WIL Talk: Working Abroad - Struggles and Integration

Updated: Feb 16

The last WIL Talk of the academic year started off with Margarita Lourido's dynamic presentation on what moving and working abroad really entails. Originally from Colombia, Margarita is a doctor in psychology, a top coach, a trainer and an intercultural expert. As the co-founder of the group Switch!, focused on Intercultural and Personal Development, she has much experience working with expats and improving their life abroad.


During her presentation, she spoke of culture shock, the process of adjustment to new environments. She stressed that this difficult process is not a weakness, but simply a sign that you are working hard to adjust. She also emphasised that to be properly integrated, you must both share and accept the host culture, all while retaining your own.


Defining your motivations for moving and working abroad, leaving a good support network at home and accepting that misunderstandings and mistakes will happen were some of her tips in adjusting to a new life abroad. She also wished to remind the audience that adaptation is only a temporary stage, and that staying curious, flexible, and authentic are crucial to a true, successful integration.


Martha Mghendi Fisher, this WIL Talk's second speaker, is a social entrepreneur, philanthropist and a diversity and inclusion advocate. As the founder and chair of an impressive variety of organisations and associations, such as the European Women Payments Network (EWPN), Martha has spent many years building her network here in the Netherlands. Originally from Kenya, she talked about her journey about moving and working abroad, describing it as something not for the faint-hearted, especially when you move to a country where you do not speak the language. Nevertheless, she also described her personal journey, no matter how difficult it was, as very rewarding.


Some of the benefits of moving abroad that she described were getting out of your comfort zone, learning to take risks, increasing your cultural awareness and expanding your professional networks. Through anecdotes of her personal and professional life, she spoke of the difficult times she found herself in during her adjustment period. She really stressed that in these situations, where people place you in a box as an expat or migrant, you have to be your own champion, keep working hard and keep going, no matter how many job rejections you face or how many disadvantages may be stacked against you. She ended her presentation with words that echoed those of Margarita, regarding staying authentic, true, and kind to yourself. No matter what, she said, always believe in yourself.


This WIL Talk's last speaker, Sam Gaunt, is a Leiden University College alumni, originally from England but currently doing an LLM in Public International Law and working in the United Nations International Residual Mechanisms for Criminal Tribunals. He moved to the Netherlands three years ago, when he began studying.


Sam views working abroad as a great opportunity. As long as you are receptive to different work cultures and are willing to exchange your strengths and values, working abroad can teach you a lot. He also stressed how it provides him with the opportunity to travel, something he highly values. While not speaking the country's home language or any other language than English is sometimes hindering, Sam still highlighted some advantages of being native in the "diplomatic tongue" in a professional context.


Moving abroad can sometimes be isolating and very difficult, but overall, Sam views both his personal and work experiences as invaluable.


The WIL Talk concluded with a dynamic and interactive discussion between the audience and the presenters. Members of the audience, mostly internationals, were very grateful for this insight into the experience of working and living abroad.


Blog Post By: Alexia Lafeuille



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