Barbara’s Dutch crash course C1 – Interview
How do internationals manage to find their way in a new country? The second in this series of interviews is with Barbara, who recently moved to Nijmegen to work as an ENT (ear, nose, and throat) doctor.
Hi Barbara! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Barbara and I’m originally from Südtirol, a northern province of Italy. My mother tongue is German even though I’m from Italy, when I went to study medicine, I moved to Germany. Later on, I worked as a doctor in Austria, so it’s safe to say I’m quite used to an international environment. I came to the Netherlands because I love facial plastic and reconstructive surgery and this country has very good fellowships for ENT doctors who want to specialize in this field.
Doing the impossible
How did the move go?
It was a bit hectic. My fellowship was supposed to start in autumn last year, so I wanted to come to the Netherlands in March to do a two-week language course, but couldn’t due to the pandemic. So I started online sessions with my first tutor René van de Berg and continued with my second tutor Rob Bandringa. The idea of having two different tutors was that this would create more variation in my learning process. In the end, I only moved here at the beginning of October and already started my fellowship by the end of that month. Learning Dutch was very important, because in order to get accepted into the fellowship, I had to pass a language test for doctors. Not many people pass because the level is very high of this test. As a doctor, you need to understand everything the patient is saying, and you need to be able to ask specific questions about their symptoms. The test even included an oral presentation about a scientific paper.
How did you prepare for the test?
I scheduled sessions with my new tutor Rob two or three times a week up until a month after I had moved to the Netherlands. In the beginning, I really had to get through it, because you need to have at least some basic grammar knowledge to start forming your own sentences. So in order to pass I stayed at home and studied irregular verbs from my books. But the goal of passing the language test and getting to do my fellowship really motivated me. Once I learned the basics, learning Dutch became much more fun as well. Being able to apply the things you learn to small talk about your holiday or what you did with your friends is very rewarding. In order to prepare for the test specifically, Rob and I did a lot of consultation simulation. So he would pretend to be a patient seeking help for his headache, and I would have to figure out what was going on by asking questions. Rob would also look up medical papers and we discussed them together. After all, I was so used to all these medical terms in Dutch, that I felt comfortable doing the test.
So… did you pass?
Yes! I passed the language test, and I am even the first non-native doctor ever to be granted the fellowship! I think a big part of my success is due to the private sessions that I did with my tutor, which allowed me to learn the specific kind of Dutch I needed to know. The sessions were great fun, I learnt a lot but so did Rob – he would have never looked up all those medical papers if he hadn’t been teaching me. I think our sessions were interesting for him too, as he’s something with a wide range of interests and lots of general knowledge.
Settling into life in The Netherlands
Congratulations! What’s your life like right now?
I live in Nijmegen, which I like because it’s quite an international city with a lot of students around. There’s lots of restaurants as well – which I hope will be able to open soon – and I love the view on the Waal river. I’m very happy with the fellowship and getting my BIG-registration. (BIG registration: You may use the legally protected title(s) belonging to your profession.) It’s a bit hard to build a social life right now, but I hang out with colleagues in the weekends, which is fun. I finished lessons with Rob because I’ve met my goal, but we did meet up a few times since and even went to a museum together.
Is there anything that has taken you some time to get used to?
Well, now that you ask, I find Dutch food habits to be totally different from what I’m used to. In Südtirol, we eat a warm meal twice a day, and it’s good, traditional South Tyrolean food. Here, people eat bread for breakfast and lunch, and dinner time is the only warm and also the biggest meal of the day. Of course I try to adapt. I am used to buy my food from organic supermarkets, so at least the quality will be a bit higher than what you might find in regular stores.
And then there’s the weather, I’m used to a lot more sun than what we get here. But that’s not the most important thing to me. Something that surprised me more, was Dutch directness. When I just started working in the hospital in Ede, my mentor warned me about it. At first, I didn’t understand: I thought that were I’m from, people are direct as well, and I was used to that. Now I know that there’s different levels of directness. Here, people just ask what they need and say what they think or want. I like honesty and being able to admit when you’re not sure or happy without offending them.
Do you have any advice for others moving here?
Moving to the Netherlands was definitely a good decision. When I look back on my first months here, I do wish that I had a bit more time. I only had one month before I started my job. I was rushing from place to place, getting a new phone, insurances, registering at the municipality, and oh yes, I had to prepare for the Dutch language test. It would have been nice to have two months instead of one to get all that done. That would be my advice to others: if possible, take the time you need to adjust.
Thank you for your story, Barbara! We’re very impressed with how quick you learned Dutch, obtaining your BIG-registration, and becoming the first non-native doctor to be granted the fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. We wish you a pleasant time here in the Netherlands!
Written by Zerline Henning