Returning to Amsterdam after a year abroad

amsterdam studio

Shipping container complex – Stavangerweg, Amsterdam. Picture Source: dekey.nl

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.
flipitDue 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.

Oranjekerk - our new offices in Amsterdam

Oranjekerk – our new offices in Amsterdam


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

 

 

Your Future Career: Describing Leadership Qualities Gained from Education Abroad

Businesswoman over flags background

Higher education has become increasingly about career paths and landing a flashy job. While I don’t always agree that this is the primary goal of education (I think it is to practice the life skill of learning and reflecting), we all do need a job. Hopefully, we want a career that is fulfilling and allows for us to be a catalyst of positive change in this world. Students who have been abroad for study, volunteer, internship, teaching or some other endeavor, have a much better understanding of the impact that can be made on the world and how important it is to reflect on the skills that were gained as a direct result of going abroad.

The challenge is how to step away from the ubiquitous buzzwords we hear every day when we talk about education abroad and to dig much deeper than that. Today, I’m going to offer up some tasty ideas about how to link your experiences abroad with something much powerful to a potential employer than what we often hear – “it was transformational.”

I recently came across “4 C’s of Leadership,” in describing the mission of Columbia College in South Carolina. These four Cs intrigued me because they are critical to leadership (and therefore a meaningful career), but they are also the skills that often emerge for those who have gone abroad – whether they be realized after days, months or even years of reflection on the overseas jaunt. However, the C words are typically not what a study abroad alumni communicates upon returning home.

Allow me to link these 4C career boosting leadership qualities to adjectives that are often shared by sojourners:

  • Courage: “Though often associated with fearlessness, courage is more of a willingness to take action despite fear.” Let’s face it, it takes guts to leave your country, campus and identity for a period of time to step out of your comfort zone. Going home during spring break and partying with friends and sleeping in is the easy path. Those who go abroad do exhibit courage, which they often illustrate by sharing how “life changing” it was when they return home. Like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, education abroad morphs us from being a tad fearful to courageous – and this indeed is life changing. Using the language of courage is much more specific and tangible in an interview than that overused and non-specific “life changing.”
  • Commitment: From the values standpoint, Columbia College uses the word commitment to “describe the process of exploring communities, examining their values and goals, and choosing from among them.” As a future leader, one needs to be able to open the mind and heart to exploration of ideas, values and goals. This requires patience and an understanding of how decisions ultimately impact not only constituents and clients, but the greater world. When returning from abroad, students are often encouraged to claim the magical badge of global citizenship. (Global citizenship is not possible after a short study abroad experience, but it can put you on the lifelong quest of global citizenship –which I explained in this piece in more detail.) For the purposes of connecting the dots today, I believe that the use of the word “commitment” is much more illustrative of what we too often claim to be global citizenship. Instead, we can express that we are committed to the process of exploration, examination of values and pursuit of goals that contribute to a greater world for everyone.” This too offers more clarity than dropping the lofty “I’m a global citizen now” claim to a prospective employer.
  • Confidence: I’ll veer away from Columbia College for a moment and focus on this simple definition instead: Confidence is a trust in your own abilities. Interestingly, increased self -confidence is a term that is often expressed by those coming home. That is pretty straight forward. However, sojourners also typically express their confidence by stating that they are now more “flexible.” Time abroad does create daily opportunity after opportunity to embrace flexibility. When you have finally mastered the tube in London, you will inevitably experience a tube strike. You have to figure some other mode of transportation out, even if it means that you have to pull out a map and walk a few miles to your flat or try a bus you never planned on stepping on. Those humbling experiences, when you are forced to be flexible and quickly realize that you CAN work through those little challenges, can and do build confidence. So when tempted to describe how flexible you are, instead also relate it to your level of confidence. This is something all employers are seeking, particularly in those who are “green” to the full time employment scene.
  • Competent: Let’s return the Columbia College mission. It describes competence as “the ability to identify and pursue specific opportunities for change, to plan and implement specific actions.” This series of skills are often described by returned students as “productivity” – or achieving results. For example, a student who has returned from an internship abroad may tell you that s/he was very productive abroad, but could instead be telling you (and those s/he is interviewing with) that time abroad enhanced his/her competency instead. Productive sounds like a skill for the worker bee, competency sounds like the skillset of a future leader. Competency also offers the ability to explain areas of competence such as enhanced cross-cultural skills, improved language skills, awareness of accounting practices used abroad in an internship, different methods of academic research, improved understanding of power dynamics and so much more.

What other over used terms are you hearing out there in the study abroad sphere? How else can you see linking these terms with employer friendly language?

 

 

About the Author:

Melissa Gluckmann, contributor to the Studyabroad101 Blog and founder of Melibee GlobalMissy Gluckmann is the Founder of Melibee Global, which aims to elevate the discussion about education abroad, culture, diversity and the lifelong path to global citizenship by offering trailblazing tools, speakers and professional development for the global education and travel communities. Raised in New York, Missy has lived abroad three times and traveled to dozens of countries. Missy currently resides in North Carolina and experiences culture shock there on a daily basis! She can be followed on Facebook and Twitter.

Wellness Wednesday: Can a Semester Abroad Change your Career Path?

Rome SunThis Wellness Wednesday post comes from our expert on expat emotional health, Melissa Doman, M.A., LGPC, NCC.  In this post Melissa questions how a study abroad experience can change your career path.

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