“I could do something good here while learning Dutch”
After working as an architect in the Middle East for a few years, Apurva decided to quit her job and travel through Europe with her partner. They fell in love with Amsterdam and decided to move here. However, moving to another country can be quite overwhelming. How are you going to meet new people and how are you going to learn the local language? Apurva decided to do volunteer work: “I wanted to integrate with the local community and feel like I belong here.”
During her search for employment as an architect in Amsterdam, Apurva found how challenging it was to find work: “All the companies required me to speak Dutch fluently. So, I thought, okay I’m going to live here in the Netherlands and we are applying to settle here so we can learn Dutch. I started to look for Dutch language classes and I considered volunteering in many places because I really like to do something for people. You do something and there is a smile on someone’s face, I really like that. And besides that, by volunteering, I could do something meaningful while learning Dutch. That’s how I approached the VCA and they suggested working with children because I really like children and I love to make artwork as well.”
Working with children and artwork
That’s how Apurva ended up at ARTZUID, a foundation that, among other things, organizes ART camps for kids during the summer holiday. “Every week, from Monday to Friday, a new group of kids arrived. The kids were between the ages of four and ten and some were Dutch, but there were also English-speaking kids. During the camp, there was a teacher who was telling them what to do. Together with a couple of other volunteers, it was my task to make sure the kids had everything they needed, like drawing paper, and we had to assist them. Especially the little ones, they can’t write yet so they look at you and you can write for them, draw with them, or ask them questions: ‘hey, what did you make’ and ‘oh, give me a high five’. You can make them happy which makes a big difference. When I was young and went to an art camp, I remember this one teacher and I remember how happy I felt there. Now, I am 29 years old and 25 years later I still remember that clearly. And so, if the environment that the teacher created that day 25 years ago, can be so special for me, even now, I want to do the same for that kids over here as well.”
Language, happiness and job opportunities
“It felt like I became a part of a community when I started to volunteer. I wanted to integrate with the local community and feel like I belong here. And the people here are very accepting and very nice. You can be whatever you are and no one is going to be like: hey you are different. Of course, volunteering also brought me a lot of happiness and I even got a few job opportunities because of my volunteer work. One of the teachers at ARTZUID knew an architect and, not that I got the job, but my network is also improving which is a very good thing.”
“The emotions are the same everywhere”
Originally, Apurva is from India, but she was born and raised in the Middle East. She also did some volunteer work there: “It is nice to see that emotions are the same everywhere. Even if you volunteer in the middle east, in India, or in the Netherlands, you receive the same. Right now, I am volunteering at the Amsterdam International community school where I am a lunchtime and gym supervisor. So, I make sure the kids are in the room, the food is available for them, and just make the environment happy for the kids. It is the little things when you talk to the kids. I really would like to continue volunteering in the future.”
Tips for other expats
“I would say, as an expat, it’s scary to go to another country… how can you become a part of a local community? How can you make friends and meet new people? It is so important to volunteer, just be proactive, ask for help and people are always willing to help you. That’s the best thing about people here in the Netherlands. You just turn to them and ask if they want to help and they are always willing to give you a chance.”
Do you also like volunteering?
The’re a lot of possibilities in Amsterdam.
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Text: Kiki Dusebout
Photo: Marcel Jansen