An International Team Dedicated to Helping Others
November 2022 | Written by – Ariel Slaughter
The Expat Spouses Initiative (ESI) is a social enterprise born from the personal experience of an accompanying spouse who found it difficult to professionally integrate after moving to the Netherlands. Now the organization is run by a diverse team of internationals, including Andrea Agudelo and Odka Tseren, who make it their mission to help others find their professional career paths, support, and community that will allow them to truly call Brabant home.
New Lives in the Netherlands
Andrea and Odka journey’s share a few similarities such as studying and working abroad before eventually relocating because of their Dutch partners.
Odka’s journey began a long time ago. Originally from Mongolia, she has been living, studying, and working in various European countries like Ireland and Belgium for the last 18 years before settling in Eindhoven. “Since 2014, I came to the Netherlands with my family because I’m married to a Dutch guy.” By comparison, Andrea is relatively new to Dutch life, “I’m from Colombia, and I’ve been living in the country for two and a half years now.” But like her counterpart, living abroad was not a new experience:
“I have studies and experience in different fields and have always worked in communications, community or customer-oriented roles and with international clients. I have lived in three different countries and always felt the need to explore more of the world. I met a Dutch man and we decided to live together in the Netherlands.”
Finding the Expat Spouses Initiative
After arriving, they each reached out to the Expat Spouses Initiative for varying reasons. Odka first discovered ESI from an advertisement for a workshop on Facebook. It was a welcomed find after exploring job opportunities on her own. She said, “I went to that workshop, and it was very interesting that the organization was helping all the spouses or partners who are highly educated but who are lost [due to their] situation.” ESI helped her land a position at Effect Photonics where she worked for a while before joining ESI full-time as a Community Manager, five or six years ago.
Andrea first joined ESI as a volunteer to fulfill the requirement for her Orientation on the Dutch Labour Market (ONA) class, which is part of a series of exams for the integration process known as inburgering. “[My teacher] connected me with different people, one of them was Mays, the HR recruiter from ESI, through LinkedIn….So, in the beginning, it was just for a few months. Then there was the possibility to work for a longer period. I’ve been [working with ESI] already for a year and three months.”
Engaging the ESI Community
Together they both work to welcome, engage, and build the community of ESI while also contributing to separate projects within the organization. In Odka’s words:
“We do that in different ways: for community welcoming, we organize community meetups to welcome the new internationals; and then community engagement, we have different kinds of programs and events. We have career-based programs to accelerate their career to the Dutch labor market. But also, we have been planning some social events to engage the community.”
“We have a big community in the region, so our focus is to keep the community active and we’re trying to add a certain amount of social ingredients to increase their participation and create meaningful connections.”
Where their tasks differ is Andrea also organizes events and does communications for example, the coordination between the Holland Expat Center South and ESI for the We Are Not Alone Newsletter, while Odka does much of the coordination between the program calendars, trainers and some of the partner organizations that ESI works with to support internationals in the region as well as community strategy.
How ESI Adds Value to Brabant
The most rewarding moments of their jobs have been watching people become more confident as they progress through ESI’s career-based programs, like TALENT100. Odka shared:
“…just one program can help them boost their confidence from here to there, because when they come to the community meetup or to a career coaching session, they say, ‘okay, I can’t apply to any job because I don’t know how to talk,’ etc. But by the end of the program, they usually mention that I have applied this and that I had an interview…You see that they‘re basically a different person.”
Another source of great pride has been how the Expat Spouses Initiative has become more and more recognized for the work that they do in the region.
“Over the years, ESI has worked a lot on partnering with companies, the government, and different kinds of organizations to train them on how important it is to support the partners of expats.…these companies kind of got to know the challenges and the problems in this region because there’s a lot of internationals in this region. So, they decided to take steps. And now when we do programs and we partner with companies, they easily say ‘yes’ compared to five or six years ago.” — Odka
Raising awareness of the challenges that spouses face is just one of the ways that ESI adds value to the region. With more than 40% of all research and development in the country happening here and the number of international hires increasing, tapping into the robust skills and backgrounds of local talent is essential not only in terms of improving employee retention but also to close the talent shortage gap. Odka said, “If these companies hire an expat and if their family or spouse is not happy, and then if they move per expat, [companies] lose [money]…That’s why the government has a retention program that tries to keep the spouses engaged, integrated in the Dutch labour market.” Simply put, it’s just good economics to help accompanying spouses find opportunities otherwise employers and the region risk losing time and money.
That being said, what can one do to get settled and feel at home in Brabant? Collectively they had one piece of advice for internationals:
Community! Community! Community!
“ESI should be the first step. They know about these [other] community groups because they are the first support for them and they can [get] more guidance …so as soon as the internationals come here, they have some sort of opportunities and collaborations between organizations to [help] them. Then there will be a point to start and they can decide how to take that first step.”
Of course, finding what different social organizations are available can immediately help one feel more connected to their new home, but the Expat Spouses Initiative is unique in the kind of career support it offers.
“…And then after that, if you are an ambitious person, if you want to work or keep yourself busy professionally, then they should join us.… Our organization basically supports spouses and internationals to integrate…we created a master program, that’s called TALENT100. And joining this program empowers you and accelerates you [towards]…the Dutch labor market.”
This year ESI launched a new hybrid program that combines many of their previous programs and workshops into one. It’s called the TALENT100 program. The program, designed by ESI in collaboration with Huis naar Werk and the LivingIn program of the Holland Expat Center South aims to integrate local international professionals into the local labor market.
During this 12-week intensive program the participants or Talents are assigned to one of three tracks, depending on where they are in their career journeys. They are then guided through a series of workshops from career coaching, personal branding to CV writing to get them market ready before being introduced to potential employers through an organized outreach campaign and networking opportunities, including the TALENT100 LIVE recruitment event.
Whether you have a career gap of one week or several years, TALENT100 has a place for you that can refocus and energize your career, as it and ESI’s other programs have done for countless others like Éva Földesi, Nikol Vetronova, Nazanin Shafiee, and Marta Martínez. Read their stories to find out how the Expat Spouses Initiative guided them toward success or find other stories in the Tips, Trips, and Stories from our Community section.
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