Expat Outlook: Living in Amsterdam
Romanian native Ciprian Cordun has already built an impressive resume by his mid 20s. Motivated, down to earth, and eager to broaden his horizons, Ciprian moved to Italy to study, was a member of the world’s largest student driven organization, AIESEC, and set the groundwork of a solid international career while working for a large German logistics company. His personality contributed to that greatly, in that he easily builds good relationships with people both in and out of the office. He is now living in Amsterdam, from where he kindly accepted to answer a few questions for MMA, and share his own perspective on living the expat life.
What made you move to Amsterdam and what are you doing there?
Well, I was living in Western Germany at the time when I was looking for a new job. My German was not good enough (and it still isn’t) to use it for business, so I started looking for multinational companies headquartered either in Belgium or the Netherlands, where I wouldn’t be required to speak the local language. Amsterdam was top of the list. I now work for the EMEA team of a large IT manufacturer, and am happily living in Amsterdam, a beautiful, cosy international capital, with lots to offer.
Have you learnt Dutch? Do you really need to speak the language or you’re fine just by speaking English?
I am not fluent in Dutch, but I can handle simple conversations. What I find really difficult is pronunciation. I don’t think it is impossible to learn, if you are motivated enough –which I am not, or haven’t been so far. Everybody speaks English here. It even becomes bothersome, at a certain point, when you ask someone something in your best Dutch possible and you get an answer directly in English. Even though there are plenty of job opportunities not requiring you to speak Dutch, still many companies would prefer you did. You could easily live forever as an expat in Amsterdam with speaking just English, but that would make it very difficult to really integrate with the locals. You need to speak Dutch for that.
How many years have you been living now in the Netherlands and how much time did you need to adjust to your new Dutch life?
I have been living here for almost three years. I think it took three-four months to find a place to rent that I could really call home. Finding a good place to live requires quite some energy and is the very first step in getting settled. You might need to budget some money for a serviced apartment or hotel for the first couple of months, or so. Besides that, things are quite well organized regarding registration at the city hall, opening a bank account, etc. You start meeting people quite quickly, most of them expats. In my case, the vast majority of my colleagues from work live outside of Amsterdam, close to the places where they grew up, making it difficult and time-consuming to build a solid friendship relationship with them.
We used to work for the same company a few years back in Germany. How did you get to come to work in Germany?
I came to Germany via AIESEC, a student organization, for a one-year traineeship with a big logistics group. I have a passion for airplanes, I wrote my graduation paper on international air transport, so an opportunity with a logistic company was spot-on.
How long did you live in Germany and what did you learn from your German experience (both work wise and people wise)?
I lived in Germany for a bit over one year. The business environment there really taught me how to be responsible, communicate effectively, deal with projects and build strong personal and business relationships with people from different cultures, located all over the globe. I think living in Germany helped me become more pragmatic, deal with things more effectively and learn how to really focus on the important things.
You also studied in Italy. Where and what did you study?
I spent one year in Perugia, Umbria, as an Erasmus student. I had the chance to choose the courses myself, so I focused on geopolitics and international studies.
What memories do you have from your stay in Italy?
It was an amazing year! It was my first year abroad, so lots of new things to discover. I speak Italian fluently, so fitting in was really easy. I got to meet amazing people, I have seen great places, eaten great food, all-in-all, really amazing!
What do you like the most about living in the Netherlands and the least?
Even though it’s a small country, there’s plenty to do around here. It is also very well-connected to many other places in Europe, allowing you to travel easily. Dutch people, besides being very practical, are also open-minded and international – that makes it a very good environment to work and live in as an expat. If I have to point out a thing I really do not like, that must be the vegetables you find here and food in general. I think locals go for convenience too much and the taste of the food is lost along the way.
You’ve been travelling a lot in Europe and Asia. What did you enjoy the most? Any particular place you’re really fond of?
Yes, I’ve been to quite a few places. I have to say I could not think of a place I really didn’t like! I think we are really lucky in Europe with having so much diversity close by. I like in particular the Canary Islands. I associate them with small continents. You have volcanic landscapes on one side, tropical on another, with plenty of quaint Spanish villages.
Would you recommend living in Netherlands to anyone coming from other corners of the world?
Definitely! I think anyone could make Holland a home, regardless of the cultural background. Either for studies or for work, I think it would be a great choice, at least for a few years.
What advice would you give to anyone who would like to move and work abroad?
Working abroad is an adventure! I knew from quite a few years ago I would like to experience living in a foreign country. If you know you want that, then the only thing left to do is to actually find a job overseas. Holland, for instance, is still very strict with issuing work visas for some Eastern European countries. Even so, I have met many highly-educated people coming from Eastern Europe here.
If you are able to communicate and work in a foreign language, have a good educational background and are able to adapt to new situations easily, you only need to be persistent until an opportunity appears.
Be careful, though. Living in a foreign country might be more expensive than you expect. Spend some time reading about working conditions, living costs and local culture. Taxation is also important. At the same salary, you might get more net in the Netherlands than in Germany. Some countries (including the Netherlands) offer tax breaks for highly-skilled migrants.
Photo: Courtesy Ciprian Cordun
Where in Europe are you living? Share your thoughts if you’re living the expat life.