A Blog by International Students at Leiden University

Finding Work in a Foreign Land

If you, like me, need a few extra pennies to finance your Albert Heijn Biological lifestyle, you might consider getting a job alongside your studies. Yet, despite all the promises of the healthy Dutch economy, finding somewhere to exchange your time for money can be tough. Unqualified, linguistically challenged and inexperienced, I struggled. Here’s what happened:

After a morning spent blushing at my bare naked CV, I finally print 25 copies. I’m hoping that if I have them, I’ll have to hand them out. Copies underarm, I head out into the streets, aimed vaguely towards some cafes I like. There’s a sense of dread in my stomach. It takes a few surreptitious storefront passes before I muster the courage to walk in. And though I look calm I feel far from it. I am in a strange middle ground, neither client nor clerk. How do I act? I am not buying and not yet selling. But then I remember, I am selling something: myself. Sell yourself, I mentally chant. I must sell myself. The new awareness of my self as commodity makes my trembling hands damp; my CVs wrinkle. I approach the register, force myself to make eye-contact and mumble a pre-rehearsed line “hi, um… are you, by any chance, looking for some extra um… staff?”

Three “no”s, one “maybe” and one “we’ll send you an email” later, and I’m finally relaxing into it. It gets easier. My answers are becoming better too. For instance, I’ve learned that “I’m learning” elicits a better reaction than “no” to the inevitable “Spreek je Nederlands?” And that anything at all is better than “no” when asked, “do you have any experience?”

Only seven CVs later and I feel accomplished and exhausted. I trudge home.

A few days later, after having handed out only two or three more CVs, a restaurant near my house calls. Can I come in for a trial shift this weekend? “Yes, sure! Of course! What do I Wear? When should I arrive?”

I wash my (only) dress shirt, put on my only black shoes and arrive 10 minutes early. The place seems nice with rustic candles, wooden beams and varnished tables. A manager plonks me behind a bar and hurriedly talks me through the basics. My job is simple: a machine spits out orders, I obey and prepare the trays for the waiters. I have a clear domain, I’m grateful that I don’t need to speak to anyone and the work seems easy enough. Once the machine starts though I forget most of everything I’ve been told. Classic. My hands dampen.

Many foamy beers and four unpaid hours later, I’m dismissed. Despite a few mess-ups, I seemed to have scraped by and they offer me the job. On the way home I ring my mum elated.

I’ve been told finding a part-time job is good preparation for the “real world”. So when the restaurant never calls me back and my free labour stays just that, I can only conclude that the “real world” will be disappointing, and that this is what I need preparing for.

I’m not left in my pit of despair long though. Another phone call a few days later and a French café bakery wants me to do a trial shift. I’m wary, but my interview is pleasant and I’m assured the language barrier won’t be a problem. I get comfortable quickly. I pick up the art of milk foaming fast and the café trusts me an extraordinary amount. I’m opening and closing alone in my second week. The free bread at the end of the day and the occasional croissant and I’ve quickly forgotten about how mean the “real world” is.

And that’s how an English man got a job at a French bakery in the Netherlands. This strange triad confuses and amuses a lot of customers. Though many are so habituated to The Hague’s internationalism, they don’t bat an eyelid. A small minority, unfortunately, seem deeply alarmed by the fact. For them all I can offer are a few Dutch phrases and, on a good day, a heart in their cappuccino foam.

The moral of this fable is something like “don’t give up” and “dreams can be realized”. So get those CVs printed and get on out there!


About Greg Frey

A student in my final year at Leiden University College, The Hague. Studying 'Human Diversity', I like books and people and gardens and planets and drinking with my friends. My favourite place in the city is the Nutshuis garden, my favourite food is the biological beer they serve there.

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This entry was posted on October 1, 2017 by in Uncategorized.

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