Sander was born and raised in North Brabant in a town called Gemert, about 20 kilometers from Eindhoven. He has lived in different parts of the Netherlands, completing his studies in economics in Rotterdam and working in Antwerp. He’s traveled elsewhere in the world both on business and for pleasure. He also has a lot of experience working with international employees on different projects abroad, currently including one in Australia and one in Saudi Arabia.
I ask him what he likes about the city of Eindhoven.
“It’s village enough to feel comfortable, and it’s city enough to be anonymous.”
He sees Eindhoven as an ideal compromise between a big city and a village. He feels comforted by the informal community structure of Eindhoven yet finds it relieving that a person can sometimes still be anonymous. When he goes back to Gemert, he often meets people he’s known for a long time at the Supermarket. “[They’re] always looking in my cart at what I’m buying and I’m like, that’s not your business! In the city, you can find this, but you can also avoid it. It gives you choice. That’s what I like about Eindhoven.”
“Think global; act local.”
Sander believes strongly in this statement, and he thinks that it’s exactly what we do in Eindhoven. He reminds us that the citizens of Eindhoven have been providing products and services to the rest of the world for over a hundred years – by some definitions then, Eindhoven has long been a global city. We talk a bit about the differences between Eindhoven and Amsterdam. We both agree that in terms of international cultural diversity, Amsterdam has no equal in the Netherlands. However, he suggests that Eindhoven boasts an attractive mentality that Amsterdam does not. “We connect locally, or at least we try to,” he says. “Eindhoven is of the people of Eindhoven. Amsterdam is great for tourists.”
I am struck by Sander’s ability to empathize with the international expats coming to Eindhoven, despite never having lived abroad himself. He stresses the importance of developing roots for the internationals so that they “stick to the area” and stay long-term in Eindhoven. To accomplish this, he suggests relying on a cooperative relationship between the expats and their partners, the companies they work for, and the local government.
“I strongly think that for starters, it’s [the expats’] own responsibility.” They have to be willing to take the first step towards integration. But he also believes that companies play an important role, and that sometimes this role is not fulfilled. “Wake up, companies,” he says. “It’s not only signing a contract [with an international employee], but it’s making sure that you at least provide some hooks or something so that people connect to the area and that they feel welcome.” He goes on to say that community-driven programs like Expat Spouses Initiative are needed in Eindhoven, because they encourage people to feel at home and to remain in the area.
Sander’s belief in community-driven ventures isn’t merely words. As mentioned at the beginning of this article, he is chairman of the board for Founded By All, a company dedicated to helping entrepreneurs develop their ideas into a something that can be a sustainable contribution to society. In Founded By All, member entrepreneurs interact on a daily basis, working together on projects and sharing their knowledge to strengthen both themselves and the collective.
Sander feels connected to the city and to what makes it successful, and he is looking forward to being in the panel discussions for the Global City Eindhoven event. He feels that by contributing to the discussion with other global citizens of Eindhoven, he can be a part of the cooperation and exchange of knowledge involved in the communal effort of continuing to make Eindhoven a better place.
I ask him if he has any advice for internationals looking for opportunities to develop themselves professionally in Eindhoven, to which he promptly responds:
“Go out and meet people.”
He pauses before he continues. “Yeah, it’s not as simple as it sounds,” he admits. “Everybody knows the awkward feeling of entering a traumatic network event. You don’t know anyone, and you’re late and everybody’s already talking to somebody. Your phone is your best friend at that moment, but that doesn’t help you either.” He goes on to say that if you can jump the initial hurdle of opening up and talking to someone, it’s almost always rewarding. We need to keep in mind that we’re probably only as nervous as the person standing next to us. Sander says that networking isn’t limited to career fairs or business events. “Even if you go to a concert tonight, and you talk to someone, then you’re networking.” You may even discover that the person you’re talking to has a startup company and they’re looking for someone just like you.
“You never know. The worst thing that could happen is that you meet interesting people.”
Want to hear more? Come to the Global City Eindhoven event on October 2 to learn more about these and other topics and to participate in active panel discussions with Sander and other prominent global citizens of Eindhoven. (http://globalcityeindhoven.com/).
Bottom-up enterprises such as Expat Spouses Initiative (http://expatspousesinitiative.org/) aim to achieve a more global future for Eindhoven by encouraging expats who follow their partners to the Netherlands to integrate more with the local community and to contribute to the growth of the local economy.
About the author: Kate Brunton is an American-born, English-, French-, and Dutch-speaking global citizen of Eindhoven. She recently graduated with a master of science in social psychology, and is a core member of the Expat Spouses Initiative team. She strongly identifies with the ideas and values at the heart of the organization. She also works for Startupbootcamp Smart Materials in marketing and communication. She loves writing and has enjoyed being able to share the stories of the Global City Eindhoven participants.
1) The Global City Eindhoven Event is organised by Expat Spouses Initiative.