Chapter 1 — Olivia, the Supportive Executive
From the equality of rights springs identity of our highest interests; you cannot subvert your neighbor’s rights without striking a dangerous blow at your own.
During the Bloomberg Equality summit held on the 23rd of September, 2020, a key take away from Alison Rose’s session was when she stated that for her Natwest Group, the question is “How do I get the most diverse talents in my organization from different economic backgrounds?” I believe this question should not be limited to Natwest Group alone but all G20 countries as well.
What do I mean?
For G20 nations, I will rephrase the question “How do we get the most diverse talents in our workforce from different economic backgrounds?” Where you can say some G20 countries already do that with the program set in place for ex-pats skilled workers. So still what do I mean?
Allow me to make my meaning clearer. It is widely known that most G20 countries get an influx of international students annually, from G77 countries. Yet, most of these international students have to work unskilled jobs, during their study and keep their fingers crossed to be employed after their study by a renowned company, or otherwise return to their home country.
I believe that this is both an ineffective and inefficient use of both the international students’ talents and time, and does not support the need for diversity in the workforce of G20 countries. Because, most of these international students are often overqualified for the unskilled jobs they have to do as students, and counting on luck to get an internship and be retained, adversely affects the diversity being advocated for by international companies and G20 countries.
I have been privileged to hold two unskilled jobs, as a student and two intern positions still as a student, while being a volunteer as a marketing consultant for an NGO, as an MBA student. Yet, I feel uneasy when I hear the tales of the jobs ex-international students did before they got their present jobs.
And, it is this uneasiness that made me seek out some present international and ex-international students, who are brave enough to share their stories and lessons in this article series. While I understand this article title is not to proffer a solution, but rather to bring to fore, to decision-makers, the experiences of over skilled students working in unskilled jobs, because it is a requirement of the law. I hope these stories and experiences will open up the conversation to change these laws.
After all, this article is nothing but an exercise of one of the basic human rights, which Robert Kennedy, exercised when he quoted Geoge Benard Shaw’s
“…Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”
And, if we were able to put a man on the moon over 50 years ago, and presently attempting to put a man on Mars, finding a more equitable employment solution for international students who invest fortunes to be educated in G20 countries, should be a walk in the park, with the present global zeal to make the world more equitable.
Enough of my philosophical soliloquy. Olivia, here is your go, to enlighten us and posterity with your experience as an international student who had to work in an unskilled job because of the laws.
The reason you needed the job
After being in the Netherlands for about 8 months, I realized that I probably needed to start working to make some extra money to cover my expenses over and above the financial support I was receiving from my parents. The standard of living in the Netherlands is quite high and it is hard to explain just how expensive daily life is to non- residents, so I decided to make some money on my own rather than asking my parents for additional help. I also thought that working would be a stepping stone for me to get a job after graduation.
How you got the job
As a student at my alma mater, I always made sure to follow the rules and participate as much as possible in all the activities at the campus. This was for my own benefit as I believe the best way to benefit from any experience is to totally immerse oneself in it. Little did I know that this had attracted the attention of management. When an ad for an internship at the university was posted, I immediately applied for it. I later learned that because of my work ethic and discipline, I had also been pinned as the ideal candidate for the position. So once I applied, I had an interview and then started my job once the contract date rolled around.
How working at the job made you feel
It was my first experience working in Europe so I didn’t know what to expect. My experience at this job was not very different from my experiences working in Uganda and Cote d’Ivoire. I was dubbed “Jane of all trades” by some of my colleagues because I helped any and everyone with the less specialized tasks they had to do. My role was always a supportive one rather than an executive one. Personally, this has been the majority of my professional career. So I did not give it much thought before because I regarded my age, gender, and background as limiting factors in my professional advancement.
Working in this job, I learned that though I had amassed several skills in my previous employment, some of those skills were not immediately transferable to the Dutch job market. There are a lot of cultural influences in the marketplace that can be easy to overlook but that have an immense effect on the experience of an immigrant looking for and working a job in the Netherlands.
This initially caused frustration for me because I felt that I deserved to be further ahead in my career considering the level of work experience I had. I had to let go of this frustration though because it was making an already physically and emotionally draining work experience even more exhausting.
The positive benefits of working at the job
When I let go of my frustration, I decided to focus on learning and decided that the lessons that I learned even those I could not apply in that current position, I would be able to apply later on in the future. I really enjoyed the networking opportunities that I was offered at this job, I was able to meet and interact with new people and I always left those interactions with wider knowledge about the Netherlands, different industries and sectors, and Dutch attitudes towards and around work.
Also, I used the opportunity to grow my network particularly on LinkedIn which is always beneficial. The many various tasks that I had shown me more of my previously untapped creativity and tenacity as I had to constantly adapt to unexpected situations.
Lessons for other International Students
Firstly, if you want to live in the Netherlands for a long time, learn Dutch. It may seem like a tall task but it is only fair as it is the official language of the country. With a country as small as the Netherlands, learning the languages of neighboring countries is necessary for trade but at the end of the day the language is part of the identity of the country, and to integrate, it is best to learn it.
Secondly, if you come from a high power distance country, you need to re-frame your understanding of power dynamics, particularly in the workplace as the Netherlands is a low power distance country. This means that generally speaking, every employee is just as valuable as the next. So your opinions, ideas, and feedback are welcomed. Of course, sometimes this is not the case as some companies have their own corporate culture which is different from the national Dutch culture.
Thirdly, make the most of every opportunity presented to you because you do not know where they will lead. Do not despise humble beginnings.
Well, guys, you have heard Olivia’s insightful experience. I wonder what lessons you gleaned from it. So, please do well to share and leave the lessons from her story, in the comment section.
I guarantee you that the next story will be equally inspiring, and I can’t wait for the next fortnight, so I can share the next story with you. Also, if you are open to redefining bravery, by sharing your story, don’t hesitate to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you in two weeks.
By the way, in my article, Climate Change vs SDGs awareness, I left a link for you to test your Climate Change and SDGs awareness, here’s the direct link to the form. I will appreciate your input on the form. Thanks in advance.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com.