The problems with being a foreigner – but not an expat – in Eindhoven
July 23, 2009 6 Comments
It happened again! I applied for a writing position, but I didn’t get it because I don’t live in the Amsterdam area. This has been a common reason why I haven’t gotten writing jobs. I dare say that I have gotten used to hearing it, too. I understand that writing is a competitive profession, and I can’t expect things to just come to me, but there’s more to my story.
Olivia in front of Eindhoven’s Central Train Station
What is my place in Dutch society?
My husband is Dutch, and I moved here after we got married. As I prepared to make my new home in the Netherlands I never gave much thought to how I would fit into Dutch society. Since English is the official language in many international companies, I didn’t foresee a problem getting a job. With a background in marketing and journalism – and because I’d be living in the birthplace of Philips – I thought that I could get a job at Philips.
Light bulbs used to be tested at Philips Lighttower. Today it houses lofts, office space and more
But instead of venturing into the workforce right away, I decided to study Dutch for one year. I figured that this would be a good way to integrate into Dutch society, and it could give me an edge when applying for jobs. Choosing to study the language turned out to be an excellent way for me to immerse myself into the Dutch culture, while meeting other women in my same situation. The classmates who were in my group in class were college-educated women from Japan, China, Switzerland, and Russia, who had worked in their native country, and who had moved here because they had married a Dutchman. Yes, all of the women who were in my group in school were college-educated, but there were several groups in my class.
We helped each other out, and often spoke about our educational and professional goals. We also discussed frustrations that we had, such as finding our place in society.
During the summer, people flock to the Eindhoven’s market
to enjoy the sun and the company of their friends
While I was studying, I started contributing on a freelance basis to publications geared toward expatriates (or expats in abbreviated form) living in the Netherlands. It seemed a perfect fit: It allowed me to write in English, help other newcomers assimilate to their new country by providing informational articles, and it gave me a network to find my own way in my adopted country. It was also a great outlet for my creative side. The only problem was that the publications were both located in the Randstad area (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague and Utrecht). Fortunately for me, this did not matter to the editors because my interviews could be done over the phone, and my articles could be emailed in.
If not an expat, what am I?
As I wrote for these publications, I realized something: I write for expats, but I’m not an expat! At least, not according to the Dutch government, who defines an expat as a person sent by a company to work in the Netherlands.
Unlike an expat, I didn’t have a job lined up for me when I first moved to the Netherlands. My path was different. Moving to the Netherlands to live with my Dutch husband put me into a specific category; it even says so on my “Verblijfsdocument”, my Dutch Residence Permit. Along with my name, date of birth, country of citizenship, photo, and signature is this: “Verblijf bij echtgenoot,” which translates to “Residency from spouse.”
The pride the people of Eindhoven have for its local team is evident when you attend a PSV Eindhoven football game. PSV Eindhoven has won the national title 21 times!
The online encyclopedia Wikipedia however defines an expatriate as a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person’s upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin “ex” (out of) and “patria” (country, fatherland).” With that definition, I am an expat, at least in the eyes of Wikipedia.com.
Resources for expats
There are numerous publications and services available to assist expats to assimilate into the Netherlands. Websites such as Expatica.com and ACCESS-org.nl provide information for this group of new residents. Just because I am not an expat does not mean that I don’t benefit from the information! I visit both websites regularly and also contribute to them as a freelance writer.
Assistance from the government
In my view, I fit into the category of “spouse of an expat,” even though my Dutch husband is not an expat. I can relate to spouses of expats and understand how important it is for them to feel at home in the Netherlands. The government also recognizes this. “The spouse of the expat must also feel comfortable in their new home,” said Naomie Verstraten, Promotion and Acquisition International Account Manager at the Eindhoven city hall, when I spoke with her. She went on to explain that when an expat’s wife feels comfortable, the family stays in the Netherlands longer, which is good for the country. But what about us “wives of Dutchmen”? How can the country help us?
A statue of Frits Philips in Eindhoven’s City Center. Mr. Philips was extremely well liked by the people of Eindhoven and was referred to as “Meneer Frits”
Expat desk in Eindhoven
“The goal of the government is to give better service,” said Naomie. “We want to welcome everybody.” An expat desk is in the works to welcome expats and their families in Eindhoven. The purpose of the help desk will be to accommodate expats in the city by answering any questions they may have. It will provide them with information about clubs and organizations, and most anything a new resident needs to know to feel at home. Non-expats such as me will also be able to benefit from this desk. The expat desk is currently being discussed, and there is no date set for its opening.
During our interview, I explained to Naomie that there are many other people like me who are educated, with work experience, and have a working knowledge of the Dutch language, but who just don’t seem to know what to do to obtain employment. When I explained to Naomie that I could also benefit from the information and support that expats receive, she said, “We would love to facilitate people like you!”
A guidebook for international newcomers in Eindhoven
Although there are many organizations that offer assistance for expats in the Netherlands, such as ACCESS, most of them are located in Amsterdam, The Hague, Rotterdam, or Utrecht. These organizations hold gatherings for expats, and the spouses of expats, to meet each other and grow accustomed to living in the Netherlands. The gatherings are a great chance to make friends and to get to know your new city. I live in Eindhoven, in the middle of the Brainport Region. The resources available to the expats living in the city who work at international companies such as Philips and ASML are not readily available for non-expats like me.
One of these resources is a booklet called “Welcome to Brainport: The essential guide for international newcomers moving to the Eindhoven region,” which Naomie sent me after our meeting. I was ecstatic because it was the first English guidebook that I had ever seen on the Eindhoven region. This is a must-have for even us non-expats. I highly recommend that it be made available for sale to all newcomers because it provides an overview of living in Eindhoven – not Rotterdam, Amsterdam, The Hague, or Utrecht – but Eindhoven!
Guidebook for newcomers in Eindhoven
The good and bad of looking for a job
Today I looked at the job section at Expatica.nl, and the only job I found in the Eindhoven area was a position that required fluency in French, Italian, English, and Dutch! The other positions available were higher-level management positions, for which I do not currently qualify for, as well as numerous technology positions, for which I do not have a background. The writing positions that I did find were all located in the Randstad area and required great familiarity with its cities or would require a daily commute.
One of the biggest advantages of expats over non-expats is the 30% tax rule. It is no secret that the Dutch pay high taxes, but being an expat helps ease the pain. Non-expats are exempt from this benefit. It can also be a big reason not to join the Dutch workforce! (For those who can afford to not work full-time.)
Job listings for international newcomers
Living in Eindhoven has been nice, but I wish that there were more resources for us non-expats. Fortunately, I am an extrovert and am in no way going to stop trying to find my way in my new city! I think that other non-expats like me, need to find out more about our options, and they can count on me to continue looking for ways to help them do just that!
By Olivia Neri
Olivia Neri is a freelance writer from California who now calls Eindhoven home. She earned a B.A. in Journalism and a Minor in Creative Writing from Pepperdine University, and has been published in magazines, newspapers and websites in several countries.