Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Life after graduating from VMU

A little while ago I was contacted by the International Office of Vytautas Magnus University with the request to answer some questions on my life after gaining my Master degree in Lithuania. My activities in the Baltics have had a massive impact on my life, in a positive way of course, and therefore I was more than pleased to review what I'd been going through there, and how the first steps of my career have evolved. The interview as published here (click to be redirected) is somewhat shortened. Below you'll be able to read the full version.

Always friendly, creative and open-minded. That‘s how many of us would describe Nienke Bos. She’s a student who has graduated a master degree program in Journalism and Media Analysis at VMU in 2014. During her two year study period she participated in many social and cultural activities and experienced Erasmus+ studies in Estonia. Also, she was one of the most active VMU Ambassadors who had the chance to represent international students and the whole university in various cases. Now she's back home in the Netherlands and as far as we know she's successfully working according to her specialty. Interested in how is she's doing right now? Let‘s find out!

1. Goedemorgen, Nienke! How are you? It‘s a pleasure to have an interview with you.

Laba diena Lietuva! I'm viskas gerai! Nice to virtually talk to you.

2. It has been a little bit more than one year after you graduated from VMU. What has changed?
Well, I've slowly but steadily moved towards the Netherlands again. Just before my graduation, I've arranged that I could volunteer in Denmark for a while. This turned out to be a very demanding, challenging, but fascinating time. I've worked with youngsters being a bit difficult to handle. By the start of 2015, I felt that my time in Denmark had reached its end. From January 2015 till mid-July I've been searching for a job. I've applied for many jobs in the Netherlands, but also in Germany, Sweden and even Romania. It was a tough time, as you don't know in advance how long the search for a job continues. I kept my head up high, which was at times difficult. I was on the edge of moving to Hamburg, and to Berlin too. Seems that wasn’t meant to be, and that’s alright. 

I noticed that it's important to take a break from the job hunt from time to time, and that this doesn't always have to cost much. I for instance flew to the beautiful Polish city Gdansk, stayed there for about five days and eventually flew back, for less than 100 euro's in total. The budget-proof travel ability mixed with my Dutch unwillingness to spend a lot of money played a role in that. It surely provided some energy to continue my disciplined job hunt.

Eventually, I was lucky to be based in the least populated area of the Netherlands, where basically the largest asylum center is of the Netherlands is located too. That's where I found a job. I’ll tell you more about it soon. 

3. Tell us about your studies in Lithuania. Was it useful and interesting for you?
I've started a master degree in Journalism and Media Analysis in 2012. There are about three factors that played an important role in my decision to study in Lithuania. I'd spent a lot of study and work time in Estonia and Latvia already, and I somehow wanted to complete the Baltic puzzle by adding Lithuania to that list too. During my bachelor in European Studies I developed a strong interest in (creative) writing, furthermore realizing that the maze of politics in Brussels isn't really my desired cup of tea, even though it's a fascinating world. Luck was on my side with Vytautas Magnus University offering an English master degree in Journalism and Media Analysis. The International Office of Vytautas Magnus University was responsible for the last step towards Lithuania. I actually hesitated between a journalism focused master degree in Estonia and Lithuania, however, because of the timely, friendly and helpful communication of the International Office in Kaunas, I felt that studying in Lithuania would fit me best. I do certainly not regret that choice. Interestingly enough, I spent half a year in Estonia anyways, because of a bilateral agreement between Vytautas Magnus University and Tallinn University. One can't always have all, but in this case, I definitely got the best out of both options.

