Becoming Visible in A New Place
June 2022 | Written by – Ariel Slaughter
Many internationals that arrive in Brabant from abroad do so because they are pursuing new employment opportunities. And in many cases, the contracted employee doesn’t arrive alone. To thrive, the whole family needs to put down new roots. For children, that can mean starting school and making friends, but for trailing spouses that often entails restarting their careers. This is easier said than done when your personal and professional networks are far away. Becoming visible in a new community is the exact challenge Nazanin Shafiee, Business Development Manager at SMART Photonics, faced after arriving in Eindhoven.
An Inauspicious Start
Nazanin has a background in engineering and high-tech manufacturing, which given the particular ecosystem of Eindhoven, seems to lend itself well to finding a job. But that was not the case. “I came here and started to look around for a job that would be a good fit with my background. I remember one of the first jobs I applied for. I got a call back pretty quickly and within a couple of days.” Unfortunately, that call turned out to be a rejection, which dampened any enthusiasm to continue looking. “I was told I needed to speak Dutch for that position. That surprised me. But that was disappointing enough for me that I said, ‘you know, I’m not going to bother to look for any jobs until I learn how to speak this language.’”
It was around this time that Nazanin found a card for the Expat Spouses Initiative (ESI) in the Holland Expat Center South. ESI is a non-profit organization that connects internationals, especially spouses of internationals, with local professional opportunities and helps to accelerate their entry into the Dutch labor market in a community-driven way.
Finding Strength through Community
After the initial contact, Nazanin applied to be a Talent for the Women for Women program (WfW). This program pairs local influential women, or Ambassadors, who invest their time and open their networks, to mentor international professional women called Talents, during a three-month process designed to prepare them for the labor market. “I can’t say enough wonderful things about the ESI group and the impact they had on me. It is a fantastic group of people to know because of the instant support you get access to. I also literally got my job because of my connection to this group. Even though it’s not a network that is supposed to find jobs for you, it was through the interactions [that I became aware of the position].”
The program goes beyond mere job preparation. It helps the Talents and Ambassadors form relationships and friendships amongst themselves but it also becomes an essential stepping stone to help the Talents forge connections within their community. This brings them closer to feeling at home and settling in in the region. Programs like Women for Women remind and empower trailing spouses that they are their own person, independent of their spouse and the opportunity that brought them to the Netherlands.
“More than all the possible ways the ESI team and the ambassadors add value, the fact that they make it feasible for you to be around a nurturing, supportive, and giving group of women makes it a priceless experience. They put the spotlight on you. They make you feel strong and confident. All of a sudden you have a group of people who you could relate with and they give you the kind of emotional support that is invaluable.”
– Nazanin Shafiee, DBM at SMART Photonics
Lending a Helping Hand
Throughout her career and most recently with ESI, Nazanin has received support and encouragement from many others and she tries to do the same. “I know that I’ve been lucky and privileged to have had so many incredible people around me. For so long, I’ve had many people guiding me, mentoring me, and pushing me in the right direction. I wouldn’t be here had it not been for all the advice I got. As much as I still seek advice from those wiser, I feel like I am in a place where I could also pay it forward.” When she hears that someone needs help, she offers it freely.
“I know, for me, most often I have reached out and said: ‘Here’s what I’d like. Can you help me out?’ I try to reverse that if and when possible. I don’t want people not to get help they need because they are not comfortable asking for it. So, I try to reach out to make sure that I can bridge that gap for them.”
Some people would call Nazanin a networker who’s active in the international community, but she doesn’t see herself that way. “I do enjoy getting to know people, learning about what they do, where they’re coming from, what their story is, and where they’re going. I enjoy the connection. And I’m curious about people. I’m also curious if I have an opportunity to help or support someone.”
Nazanin was able to transform her situation and find meaningful work just by reaching out to the right organization. They gave her greater visibility within an active network that knew what she was looking for and wanted to help her achieve her goal. Nazanin’s advice for those on a similar journey:
ASK FOR HELP
Many people find it difficult to ask for the help they need. They don’t want others to know that they’re struggling, but we all need assistance sometimes. Reaching out to organizations like ESI, is a great resource to achieve your ambitions. Her advice for expats is:
“Get in touch with ESI as soon as you come in, because the kind of support you end up being able to receive is in so many different levels and directions. It’s not just career, daycare or housing. It’s not just emotional support. It’s support in many different ways. You just need to ask for help and there would be ten people jumping to help you out.”
Nazanin takes this one step further, and recommends that corporations include ESI as part of their employment offer for accompanying partners: “And to be honest, I would have much rather have not have been offered a package from the hiring company to receive help by an agent (or realtor) for housing search. Perhaps I had a particularly poor experience on that front. But I would have much rather had an introduction to ESI. I would definitely request all companies make this one of the resources that they share with people that they’re hiring.”
TALK IT OUT
“Talk to as many people as possible. The more people you talk to, the more you realize what it is you’re looking for, and what is possible. Don’t be shy to use people as a sounding board. You learn more about yourself and in the process, you create a connection.”
SIMPLIFY YOUR NEED
“Sometimes it’s difficult for people to help. So, make it easier for them. Make it easy for people to help you by having a simple request, by having a simple message and also figuring out how someone can help you.” For example, instead of saying, “I’m looking for a job” share what your ideal position would be. Simple, direct requests are easier to handle than complicated, abstract ones.
If you would like to learn more about Nazanin and the work she does, you’re in luck! She will be a keynote speaker during the Fe+male Tech Heroes Conference 2022 on June 14 at the High Tech Campus Eindhoven during Dutch Technology Festival. (Since writing this article, registration to attend the conference has closed. You can still register to receive a recording of the event later.)
In the meantime, reenergize your career prospects with the programs and workshops available at the Expat Spouses Initiative. They have guided hundreds of professionals from different educational backgrounds to find success in Eindhoven. Don’t just take my word for it! Read the other success stories from internationals in the Tips, Trips, and Stories from our Community section and here.
A natural storyteller and aficionado of the written word, Ariel Slaughter works as a freelance writer and editor. She has a dual Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Rhetoric and Japanese Literature and Language from the University of Pittsburgh as well as a Master’s of Arts in International Relations from the International University of Japan.
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