entrepreneurship FlexStagiair DDD Award

Creating the ideal match between entrepreneurship, Asia & CSR

Recently I’ve started saying that it is becoming impossible to explain well what I do: I’ve become a #slashie, or possibly a serial entrepreneur. The three (major) things that are demanding my attention these last few months are very diverse, and from a distance seem to be unconnected.

But, the good news: the more I work on these different things, the clearer it is that they are in fact connected.

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In transition

This month I’ve changed offices: in June I was still mostly working from either meeting rooms in the VNO-NCW building (the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers) or somewhere in the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – conveniently located across from each other.

This month I’ve started commuting to the Amsterdam Zuidas, the financial center of the Netherlands where I’m working in an office with a great view across the city.

Talk about changing perspectives: from governmental The Hague to corporate Amsterdam.

I’ve not only changed physical locations but also type of work. From researching how six European countries have organized their trade promotional activities to support their SMEs to be successful on foreign markets, I am now interviewing Dutch companies on their goals for the Chinese market in preparation for a trade mission this autumn.

Even though I started working independently in 2013 it felt almost as if I was cheating a little with one regular assignment for the year, with smaller bits and pieces to do alongside of that while I worked on setting up the essentials of my business. This year has seen a big transition to smaller and shorter term projects, which means my work is (much) more diverse but at the same time also more complex to manage well.

So this year is throwing new challenges my way but at the same time I love the journey of discovery this is becoming. Can’t wait to find out what the second half of this year will include.

Changing perspectives

Have you ever thought about how travelling abroad and living abroad has influenced you? Maybe only by becoming more open and curious about the world but it could be much more radical: maybe meeting the love of your life or deciding on a radical career change.

When I was 16, I spent a year in Hobart, Australia. Looking back, that year changed everything. Of course, none of those changes happened immediately after but my life would have been so different if I hadn’t left a small rural village at age 16 to go to the other side of the world, living with a family I didn’t know, going to a completely unfamiliar high school and meeting other exchange students from the rest of the world. Doing this definitely ranks at the top of my best decisions made so far.

During my years at university, I studied and worked abroad again a few times. And of course, I travelled – in Europe, in Asia. I’ve always thought that some time abroad is so good for anyone to experience.

Last Sunday this idea was confirmed again. During Sunday afternoon drinks with my parents’ neighbours, I started talking to one of the neighbour’s daughters: she had recently been to China on a high school exchange.

She had participated in an exchange programme via her high school facilitated by Jialei & Co. I had heard about this organisation before and it was interesting to hear the experiences of a high school student who had participated.

But what I also loved about talking to her was not just to hear about how she perceived China but how her curiosity had increased, and how she now seems more open to try new things. She had only been away for 10 days but had tried things in China she would’ve just refused at home. Sometimes the reason wasn’t only curiosity to try things, but also respect for her hosts: because you don’t refuse to eat something you’ve never tried before but which your host has spent more than an hour preparing in the kitchen.

The result is the same though: discovery. Of new things, new food, new ways of looking at the world. A perspective of the world that doesn’t automatically assume that the way life is where you are at, is the way things are everywhere – or the way they should be. And that’s a lesson no one can take away from you anymore.

The motto that my exchange organisation sent me off to Australia with way back in the ’90s was

It’s not right, it’s not wrong: it’s different.

I can’t tell you how many times since this sentence has popped into my head, wherever I am in the world.