I’m tidying up while getting ready for a move to a new house, and came across some old papers I had gathered back in 2003 when I first lived in The Netherlands and was trying to find my feet. (If you’re new to this blog, you can read more about my story here.)
At first, I expected to find work easily in The Netherlands. I was an Australian but I was learning Dutch and surely there’d be something for me, right? Unfortunately, due to a number of factors, including that I didn’t have a degree, could only work part time due to my inburgeringcursus commitments and that my general experience was quite broad and not really in high demand (marketing/tourism), I had trouble finding a paid job.
So the next step I took is something I’d highly recommend to anyone in a similar position – or in fact, anyone in almost any position – I undertook vrijwilligerswerk (volunteer work). I’m a strong believer that no matter what stage we are in our life, finding some time to give back to the community is worthwhile in many ways.
I picked up a flyer at the Delft Gemeente (city council) when I was at one of my Inburgerings (integration) appointments….here’s a scan of that original flyer from 2003!
At the time, I knew very little Dutch so could barely read it but my boyfriend (now husband!) helped me out. I remember being quite surprised the first time I went to the Bureau Vrijwilligers Werk office in Delft, it was very professionally organised, and similar to an employment agency. I still have a number of the “job descriptions” I was considering, here’s one with my translations about caring for birds and hedgehogs!
I did go to an appointment for that one but didn’t feel it was a good fit – it was a little hard to get to from where I was living at the time and I remember it stank and I have quite a sensitive sense of smell. I also picked up and for some reason kept flyers (which are now going in the bin!) for things like:
- Verzorgen van fretten (caring for ferrets!)
- Kinderen na schooltijd ophalen uit de klas en begeleiden naar de buitenschoolse opvang (picking up kids after class and doing activities with them at after school care)
- Begeleidsters activiteiten “kids voor animals” (leading activities for kids connected to a animal protection organisation)
- Chauffeurs en bijrijdsters gevraagd voor de dierenambulance (drivers and assistants for the animal ambulance).
Looking back, I must have said at the time that I like animals and possibly children! I didn’t have children at the time though and they kind of scared me….no idea what to do with them. Luckily by the time my first daughter came along in 2007 I figured it out.
So what I did end up doing was helping to care for the animals at a nearby “Kinderborderij” – they also smelt but a little less than the first place I went to! I’ve always loved horses and there was one horse there, two ponies and some other animals like rabbits. I remember thinking at the time it was a little odd to have a farm in a city – and I never saw children there (though I guess I must have been there at school times). I’d go once or twice a week and clean their stalls, and take the ponies for a walk in the park. I really enjoyed it and though it didn’t do a lot for my career prospects, it kept me busy, I felt I was doing something useful, it was flexible and I learnt some basic dutch from my co-workers (no, not the ponies!).
Not too long afterwards, I ended up finding some paid part time work though a public speaking group I was attending at the time (Toastmasters) and did that for about 2 years. I’m still friends with the lovely lady I was a PA for! She was living here from the UK (though has now gone back) and I went to her house just a few hours a week.
Alongside that, I continued part time volunteer work but this time with ACCESS – an organisation in The Hague (and Amsterdam) which supports the international community. I ended up volunteering there for the rest of my time in The Netherlands (from 2004-2007) until we made the move to Australia. I loved it – and after a while, even got my own business card there!That was a wonderful opportunity – I was able to use and further develop important skills that contributed to continuing my career. At the time, I was studying towards a Bachelor of Business in Marketing and I really enjoyed using my skills to put together a course called “Accessing The Hague” (which, though it’s changed quite a bit, is still continuing today.) I also had the opportunity to present to and assist newcomers to the Netherlands at organisations such as the OPCW and EPO. I was mentored by an experienced marketer and learnt a lot.
In 2007, my first daughter was born and during my pregnancy, I volunteered as a board member to help establish Delft Mama.
A few months afterwards, we moved back to Australia. There, I started my business Zestee, worked on completing my degree, and had another daughter. So I didn’t have a lot of time for volunteer work but always tried to fit it in where I could, and did so at the Women’s Health & Mother Baby Hub for some time until I was offered a job there. I was a volunteer board member to help establish the North Lakes Chamber of Commerce and also LOVED volunteering at the Abbey Medieval Festival and also at Alma Park Zoo.
When we moved back to The Netherlands again in 2012, I again approached ACCESS to volunteer, but things had changed and volunteer requirements were a little different and didn’t fit with my family commitments. I did spend several months again with Delft Mama again though (assisting with social media) and also as a volunteer with Delft INA (International Networking organisation).
Last year, with the demands of my business and family, I pulled back on my volunteering hours and resigned from Delft INA and Delft Mama, though still try to support them in small ways where I can. I now focus most of my “volunteer time” on my own community organisations – Dutch Australian and Professional Parents, though still take part as a volunteer in other projects and organisations sometimes such as TEDx, Amsterdam Mamas, Australian & NZ Club and Connecting Women. These days, I don’t always have lots of time, but can also offer services such as my online social media school. I’ve also just approached the Prinsenhof museum in Delft to offer some volunteer hours as I’m developing a specific interest in social media in museums and will be meeting with them soon.
Overall, I’d highly recommend volunteering. It can take some time to find the right fit, but in The Netherlands, there is quite a lot of structure through organisations such as PEP Den Haag and Vrijwilligerscentrale Amsterdam (which both have english information).
Have you done volunteer work before? I’d love to hear your experiences in a comment below or via Facebook or Twitter!