4. Could you name one best and one worst moment of studying at VMU?
Studying at Vytautas Magnus University didn't only bring me knowledge, but it also provided an opportunity to share my knowledge with others. I guess the best example of that is the Erasmus in Schools project, even though I was not technically an Erasmus student while studying in Lithuania. I participated in this initiative in both Estonia and Lithuania. It's a delight to stand in front of classes filled with enthusiastic, curious, young people fanatically forming their own opinions. I truly enjoyed teaching them about my own country, but I also adored listening to other international students telling us about their home countries and the features of their cultures. It doesn’t happen every day that you see some guys from Azerbaijan performing their impressive national dance, or that you’re being taught the symbolic behind the South Korean flag by a lovely student in a traditional costume. The disadvantage of being Dutch and providing space for questions to with hormones filled teenagers, is that I often had to explain the drug stereotype. No, we’re not all stoned nutters out here. Honestly, it was fun to slightly provoke the students on matters like homosexuality, gay marriage and a matter like euthanasia. Discussing these topics brings an insight in idea's of an individual, and how opinions are shared within a group, or even secretly shared afterwards.

The first unpleasant matter that pops up is probably the thesis writing process. I'm not big on academic writing, as it differs quite a bit from my desired writing style. I'm rather disciplined and fine with individually spreading work load over a longer period of time and working independently. Yet, I did miss out on the brainstorm sessions en discussions with other students and professors. The lack of contact with others and the - for me - unattractiveness of the academic writing process, made my thesis writing process to be one of my least favourite moments in Lithuania. I made a schedule on the desired work load to finish every single day. Crossing off the tasks from the list made me enjoy my breaks from the overall thesis writing more. However, I then didn't party, but preferred taking long walks through Kaunas and Vilnius and Lithuania's surrounding countries, always trying to discover the essence of local life, slightly distanced from the tourist brochures.

5. Last time we had an interview, you mentioned that after your studies, you most probably will go  volunteer in Denmark, because it‘s hard to get a job in the Netherlands. So was it really that hard? Tell us more about your job. Is it the one you have been searching for?
It was in fact rather difficult to find a suitable job being journalism related. I found out that there are lots of interesting internships within this field. However, most of them are located near Amsterdam, being 2,5 hours away from where I live. These highly desired and difficult to get internships provide valuable experience in print media, but hardly any decent salary at all. Even if you're lucky, you'll receive only 250 euro's a month. In the Netherlands, you can't even rent a tiny room for that price, especially not near Amsterdam. One has to invest in the future, but I didn't consider ending up with a loan would be worth it, especially since I’d fulfilled so many internships already.

Currently I'm working for the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service, belonging to the Dutch Ministry of Safety and Justice. I interview people from Eritrea and Syria whom ask for asylum in the Netherlands. My interviews mainly focus on the reasons why these people have fled their countries, and if these stories are consistent. It's a demanding job, as I hear the most terrible stories on a daily basis. However, it feels good to play an important part in the futures of these people, diminishing their fears. I notice a lot of journalism related facets come across on a daily basis. Interviewing techniques play a large role in gaining a complete story based on the truth. My knowledge, curiosity and creativity, gained among others at Vytautas Magnus University, have certainly helped to improve the quality of my work here, in the Northern part of the Netherlands.

In my current job, I'm a representative for my country: a smiling face welcoming people in need of safety, providing space for people to tell their individual stories. It makes me think back about the Cultural Nights in Kaunas sometimes, during which I represented my country. I wasn't really 'Nienke', I was (the girl from) the Netherlands. Anyhow, it's a satisfying matter to make people feel at ease during an interview, whereas they could initially have been a bit nervous. Sometimes, you really connect with people, but still in a professional way of course. I'm highly interested in different cultures and the customs and habits belonging to these cultures. That's why I always enjoyed the Cultural Nights in Kaunas, and that's exactly why my job is so fulfilling too.

Luckily, I can sort of shut my emotions off during my interviews, otherwise this job would be terribly hard. As soon as I drive home at the end of a work day, I forget about the stories being told, even though I must admit they do sometimes vaguely appear within my unconsciousness while dreaming during the night.

