Building a Career in Brabant one Piece at a Time
July 2022 | Written by – Ariel Slaughter
Every month the ‘We are Not Alone’ Newsletter (WANA) delivers a fountain of helpful resources and information to the inboxes of thousands of internationals and Dutch alike living in Brabant. The newsletter is produced by the collaborative efforts of a diverse team of internationals within the Holland Expat Center South (HECS) and the Expat Spouses Initiative (ESI), including Olivia van den Broek-Neri, Project Coordinator of Communications and Events at the HECS in Eindhoven. If you have ever been to one of their events, then you likely know or have met Olivia already. But do you know her story?
In a Nutshell
Olivia is a Californian native who moved to the Netherlands after meeting and marrying her Dutch husband abroad 15 years ago. She has a degree in journalism, a minor in creative writing, and is an experienced copywriter. Before diving deeper into her journey, she added a disclaimer provide a bit of context:
“When I moved to Eindhoven there was no Expat Center, there was no Expat Spouses Initiative, there was not a lot of things yet[…] There wasn’t a place to ask questions. There were events going on and I did find out about some of those, but it was nothing like what it is now. I found it very difficult to find my way, and through my work hope to make it easier for others.”
Building a Writing Career
Although there was a lack of services and information to help internationals at that time, Olivia was undeterred. “I was always raised to follow your passion. My parents always told me to do what I enjoy doing and the money and job will come.” So that’s what she did. “When I first moved here, I didn’t have much to do, but knew that I wanted to write. I googled and came upon ACCESS magazine from Access organization.” As luck would have it, Access was looking for writers, so Olivia began writing for their magazine and even created one of their informational booklets about bicycling in the Netherlands. Even now, Olivia continues to write for ACCESS magazine.
She also sent in an open solicitation to the Expat Guide Holland by Brainport Eindhoven after moving to the region. In her solicitation, she asked if they were looking for writers. “And they said, ‘We’re actually looking for someone to write for a column about what it’s like to be an international living in Eindhoven” which was a perfect fit. This became a monthly column on their website. And just as Olivia predicted, the job eventually came.
“And then came word that an Expat Center was going to be opening in Eindhoven and she was told: ‘You know, pretty soon there’s going to be an Expat Center that’s opening up it. Maybe it’s something interesting for you,’ So, the seed was planted…. […] Then they told me: ‘Well, the person who’s starting up the Expat Center here, he wants to talk to you about your column because he wants to continue that.” And then it turned out that they wanted to talk with me about a job for communications and events. And I didn’t have much experience in events!”
Despite not having much experience in events, the interview went well because the job entailed many tasks, like information booklets and website management, that Olivia had already done successfully for other organizations.
Holland Expat Center South
The Holland Expat Center South is one of eleven expat centers in the Netherlands. It is a one-stop shop where highly-skilled migrants, scientific researchers and their family members can arrange their formalities, such as getting a BSN and residence permit. It is a nonprofit, governmental agency that also provides information, and organizes a variety of social and informative events designed to help make the lives of expats easier in Brabant.
Olivia is one of the longest standing employees at the HECS having worked there for eleven years, almost since the Center’s inception in 2010. When you hear her talk about her work at the HECS, it’s clear that she and her colleagues are very passionate about what they do. Her favorite part about working there has been meeting and helping other internationals settle into the region.
“Hearing from the people themselves, saying that my colleagues and I helped them out in some way [has been my favorite part of my job].”
The idea for the WANA newsletter came about during pandemic while Olivia was working on the Corona Portal for Brabant with other organizations including Brainport and Expat Spouses Initiative. At that time, there was a clear need to keep people informed about the everchanging regulations and to boost spirits. It later evolved into sharing news, organizations, and information about Brabant to let the community know that there are lots of resources available for them. “There are so many cool events going on and so many organizations that the international community should know about. We want to bring this all to light in the newsletter.” The newsletter just like all of the services at the HECS is about helping the community, so “whenever [someone has] a suggestion, an idea on how we can do something, please contact us, because that’s why we do what we do. We’re here to help internationals settle into Brabant!”
You can subscribe and read past editions of the newsletter here.
As a resident and an international deeply involved in the community, Olivia naturally has a lot of recommendations to help others feel at home in the region:
Get Out There
“And I know that it can be very difficult for people […] But once you start meeting people, it becomes easier. It’s a small community here. And so, once you meet people, if it’s through ESI, if it’s through the Expat Center, you’ll probably know people everywhere you go, if it’s something to do with the international community because people are so connected here.”
The next piece of advice is perennial, as many individuals from the Voice of Brabant blog have mentioned it.
“Take some Dutch lessons. There’s a lot of different opportunities for that. And you know, your neighbors will also appreciate that you make the effort. If you make mistakes speaking Dutch, it’s okay.” Knowing the local language, will increase not only one’s chances of finding a job, but also integrating into Dutch society. The HECS (of course!) has a list of resources to help point you in the right direction.
Follow the Holland Expat Center South
Olivia asks everyone to help spread the word about Holland Expat Center South. “Let other people know what great things going on in the region and collaborate with us to help internationals feel at home in Brabant.” So be sure to share the newsletter, follow the HECS on LinkedIn and their other social medias channels.
While the HECS provides many great resources for all kinds of information internationals need to know about living in Brabant like taxes, housing, and language courses, the Expat Spouses Initiative is an organization with proven success in relaunching careers. They are accepting applications for the second edition of ESI’s Talent100 program starting in September 2022. Talent100 is an intensive three-month career acceleration program designed to build a Talent’s network and introduce them to companies in the region. Interested? To learn more about the program and register, go here.
Success stories from the first edition of Talent100 are coming soon, but there are plenty of other interesting stories to read in the Tips, Trips, and Stories from our Community section and here.
Please feel free to ask questions, make remarks, or suggest other sources.