Interview with alumna Carol Phua

Carol Phua works for the Dutch office of the World Wide fund for Nature (WWF), as a senior marine advisor. After having moved from her home country Malaysia to study at the University of Queensland in Australia, she met her husband, a Dutch man.

She moved to Europe in 2000 for an internship at the RIKZ (Rijksinstituut voor Kust en Zee). After this, she studied her MA at Wageningen University in Aquaculture and Fisheries, and thereafter worked as a researcher for the university for 4 months. She then moved to Brussels to work for the WWF, and later moved back to the Netherlands (still with the WWF) to continue her work in the marine sector.

Culture shock

One of the first things which Carol experienced in the Netherlands was a large culture shock! In her time in Australia, she got used to wide open spaces and travelling long distances, so she found the Netherlands to be quite claustrophobic and a little too densely populated in comparison. Despite Dutch people respecting personal space, she found the Netherlands to be structurally quite crowded, which was something she later got used to.

Mixed experience

Carol initially had problems with accommodation, living with a very strict Dutch family in the beginning. This led to her believe that most Dutch people were quite uptight and a little too domineering, but after a while she found another place to stay with a more open family, and her Dutch experience quickly grew more positive after this.


She found that speaking Dutch was a crucial aspect in being accepted into Dutch culture, “I didn’t feel properly accepted until I learned the language, even with friends and family of my boyfriend”. She felt that although the Dutch are typically good in speaking English, that perhaps they couldn’t express themselves properly in their 2nd language. In this sense Dutch is very important, and any international should be persistent in trying to learn it.

Active participation

In terms of working, Carol found that the Dutch were quite different from those in her home country of Malaysia, particularly in expressing opinions. She believes that Dutch people feel more entitled (or at least feel more comfortable) in giving their opinion on a wide range of subjects. In this sense she believes that it is a good place to be an active citizen if you eventually acquire a Dutch passport. Political participation is certainly accessible, as she discovered when trying to increase political awareness of topics which concerned her, such as the environment.

Learn Dutch

For those new to the Netherlands or considering coming, Carol’s top tip would definitely be to take a keen interest in learning Dutch, as it opens up many avenues into Dutch culture. If coming with a partner or coming to live with a partner who is Dutch, she suggests that you try hard to create and maintain your own circle of friends outside of your partner’s social circle as this allows you to integrate far more easily than you would otherwise!

Source: Expertise in Labour Mobility

last modified Oct 16, 2017 06:00 AM