6. You have spent five years, from 2009 to 2014 living, working and studying in the Baltic countries. So seeing you as an expert of Baltic region I have to ask – which country did you like most and why?
I already expected this question! People have been asking me this before, but Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are all unique in their own way. I have the feeling I blend in best in Estonia. For example, people there tend to wear more outdoor clothes, just like me. Dutch women are known for their love for functionality (which unfortunately also results in short, unattractive haircuts once the ladies reach their forties). Estonia’s nature is stunning. I even managed to observe the country from above by balloon (I could even see Finland!), paraglider and rusty old Antonov An-2.

I totally love the sound of the Latvian language and Latvia's capital Riga has conquered my heart since my very first minute there. I got introduced to the Baltics while fulfilling my Erasmus exchange in Riga in 2009. I spent hours strolling through the streets of Riga, and I always challenged myself to discover parts I hadn't seen before. I'm fascinated by Riga's Art Nouveau faces adorning the facades of the buildings.

The special thing about Lithuania is that it's a very 'overviewable' country. I consider Lithuanians to be rather approachable. They seem to be less shy to speak English and to talk to strangers than Estonians and Latvians. Furthermore, Lithuania has cepelinai (zeppelin-shaped dumplings, filled with pork) and saltibarsciai (cold beet soup): tasty!

7. Are you still passionate about travelling? Maybe you have a next destination to explore? Or maybe it‘s time to settle down?
The idea of settling down frightens me a bit. In the Baltics, I've always been so free. I lived in the moment, not knowing which place I'd call home half a year later. I still tend to get a bit melancholic when thinking back about it from time to time. I'm sometimes still facing difficulties in accepting that my study time in the Baltics has reached its end. Of course I also realize that change is a necessary factor to keep on living a happy life, and that nothing lasts forever. Living in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had thought me that change can be somewhat scary, but that it eventually brings joy, and moreover, a lot of valuable knowledge. Currently, I'm very satisfied with my job, but the lust for travel will always remain. It's good to observe one's life from a distance once in a while, while being indulged by another culture elsewhere.

8. Talking about passions, I know you have a huge interest in hot air ballooning and photography. Could you tell us what special is about these hobbies?
The sense of freedom in a hot air balloon is indescribable. Balloons are like steerless boats, floating on the clouds. You never know where the wind will eventually take you, which adds up to the adventurous and sensational feeling of ballooning. I'm fond of photo's telling a little story, framed in a well thought-out composition. It's a challenge to capture those moments from up in the air in this particular way, including the joy it brings to the ones both on the ground and in the air.

9. Do you think it‘s important for everyone to have a hobby, or it‘s enough to have a speciality?
That's an interesting question. We of course live in a society in which almost everybody tries to be unique, wanting to stand out from the crowd. Because of that, we all act rather alike again. Don't we all feel the desire to be a bit different? There are many ways to achieve this. As a young Dutch woman, I consider it to be quite special to be into ballooning, and to have worked and studied in the Baltics for a long period of time, starting before I even reached my twentieth birthday. I guess everybody cherishes an own passion in some sort of way. I wouldn't say you were doing something wrong if not, but a hobby or speciality is a true identity-shaper. It’s fulfilling to belong to a certain sub-group, and I guess we all naturally need that in order to keep our self acceptance on a healthy level.

10. How do you see yourself in the next five years?
Well, I actually didn't really think about that yet. I don't know where I'll live and what I'll do, which is a liberating idea. All options are still open. I hope I'll fill my days with a satisfying job in which I can combine my love for writing with interesting conversations with individuals from all over the world.

11. What could you tell to the possible readers who are thinking of studying in VMU? Any advices?
The personal approach of VMU attracted my attention. If you do not wish to be treated as a number, and if you prefer discussions and creativity way over learning things by heart, then the liberal arts atmosphere at VMU is totally something for you. Don’t be afraid. Chase your dreams. Do it for yourself, and don’t let the idea of missing someone for a longer period of time stop you from studying abroad.

12. Thank you very much for the interview. I wish you the best of luck and see you somewhere around Europe!
With pleasure! Have a fun day and see you around! I can’t wait to head to the Baltics again.

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