A Happy Turkish Expat in the Netherlands: from Business Administration to Horeca Medewerker

Having never left the place she was born and her only known home, one day Merve packed everything and said goodbye to Turkey. She'd lived in Ankara her whole life, but just as a river's flow takes new bends and bifurcates into streams, so did the life of Merve and her husband. A shared project, they took the leap by moving to the Netherlands in 2017. A year later, our Turkish expat found complete bliss by changing careers: from business administration to horeca medewerker. And you know what? She couldn't be happier! What's her view on life? How did she manage to take the jump and reinvent herself?  Here's her story.

Back in Turkey: business analyst at an ERP consultancy company
Before moving to Eindhoven, Merve lived in Ankara, working for the last five years in the IT industry as a support specialist. According to what was expected from a business administration graduate, or what was expected of her, she had a nice job, stable and steady. The software company she worked for sells a program that centralizes a company's data (ERP), additionally offering analysis, planning, setup, support, and training, among others.

Looking back, Merve identifies two elements of the job that to her represented a challenge: repetitive tasks and waiting for results. This doesn't mean she ever thought of quitting or changing jobs. Being in contact with different people and learning from the information sector were aspects she enjoyed. Still, as in any other job, there were little frustrations, as she expresses it. For example, she'd spend time training someone, but it could happen that this person would suddenly quit. This meant a new person would have to be assigned for training; in other words, start from zero. Merve's job as a business analyst would start all over again without any visible results from the previous task. She never dreamt that, in the future, she'd find an occupation where her needs would be fulfilled: interacting with people, constant learning, and enjoying the satisfaction of almost immediate results. 

Moving to the Netherlands: a new chapter
Merve's never been the most outspoken or extroverted person in the room. She recalls how she used to be rather shy, being the quiet one in a group, observing and listening, never taking the spotlight. Even so, when she and her husband decided to move to the Netherlands, she thought of it as an opportunity for a new beginning, a starting point into being a better version of herself, taking the journey and seeing where it led. She'd talk to herself and follow her own advice. 
"Merve, you need to change. This is a new page and you need to do something by yourself because your husband will have a job and needs to worry about other things..."
At this point in the interview, what I find most endearing is her openness to reinvent herself and her compassion towards her husband, the insight to see herself a unique individual, wishing not to become an emotional burden to anyone, especially her partner. The way she rationalized it was, "...if I feel bad and depressed, it's neither good for me nor him.I did ask Merve what would have happened if she'd found out the change was too difficult to bear (I've had students that still have stayed and others that have gone back.). She said most probably they'd have talked it over, deciding to stay or go, but never, never at the expense of the other. 

No expectations
Once in Eindhoven, she didn't spend time thinking about how bad her English was or what kind of job she'd find. Merve adds it was not only her attitude that guided her but also her husband's support. He'd always say, "I'm sure you can do it." No pressure, no expectation. It will come. At all times, he's always stood by her side. Yet, she acknowledges that having someone by your side is very important but not enough. Oh no. It has to come from within you. I know, easy to say but takes a world to accomplish, am I right? Easier said than done.
"When I came here, I didn't expect anything because my English was horrible. I didn't know any Dutch and I never thought of doing the same job here because I always thought I needed to first learn Dutch."
She considered her situation, what am I going to do? Then rationalized it like this: I'll just go out and interact. If the day doesn't go well, I'll say, OK. Today it didn't go well, but tomorrow it will. Cheering herself up worked its magic. Within a week of arriving, she joined a yoga studio. How? Her husband's colleague mentioned she was taking yoga lessons and invited her to join. Merve took this as an opportunity not to be missed and said, "Ok. When will you go this week?" A couple of days later, they agreed on meeting at the place. Merve's husband offered to come, but let's remember Merve had already started writing on her new page so she decided to go alone. She grabbed her yoga mat. Her phone. Opened GoogleMaps. Walked there. Went in. "I come for yoga class. I will join." She smiles at me, eyes wide open, and says, "It was super hard to say that! You think you don't know and in your head you make it more complicated than it really is. Still, I got ready for it and thought about the worst-case scenario: If they don't understand, I'll just use my hands and gestures to communicate what I mean." She experienced this victory by daring to take the first step and being the best version of herself. She was on the right track for the unfolding of other surprises to come. 

