The Art of Designing a Career Abroad
December 2022 | Written by – Ariel Slaughter
Since its inception six years ago, the Expat Spouses Initiative has offered a variety of career programs to help refocus and relaunch the careers of internationals in Brabant. Their tried-and-true methodology has culminated in the collaborative creation of the Talent100 program with Huis Naar Werk and the LivingIn program of the Holland Expat Center South. Yadira Yimmi along with sixty-one other Talents, joined the program’s second edition and has begun the process that will boost her network, skills, and confidence to restart her professional career.
A Chance Encounter in Spain
While many of the Talents we’ve introduced this year have only been living in the Netherlands for a short period of time, Yadira is a bit different.
Yadira is an experienced Colombian heritage-built architect with international experience who met her Dutch partner in Spain while working there. She moved to the Netherlands about nine years ago because of an unexpected invitation. Shortly after meeting in Spain, ‘there was a really big crisis with the economy. And I [became] unemployed. And he asked me, why don’t you come to the Netherlands? And you can maybe find something here and we can spend time together.’” At first the idea seemed risky and, “a little bit scary”, but the more Yadira thought about it, the more intriguing it became. “It was a really big chance. But I had nothing to lose.” For her, it was an opportunity to also take a step back and look for something that she really wanted to do. In the end, it was a chance worth taking—they married three years later.
First Steps in the Dutch Labor Market
Yadira was able to find work in the field of architecture soon after arriving. “I had the opportunity to work with a friend of my husband who had a small architecture office.” At first, it was difficult, because of their language barrier. “I came here with a really basic level of English. But fortunately, I improved my language really quickly.” The real problem was that the work was not consistent, so there would be months where Yadira was busy followed by months of inactivity. Despite the inconsistency, Yadira was able to work in her profession, which was very important to her. “I like to learn new things and to have new knowledge. That’s very important for me in life… I believe that architecture is more than the construction of buildings, it is about people and their emotions and the satisfaction of their needs. When I work in research for old buildings, I always look for the [needs] of people before the building.”
Volunteer Work to Use and Hone Skills
Yadira also did a lot of volunteer work. First with MSF, or Doctors without Borders, again working in architecture, making drawings for hospitals in Africa. Then, she volunteered at an architecture center in Haarlem and later at the Maxima MC in Eindhoven. Each of these opportunities was welcomed because either they allowed her to continue to stay professionally active in architecture, or as in the case with the hospital, placed her in regular contact with people and many occasions to practice Dutch.
Learning Dutch was an important step for Yadira. “I immediately started intensive Dutch courses so that in three or four months I got to level A1 and A2 at the same time. After that course, I could speak with people, go to the market, and do something for myself.” It became difficult to follow courses for a while, but she managed to continue learning Dutch through self-study and passed the staatsexamen Nederlands als tweede taal (Nt2), advancing her language skills to B2 level. She is motivated to learn Dutch to help reach her goals. “Although in the beginning, it was possible to work without speaking Dutch, over the years it became more and more difficult to practice my profession without the language.
And Talent100 to Boost Confidence and Visibility
Talent100 is an intensive three-month program designed to reintegrate local international professionals, called Talents, into the local labor market. They are categorized into three different tracks depending on the stage of their professional journeys:
- Career Discoverers: Talents who want to take stock of their skills and potentially pivot into new professions.
- Kickstarts: Talents with established careers and marketable skills but need support to get into the labor market.
- Women for Women: A longstanding ESI mentorship program for women Talents who are paired with locally connected women, called Ambassadors.
Talents in each track attend a series of workshops guided by career coaches and experts where they develop their own career roadmap, personal branding, and create market-ready CVs and LinkedIn profiles before attending networking events and taking part in visibility campaigns directed at companies.
Yadira is part of edition IX of Women for Women (WfW) and her Ambassador is Judith van Kaathoven. The program, which began in September, has been a big help to Yadira.
“The process has been really interesting for me from the beginning because I got what I need… to improve the way I approach the Dutch market. When I came here, I was lucky to be able to work with friends. I didn’t go through a selection process. It is new for me and I am learning how to do it properly.”
Now Yadira is getting better responses from her job applications. “Before I started the program, I applied for a job and I was rejected almost every time. Now I receive more opportunities to do interviews.”
Harnessing the Power of the Talent100 Network
The other Talents, and Judith have also had a very positive impact on Yadira. Of Judith, she said, “She’s a really enthusiastic and positive person. She has good energy. I really appreciate that because sometimes you receive a review for an interview, and you get down, but she says, “You have done great, think that something better is coming for you.’ She gives me good advice in a positive way.”
The Talents of the program also support each other. “I felt that I had a good network in the time that I lived here, but it’s not true at all. I have the network from my husband. But with the other Talents, we have our group…If we find somebody or find some information, we are really happy to share it with everybody.”
With just another month left in the program, Yadira’s goal is to find a job. But she also says, “what is more important in this moment is to increase my network and to change my mind regarding how to approach the Dutch job market.” And she credits the Expat Spouses Initiative for all the progress she has made. “I would really like to say thank you to the Expat Spouses Initiative and the Women for Women program. Thank you for all the effort that you have put in to help me, and all the resources you use to help me achieve my goal.”
Yadira has these tips for other internationals in similar situations:
Get up and get out!
Don’t sit at home waiting for something to happen, go out and connect with people. “When I started my process, I was at home and not in contact with people. Now that I am approaching people asking for information or advice, and I show myself in the world, I get better results. If you do nothing, nothing will happen to you.”
No Dutch? No problem.
Yes, finding a job in your field would be easier knowing Dutch, but “you cannot stop because you don’t speak Dutch.” If you are able to communicate in English, you can work. “Sometimes you need to find the right person to work, so don’t stop because you don’t know the language.”
Yadira is making great strides towards her ultimate goal with the help of the other Talents, her ambassador, and of course, the Talent100 program. If you are having trouble breaking into the Dutch labor market, then contact the Expat Spouses Initiative. The new year is right around the corner and it’s the perfect time to rethink and reimagine your professional career. This is one new year’s resolution that you’ll be glad you kept. In the meantime, don’t forget to read more inspirational stories from other internationals and Women for Women Ambassadors in the Tips, Trips, and Stories from our Community section.