company, Imbull was quite enthusiastic when it came to hiring international staff. They took full advantage of Amsterdam’s cosmopolitan character and I feel a lot of international companies in this city accept and even seek after American or other English speaking degrees. Because of this, Imbull was able to start a global venture without having to outsource much of the work or bring employees over from different countries. They did, however, help a few staff members secure working and residency visas, which is one of the only ways the Netherlands allows people to remain in the country if they don’t have Dutch or EU citizenship.
For my bachelor degree, I studied political science and human geography, so how on earth did I end up at a marketing/tech-oriented company? Young startups are always looking for an energetic, young, and relatively inexpensive labour force who can learn quickly and grow with (and within) the company. Imbull promised to teach me the skills I would need and in return I was the sort of flexible, adaptable, computer-savvy, and low-level employee they needed.
Startups move with haste. Since there is less bureaucracy than larger, more established companies, decisions can be made quickly, and startups can generally do more with fewer resources.
Within the first week of working, I was given the task of content editing and Search Engine Optimisation for the Singaporean version of Flipit, which had just been launched a week before I began working. As I became more comfortable with the content management system and the other tasks I was given, I quickly gained more responsibility and control over the direction that the website would take.
The average age at Imbull is 27, which has been ideal for my first job outside of university since everyone is young, enthusiastic, and well, let’s just say … a little bit nutty. Flipit.com is active in 23 countries so we have quite the international staff, with each employee bringing a new flavour and attitude to our eclectic team. If you were in our office you’d hear the English girl cracking sarcastic jokes to the slightly more sensible but chatty Scandinavians; or you’d notice the slightly obnoxious American (me) speaking broken French to her Dutch-Morroccan-French colleague. Needless to say, it is quite the scene.
Final Words of Advice
As I mentioned earlier, I would not have found this exciting start up if it weren’t for my year exchange! So if you are thinking of going abroad remember: the connections and people you may come across will be invaluable for your future, particularly if you hope to return to where you’ve studied, either to work or to visit.
And don’t forget to branch out while you are abroad – I see many American exchange students stick together with other Americans for the entirety of their exchange. A lot of your programs will be engineered in such a way that you will be living and taking classes with other Americans. It’ll be difficult to step out of this bubble, but it will be worth.
Guest Post –
Eliza Shaw, Flipit.com