English lesson and conversation groups
With resoluteness, Merve started navigating her new life. To begin with, she found Facebook's group English Conversation Group Eindhoven. It's made up of international ladies who wish to practice their English. At that time, they met at LaPlace to chat and play games. Second, she enrolled in English classes: first at STE and then moved on to private lessons. She remembers, "I had two teachers. They helped me very much, not only to learn but to adapt." At this point, life was going smoothly. She was in a good place emotionally and not looking for big changes, yet.

Later, she joined a second conversation group organized by ARTSY Language Studio. With nostalgia, she speaks about her experience with them, how every single member was working her way on figuring out how to reinvent themselves or find ways to embrace their life in the Netherlands. Some had advice to give, others to take. They were a community of women supporting other women. 
"I met some strong women in this English conversation group. They helped me adapt. Every week we got together, spoke English, learned. Everybody wanted the same, to learn or improve their English and themselves."

Looking for a job, or not
Up until here, work was not on Merve's map. Even so, a friend of hers commented on an opening in Philips. She decided to try it out. She applied and someone got in touch with her by phone to let her know the position wasn't available anymore and, surprisingly, offering an alternative. Wow! Who would have thought! Great, don't you think? We are getting excited, aren't we? Here's a great chance, according to some. She has a business administration degree. She has experience. She could earn a salary! Nonetheless, my dear readers, happiness is something different for each one of us, even if society wants to unrelentingly link material success to happiness. And what do you think was Merve's reply? Well, she said, "OK, good. You can send me the information and I can first look at it and call you back." If our Turkish lady was going to take the job, she was going to do it for the right reasons. She did some research and thought she could apply for the job, or not. Could. Could not. Some would advise her to go for it, call back, pursue the opportunity. What to do? She wasn't sure. She thought hard and long. If she really wanted the job, yes, she should pursue it. On the other hand, the honest questions were, did she really want it? Was she willing to welcome a stressful job or a job where results would take time to be seen? She put herself in a serene state and came to an honest answer: For now, she was happy without it. So life went on.

From business administration to horeca medewerker
Since she can remember, being in the kitchen's been a source of enormous pleasure, a kind of meditation. Giving full attention to only one thing, letting it calm and relax you. To Merve, preparing a meal is delightful, a feast! Checking out the available ingredients, concocting a symphony of flavors in her mind. What could be more enjoyable? I enormously admire her approach, you know. The total opposite happens to me and I'll leave it at that. As they say in Mexico, zapatero a tus zapatos

A friend of hers worked in a restaurant and Merve had mentioned that if they ever needed someone, she would be interested. One year after arriving, it happened. Her friend rang. They were looking for someone. An interview with the owner was set up and Merve was ready for it. She felt at ease and optimistic because she had a feeling this was THE job for her. Arriving at the interview with honesty as her main card, she talked from her heart. To her future boss, she expressed she'd no previous experience, but that she truly enjoyed cooking and working in the kitchen. She wanted this job. She added how her own kitchen was the only experience she'd had but would love to try the position. All she asked for was an opportunity. The owner said the place was getting busier and they did need people. So they could try. Was she available during peak hours? 

Our dear Merve begins her trial period. What did she think about it? It was stupendous! Of course, standing for 8 hours was considerably tiresome, especially when the body hadn't done hard work for over a year! But she got used to it effortlessly. At first, she was asked on short notice if she could come in. Full of enthusiasm she always replied, "Of course I can come!" Shortly after that, she was asked to come on a regular basis, twice a week; and you know what she said, "Yes, of course, I can come!"

For Merve, what was the hardest? At first, the language and standing all day long. Moreover, she discovered that the kitchen's language was very different from what she had imagined. You see, they could communicate in English, but she needed to understand it in Dutch too because the recipes she'd follow were given in Dutch. For example, they'd say zucchini, but she needed to remember that meant courgette when following the Dutch printed recipes. What helped her most was and is that she's perpetually curious and consistently willing to learn. Merve welcomes the whole experience, not only at work but in life, and I think this is where another of her secrets lays down: by embracing the known and unknown, she finds growth and experience; probably hardship and disillusionment too, but in the end, personal growth which leads to a more fulfilling life.

Merve started her new journey during a hectic time at the restaurant. Instead of being nervous or intimidated, she welcomed every moment since it was a fast pass to speedily being exposed to the diverse aspects of the job, like workshops, catering, borrels, and being a barista. Additionally, she learned to take orders from customers. She remembers how some customers would start ordering in Dutch to what she'd say, "Sorry, please, could you speak English?" Nobody ever complained about it and she appreciates how open and nice they always were to her.

