Exchanging languages can help build personal connections in the Netherlands

Learn about Laura Avendano's journey from Colombia to thriving as a process engineer at Econvert in the Netherlands. Get expert tips for internationals in the North, from overcoming language barriers to embracing outdoor adventures. Explore the vibrant world of water engineering while navigating life in the serene landscapes of Leeuwarden. Dive in and discover how to succeed in the North with Laura's invaluable insights

Laura Avendaño (1)

Having conversations around exchanging languages can help create opportunities for you to build personal connections, advises Econvert’s Laura Avendano. Make it in the North had a chat with Laura to learn about how she landed her job in the North and if she had any tips and tricks for fellow internationals to succeed in this part of the woods.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

I'm Laura Avendano. I am from Colombia and I came to the Netherlands to do my master’s almost four years ago. I studied in IHE Delft Institute for Water Education.

What do you do at Econvert?

Within Econvert I am a process engineer. So I am involved in the execution of the projects. Once the sales phase has been concluded we receive a project, then as a team we continue with its development. Like all the basic engineering and design engineering. Then we do the procurement related to the construction phase on site. And at the end, as a process engineer, we go on-site to commission and start up the units that we design here.

So in a way, we’re involved in all the phases of the project. 

How did you land your job? 

My background was in civil engineering. My master’s was in sanitary engineering. I finished it after the coronavirus pandemic and there was some uncertainty about what to do next and where.

A recruiter contacted me and said they were looking for people with my background. Then I had an interview. It was interesting because there are only a few companies that are specialised in this area and some of them are here in the North. So it was really interesting for me to also learn a little bit more about the technology itself that is the anaerobic treatment. 

What was it like adapting to life in the North?

For the first two years I lived in Delft. Then finding a place in the Netherlands is difficult. But I found one in Leeuwarden. There was a big jump from Delft to Leeuwarden but I really like the city. It’s cosy and really easy to get around.

In certain points the recruiter helped me with applications because at points when Dutch is required it gets tricky but they helped me a lot. Right now I’m living in Zwolle. So I moved there because my husband found a job in Rotterdam and the distance between Leeuwarden and Rotterdam is far. So now we’re more or less in between. 

What do you like most about living and working here in the North?

It’s calm. It’s a really relaxed life compared to that in the cities.

I come from Colombia’s capital with a population of around 10 million people. So it’s obviously very different. I also have colleagues that are mechanical engineers during the day but in their free time they are also famers or take care of their own plots of land. That was nice to see.

What was the hardest challenge you've had to overcome?

The language. As internationals it can be a very personal challenge. I felt I really needed to learn the language to live in the Netherlands. I also try to expand my social life because we interact quite a bit with expats but sometimes it’s a bit harder to integrate with the Dutch people.

What is your favourite thing to do in your spare time here? 

I like to cycle around on my bike and explore the surroundings. There are a lot of green areas very close to the centre of Leeuwarden. 

I really like to, cycle around, use my bike, and just go and explore around.

There are also water activities you can do, like renting a boat or a kayak to explore the canals.

Do you have any tips for other internationals about how to make it in the North?

Just keep on trying! Sometimes our professional profiles are really interesting to some companies. 

There are good opportunities in the North and it’s a good place to live.

What was it like integrating within a Dutch team?

Dutch people speak English very well so communication is easy. But I also try to do language exchanges with colleagues – so it’s like I teach you Spanish and you help me with my Dutch. These things help you be more involved because in those exchanges you are also talking about personal things.

The interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Interviewer: Annaléa Chatelier
Video: Julia Dumchenko