How to adapt to a new culture? The TMC Expat Community helps!
Since 2017 the TMC Expat Community in The Netherlands organizes events, outings and discussions to make newly arrived expats at TMC feel happy and welcome in their new country. Chairwoman Maria Frias Goyenechea, an expat herself, talks about the activities of the community and the joys and challenges of adapting to a foreign culture.
When Maria Frias Goyenechea came to The Netherlands to study from her native country of Mexi-co, there was nobody to introduce her to the Dutch culture and tell her what to expect and how things work around here. ‘In the beginning it was all trial and error for me. I browsed the internet to help me find my way around and just hoped for the best. But it would have been nice if there was someone to help me get adjusted.’
It’s the reason Maria and six of her expat colleagues at TMC started the TMC Expat Community back in 2017. Their mission is to help new expats at TMC feel welcomed and integrated in their new country. To achieve this goal the community has set up three different initiatives: social activities, cultural awareness sessions and the Buddy Program .
The social activities are inspiring outings to show new expats different parts of The Netherlands. Recent examples are a tasting in a specialty beer brewery, a boat trip through the canals of Utrecht and a visit to Madurodam. Maria: ‘We also invite partners and kids of the expats, so that the whole family feels welcome.’ Dutch TMC colleagues also participate in the activities. ‘About one quarter to half of the participants of our outings are Dutch,’ Maria says. ‘It’s great because the best way to integrate new expats is to bring them together with the natives.’
To go deeper into the challenges and benefits of a multicultural working environment The Expat Community also organizes cultural awareness sessions. ‘They’re kind of like pizza sessions,’ Maria says. ‘We talk about core values in our different cultures to understand how we see things different-ly and where we can work together to solve problems. Although we do discuss challenges, our aim is to give a positive message and focus on how expats can enrich the environment by what they bring to the table.’
Questioning your boss
After having lived for seven years in The Netherlands Maria has experienced both the joys and challenges of adapting to the Dutch culture. ‘The absence of hierarchy in the workplace was challenging for me in the beginning. In The Netherlands you’re expected to be direct and speak your mind, even questioning your boss if you have a different idea. I was like, do I really speak like that to my boss? Another thing that was very different is that the Dutch are super organized. Everyone plans their activities months ahead. So if you say, let’s go for a beer, they’re like, sorry not now, how about next month? That was funny for me in the beginning, but now I’m used to it.’
Although the Dutch are known for their directness, sometimes bordering on bluntness, Maria finds them to be warm-hearted as well. ‘If you’re open and you cross the cultural barriers, Dutch people are super friendly and welcoming. Once you win their trust, they are there for you.’
Any last advice for new expats? ‘Know everything will be different and don’t compare your culture to the Dutch culture. Be open, accept the differences and enjoy it. Jump into the water with both feet!’