By Dr Penny Barter, University of Tilburg, NL with a short STECA Intro.
The second of today’s posts is another international Early Career move – this time from Penelope Barter who is Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies and Biblical Hebrew at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. Penny’s education already had a strong international profile having studied at St Andrews, Scotland, and Union Theological Seminary in New York City before returning to do her doctoral work in St Andrews. Penny shares how she navigated the multi-lingual job search and working environment as well as the cultural acclimatization that is required for such a move.
“Why did you move to the Netherlands?” It’s a question I hear a lot, and almost never know whether to answer honestly. I moved here for a job as an Assistant Professor in Biblical Studies and Biblical Hebrew over a year ago, joining the many academics who work outside their country or countries of origin.
Finding the Job
Academic job postings in the Netherlands are hard to find, partly because the size of the country means positions are limited, but also because the few posts that come up are narrowly advertised. Adverts will appear on the university’s own website, and usually on the go-to site for jobs, Academic Transfer. I knew nothing about Academic Transfer when searching, however, and found the advert for my current job through Indeed! If you’re not sure where to start, or have no preference for a particular country, the postings on jobs.ac.uk, SBL/AAR (subscription needed), and generic search engines can help you see what’s available.
Tip: Make sure you use the right search terms for each country/language (e.g., Bijbel for Dutch sites; Biblia for Spanish; and so on).
Negotiating the Requirements
The most common question about my job is whether I have to, or will have to, teach in Dutch. The short answer is yes, but this will vary by program, university, and country. The advertisement called for quite a few specific requirements, including “excellent command of the Dutch and English languages…or have the willingness to acquire this proficiency within 2 years.” Since I could say precisely one phrase in Dutch by that point, I decided to ask the named contact person whether the willingness to learn was really sufficient. As it happened, they were willing to take on a native English speaker without Dutch, but I have needed to use both languages in my job from Day 1.
Tip: Be honest with yourself, and the interview panel, about what you are and are not prepared to do.
Navigating the Cultural Differences
There are endless jokes about the differences between what British people mean and what they say, and this has probably been the hardest difference to navigate. On the lighter side, an acquaintance thought that “You should come for dinner sometime” was actually an invitation to dinner (unbelievable!) and colleagues often assume that a casual “sorry” (in English or Dutch) is an apology. On a more serious note, I have learned to be far more transparent with students than I was in the UK, since they tend to take what I say at face value. Expressing British thoughts in Dutch words—or in English, for that matter—simply did not communicate what I thought it did.
Tip: Decide what you are willing to change, and what you’re not prepared to give up.
So why did you move to the Netherlands?
I moved here because I needed a job, and wanted the challenge of a new language and environment. Since starting, I have come to enjoy life in Tilburg on its own terms too! Of course, there is more than one way to approach this. Personally, the ability to live in multiple countries throughout my career is one of the features of academic life that I find most attractive, though I appreciate that may not be a viable option for everyone for a variety of reasons.
Tip: Know thyself! There is no shame in wanting to stay close to people or places you know and love, and no shame in wanting to experience something new and different.
Penny tweets as @penelopebarter and is always happy to talk about the pros and cons of academic life abroad!