A small change making a big difference

Discovering a new environment with new people and new opportunities. Discovering my preferences within the world of communication.

Influencing how we empower, produce, work, live and move around in the future, in which communication is the key to success.

I’ve been looking for an exciting and educational international internship for the next semester for a while, when I come across an interesting internship offer from ABB, a multinational company. A great offer that aligns with my interests, organizing B2B events. As a third-year bachelor student of the International Communication study at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen, this is an opportunity that I would definitely want to seize. I’m having a Skype interview with Sarah Vanden Broeck and Veerle Van Asbroeck from ABB. Afterwards, I’m told that I’m offered to strengthen the corporate communication team in the next five months. Exciting!

My internship will be in Zaventem, just outside Brussels. From what friends tell me, Leuven is the perfect student city to enjoy myself outside my internship hours. Through Facebook, I’ve quickly arranged a room I can stay during the semester. My roommates give me a warm welcome, despite being the ‘noisy’ Dutch person and I immediately feel at home in this beautiful student city.

During my first week of internship, I’m immediately given a very attractive and intensive assignment; participating in the Indumation trade fair in Kortrijk. Indumation is an important trade fair which various ABB businesses participate in. Since this is a large trade fair, both Dutch and Belgian visitors come here, as well as many ABB employees. At this trade fair, I immediately notice that the cultural differences between Belgium and the Netherlands are sometimes underestimated.

ABB Intern

A clear difference that strikes me straight away is that the Dutch are more extrovert. I’ve hardly hung up my coat or the first bunch of chatty Dutch people come to me to introduce themselves. The Belgians, on the other hand, are somewhat more reserved. Another major difference that strikes me is the language. Although I have already experienced the language barrier, some minor misunderstandings still arise. After a long working day of nine hours at the trade fair, my colleague Sarah says: “Are we through?” At first, I look a bit surprised, but when I realize that she actually means: “Shall we go home?”, I’m relieved. When I say that I am going for a hike, to get some fresh air, I receive a few compliments about how fanatic I am. When asked where I keep my running shoes, it becomes clear to me that “going for a hike” actually means a sport activity in Belgian Dutch, rather than a casual walk in Belgian Dutch.

As part of my studies, I investigated general cultural differences between the Netherlands and Belgium. I did this using the Hofstede model. In general, Belgians are more motivated to deliver the best result, whereas Dutch people are more motivated to do what they enjoy. Together, this provides a balanced mix of performance and motivation. This is why ABB in the Benelux is sometimes a complex but well-functioning organization that delivers a strong performance at trade fairs.

We are now four months down the line. The combination of Flemish housemates and colleagues means that I now have a better understanding of Belgian Dutch. In fact, I’ve started to use some of the Belgian words. Although my international internship in Belgium doesn’t seem so international at first sight, I still feel that I’ve learned a new language and have become acquainted with another culture of an altogether interesting country!

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About the author

Ilse Deetman

Is 21 years of age and studies International Communication at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen. During a 4-month internship in the spring of 2019, Ilse helps ABB to organize B2B events. By doing so, she gains practical experience with a wide range of communication activities within the Benelux organization off ABB, a multinational company.
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