Interview with Isabel Castano
Isabel Castano's story of starting a business in the Netherlands.
Isabel first moved to the Netherlands in 2005 to be with her boyfriend, whom she met in 2002. Isabel is originally from Colombia, and studied in Mexico too before moving to Europe. She had no real idea of what Europe was like, so decided to study European Studies at the University of Twente, as well as learning some Dutch when she arrived.
Learning Dutch was interesting, and it was helpful that most people speak a good level of English when you can’t find the right word. However, despite her best efforts, when trying to hold a conversation in Dutch, it often broke in to English!
Learn the language
“My initial impressions of the Netherlands were actually quite good, though sometimes I felt a little discriminated against until people got to know me. Being from Colombia, I am darker and smaller than most people here, so to the natives I was quite different.” She states that Latin Americans love foreigners, so this wasn’t what she expected.
Learning the language helped with integration though, and once Isabel started to settle, she found it a very pleasant place to be.
Just say no!
Finding work was not particularly easy at first, as knowing the Dutch language can often be a prerequisite of finding a job. Isabel gave Spanish lessons as a side job, and then realised it could be something which she could do full time.
One thing she learned to do, however, was to say ‘no’. The Dutch don’t have any problem saying no, whereas in Colombia, people will try various ways to let you down gently.
Starting her company Influencia Latina was actually quite straighforward, as she received a lot of support. “It’s definitely necessary to have an advanced level of Dutch, or a native Dutch speaker to help you, as the terminology and paperwork is almost always in Dutch. Registration at the Chamber of Commerce was simple enough, and an organisation called ROZ in Twente gave me a great deal of help and advice. Finally, the tax administration offered a training service, and I attended this together with my boyfriend. This was also in Dutch.”
Isabel really likes the sense of safety and transparency in the social and business worlds: “You really feel as if your tax money is going somewhere and that you can walk in the street at night without a care, which is a bit different to Colombia and Mexico. I also enjoy the more flexible attitude to working hours; in a lot of companies the 9-5 mentality doesn’t exist.”
Be sure to seek help
For anyone looking to work or study in the Netherlands, Isabel would recommend that they learn the language as quickly as possible to allow for a smoother transition into Dutch culture! She also states that anyone thinking of starting a company shouldn’t hesitate to call in the professionals (such as an accountant) to help you get started.
She offers a final word of advice: “Remember that Dutch people will let you know where you stand, and that you should be prepared to hear personal opinions on matters in all aspects of life!”
Source: Expertise in Labour Mobility