Thursday, June 4, 2015

PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: 20 Things You Need To Know When Moving To The Netherlands

This post is part of the series PhD Talk for AcademicTransfer: posts written for the Dutch academic career network AcademicTransfer, your go-to resource for all research positions in the Netherlands.

These posts are sponsored by AcademicTransfer, and tailored to those of you interested in pursuing a research position in the Netherlands.

If these posts raise your interest in working as a researcher in the Netherlands, even better - and feel free to fire away any questions you might have on this topic!


This summer, I am focusing on topics related to moving to, living in and working in The Netherlands.
Why? To celebrate the release of FactCards.nl! On this website, you can find all information you need as a foreigner coming to do research in The Netherlands. And even for me, coming from neighbour country Belgium and speaking the same language (well, sort of...), those FactCards would have been really useful and could have saved me from a few headaches...

From my side, I'd like to give you an overview of 20 things you need to know when moving to The Netherlands:

1. Gratis

First Dutch word to learn! "Gratis" means "free", so you see it a lot in the supermarket: 10% gratis, 1+1 gratis, ...

2. Ride a bike

A bike is a useful and necessary means for transportation. Many people in The Netherlands bike their commute, and you surely should considering joining them when you move to The Netherlands - by the time you reach the office, you've had some exercise, and you'll feel refreshed and ready to start the day. Don't bike too slowly though, you'd be a bottleneck in the traffic.

3. University buildings have closing times

Unlike in the United States where most university buildings are open 24/7 if you have door access, the Dutch universities and laboratories typically have closing times for safety reasons. Don't try to break into the building on a Sunday, or stay at night past closing time... the guards will find you.

4. Start looking for housing early on

Finding affordable housing in The Netherlands can be quite a challenge, and I wrote a post about this topic for AcademicTransfer earlier on. Start looking for housing as soon as you can, and you will find something.

5. The Dutch are not misers, but they use their resources wisely

What I appreciate a lot about the Dutch, is that they use their resources wisely. In their neighboring countries, this might be seen as being stingy, but in reality they are not misers (and donating much more to charity than the Flemish!). As compared to Ecuador, I see much less excessive wealth in The Netherlands (luxury cars, houses with tons of antiques, ...). Sure they exist, and sure there are superwealthy neighborhoods in The Netherlands, but most people are not big fans of excessive spending on material goods. Calvinist spirit or something...

6. Bread makes a meal

You take two slices of bread and put something in between (ham, cheese, spreads, ...). Repeat a number of times and you have a meal. When you are too busy, you can even have three of these meals in a given day.

7. No authoritarian systems

At work, the Dutch treat eachother as equals, and the team leader will coordinate how you work together, but will not be playing the big boss over you. Other countries might have clear systems of who has authority over whom and to whom you need to ask permission, but in The Netherlands I've been surprised many times by the confidence my senior coworkers put in me and how they trusted me with certain tasks without asking me to constantly report to them.

8. Everybody is heard during a meeting

Junior or senior member, everybody has a say in a meeting. It's called the poldermodel, the Dutch way of running meetings, and the disadvantage might be that, since nobody is really taking on the big authoritarian position, it can be harder to reach consensus - everybody needs to contribute and feel that they have been heard.

9. Always bring a gift when you are invited

Chocolates or flowers are always a success. When you are invited to somebody's house, or to an event hosted by a colleagues, you are expected to bring a small gift as a token of your appreciation for the invitation.

10. People go crazy over soccer games

When the Eurocup or the Worldcup take place, the country morphs into a sea of orange. People start grilling outdoors, drinking beers together while watching the games on temporary big screens provided in the big cities and party all over the place. They might look intimidating, those crazy orange Dutchies, but they are fun to hang out with, no worries!

11. You are expected to be independent

Since the system is not relying on authority, you are expected to work independently. You are not expected to report to your supervisor as a spoon-fed student who just spews out the results of an analysis, but you are expected to take initiative and move your research forward by yourself.

12. You are expected to set your own schedule

Nobody is going to make your planning, and you are expected to decide when to work and what to work on. If you work with other people or if you need to do laboratory work, you are of course expected to show up to work at the times when your coworkers are available.

13. Be punctual

I heard that in the very South of The Netherlands, you can have 15 minutes of a delay without needing an excuse, but in the Rotterdam-Amsterdam region, you are expected to be punctual. No excuses.

14. Be honest

No need to go in convoluted ways around people, especially those in a more senior position, if you need to get something done. Talk clearly, and tell people what you need, without asking them if they please could maybe do something whenever they have the time for it - the message won't go through.

15. Expect honest feedback

The Dutch are direct, which means they give you their ideas in a honest and direct way. Their feedback is not trying to be politcally correct, but they go straight to the good and bad points of your work.

16. Some regions are very packed - be courteous to others

Parts of The Netherlands are just very densily populated - and people here are used to live in densely knit cities. Be courteous to others, and everything works fine.

17. You won't impress your colleagues by working 120 hours

If you do so, they might think you have a planning problem or that you can't do your work in the normal allotted time. You'll see people leave their offices in time to go home for dinner at 6pm. You might think they leave early and are not working hard, but you should see the amount of work they get done during their working day...

18. Many people speak English...

Almost everybody in The Netherlands, and certainly everybody in the universities, speaks English. This makes your arrival much easier, and often English is the language of choice during meetings to make sure everybody can follow.

19. ...but you should learn Dutch

However, if you are staying for a few years, you should learn Dutch. It's part showing respect for the culture of the country, and part a way to really become part of the country and its systems.

20. It's fun!

As with every new place, I needed some time to adjust to The Netherlands, but after many years here, and still spending my summers here, I can say that I really enjoy living in The Netherlands and working at TU Delft.

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