English lessons come to a stop
As she started her new job, she continued taking English lessons. Nonetheless and not long after, the unexpected happened. Merve quotes her English teacher, "Ok Merve, we're done with your English lessons. You need to learn Dutch starting today." She was completely taken by surprise! She didn't want to stop, didn't seem to need to, hadn't thought about it, but her teacher had and explained why she had to let her go. Leave the nest. Fly. In other words, her 
English level was enough for everyday life. She was thriving at work and there was no need to perfect the language. What she needed now was to focus on Dutch, for work and life. Apologizing to someone for not speaking the country's language was rather embarrassing. She knew this and her teacher confirmed it. Deep inside, Merve recognized this was the right path. A cycle ending. A fresh start.  

Once Merve started learning Dutch, August 2019, she could see how it added exciting colors to her new reality. However, having a job and studying was no piece of cake either. At some point, she was working and taking two courses at the same time. This meant to work a full shift, wait for two hours, and then go to class, finishing at 9:30 p.m. And you know what? In the years I've known her, I've never heard her complain, not about this nor anything else. 
She unfailingly feels confident, learns non-stop, and marvels at how every day is an opportunity to discover something new, about cooking and the language, about life. As if this weren't enough, she now better understands Dutch customers, what they ask for, need, or comment on. Maybe she isn't ready yet to fully reply in Dutch, but she's working on it. One thing she's thankful for is that everyone at work is helpful, leading to much faster improvement. This shall not be misunderstood as learning the language being an easy task, on the contrary, Merve acknowledges Dutch is still super hard, but she can navigate her every day and reply with simple sentences. Frankly, she sometimes feels pressure to learn faster but admits she's on her way and doing it at her own pace. How does this work? She focuses on staying in the moment, with peace in her heart, welcoming what the moment has to offer. 

Yoga and keeping balance
Yoga plays a significant part in Merve's life. Her encounter with yoga started back in Turkey in 2016 while working as a support specialist, spending endless hours sitting at her desk, leading to chronic back pain. She knew something had to be done, maybe practice a sport in order to strengthen her back muscles? Then, a friend of hers suggested yoga. At first, she thought it was about sitting down and making small moves and stretching, breathing in, breathing out. Not my kind of activity, she thought. Merve didn't consider herself a patient person but rather anxious and grumpy. How could yoga be the solution? Regardless, she gave it a chance and loved what she discovered. Something in her changed. Her body and her mindset. Her feelings. Her psyche. She started to feel more relaxed and receptive, stronger. 
"I started to discover my body and the power of my breath. I learned a lot of poses and when I was at home I tried to improve some hard poses, just like a baby who tried to walk from crawl. I fell headlong a lot😅 but I didn’t give up."
Four years later, living in a different country and leading a new life, she notices how yoga's shaped her into who she's become. "I know and I like myself because of yoga," she reflects. It's an irreplaceable part of her life and a powerful ally, especially during the COVID19 crisis. 

A regular day at work
She starts the day at the coffee bar, preparing cappuccinos
, espressos, or macchiatos. The kitchen is next. Maybe baking? Carefully reading the recipe, getting the ingredients ready, mixing them in the right order, step by step, slowly pouring the batter into the mold, setting it in the oven...the tempting smell while baking...rising and coming to life...cooling it down until it's ready to serve...task completed. To Merve, this feels like home. Every task is a new pleasure, there's no sense of time nor constrictions. Sailing through the process of making lunch, bread, or soup. (Before COVID19, preparing catering orders and evening workshops were common.) Cleaning. Washing. Being in the moment, taking the good in it. The more work, the more learning. Glass half full, never half empty. That's her philosophy. 

What now?
Learn more about baking? Maybe a cooking course in English? Or in Dutch? For her, it's so very simple. No ex-pec-ta-tions. Life is an open book, a blank page. Every day a new page. Let life flow and surprise you. Love everything that's done, like waking up, working, studying, speaking to a customer, or dishwashing. Every single moment. Meditate while at it, fully immersed, content. 

We all come from different countries, families, backgrounds. We all carry unique personal baggage. Among other items we collect, we each have a definition of what success is, but what is it really? It is, my friends, whatever we want it to be. As Brianna Wiest, in her book 101 Essays that will change the way you think, says, "Accomplishing goals is not success...how much you expand in the process is." To me, Merve is a perfect example of this. She walks the walk and expands with each and every step. No blame. No guilt. No expectations. Learn. Find balance. Move on. Thanks, dear Merve, for sharing your story. 🙏


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