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Alumna Akke de Hoog: ‘My work is teaching me how to think in terms of opportunities’

Akke de Hoog (26) helps asylum seekers whose application has been rejected to plan their future and voluntary return to their country of origin. Her master’s programme taught her about migration and how international politics, the climate and the economy impact different migration flows, as well as migration legislation and policy. ‘The results of these global developments can be observed at local level as they affect the people we coach.’

Alumna: Akke de Hoog. Position: Project Assistant/Counsellor at the Dutch Council for Refugees for West and Central Netherlands. Study: MA in Cities, Migration, and Global Interdependence. Graduated in 2019.

Employer: Marije Horrevorts. Position: Project Coordinator/Counsellor at the Dutch Council for Refugees for West and Central Netherlands.

Akke, what does your work involve?

‘I have talks with clients about their experience of having their application rejected and planning for a future in which they no longer have any legal recourse in the Netherlands. Together we formulate a plan for the future and investigate whether they can return to their country of origin safely and permanently. We map potential obstacles and check, for example, whether the medication they need is available and accessible in their country of origin. But we also look at the client’s talents and opportunities for a new start. Once a person goes back to their country of origin, they are given further assistance by a local partner of the Dutch Council for Refugees. Our partners are all independent organisations (NGOs) embedded in a European network. They help our clients for a period of one year to reintegrate and address any obstacles they encounter in the process.’

Akke de Hoog | Photo © Quincy Engelhardt

How did you end up working for the Dutch Council for Refugees?

‘Because of my study background I was always interested in making contact with people from different cultural backgrounds. I’m quite pragmatic and I like to think in terms of solutions. This project appealed to me because it involves helping people who may be in a very difficult situation but who still have the freedom to make decisions about their future. Coaching people personally is also something I find very valuable. Before taking on this position, I spent 18 months working for the Dutch Council for Refugees as a volunteer. When I graduated I saw that they had a vacancy for a position that would allow me to focus fully on coaching clients. It was a perfect opportunity for me!’

What do you like best about your work?

‘My work is interesting because I meet people I would never have met otherwise. I enjoy working in a team and I have nice colleagues with very diverse backgrounds; we really support each other. We also help each other to see things from a different perspective. My work forces me to look further than my clients’ circumstances; the people I deal with are always in a difficult situation, but they are also resilient people with dreams, talents and wishes for the future. So my work also teaches me to think in terms of opportunities.’

Which of the qualities required for this work do you see in Akke, Marije?

‘Akke is very internationally oriented, and she knows a lot about different cultures and religions, which is really useful in this work. During her studies, Akke spent a lot of time abroad: she studied in Israel and completed an internship at a Palestinian women’s organisation in East Jerusalem. She also travelled a lot in Lebanon, which helped her gain insight into different languages, traditions and customs. Intercultural communication is very important in our work and thanks to these experiences it’s something Akke is very good at. The work can also be quite intense, but Akke is not easily thrown off course.’

Marije Horrevorts | Photo © Quincy Engelhardt

Akke, which of the skills you acquired in your studies are most useful to you now?

‘In my studies I learned that not everything is set in stone and that my truth need not be the truth. Everyone has their own narrative, and it forms their perspective on the world. This is important in a project where the ultimate choice rests with the client. During my master’s programme I learnt a lot about migration and how it interfaces with other areas, for example how history, international politics, the climate and the economy affect different migration flows, migration legislation and policy. The results of these global developments can be observed at local level as they affect the people we coach. I also learned to quickly absorb large amounts of information. My work requires me to process extensive files on people, so this is an essential skill.’

Marije, what is the added value of Akke’s background in the Humanities?

‘A Humanities study programme teaches students that there is more than one truth and that you have to keep an open mind. They also learn to think critically and analytically, which are important skills for this work. In my experience this makes people with a background in Humanities more flexible.’

What would you advise students who will soon be entering the labour market?

Akke: ‘Do some volunteer work. Not only because it’s good to be in contact with different people, but also because it’s a low threshold way to get to know an organisation. I did a lot of volunteer work during my studies, and it taught me so much about what I enjoy and what I would like to do later. I also always had apart-time job, for example waitressing. It may sound like a busy schedule, but it did teach me discipline and planning, which made it easier for me to transition to a work rhythm after my studies.’

Marije: ‘Make sure you do some volunteer work, or take on a job or internship. Having a solid work ethic and understanding how an organisation is structured is important when you’re looking for a job. For example, when selecting volunteers who are still studying or recently graduated, we always look at what the candidate has done in addition to their studies.’

Work in times of Coronavirus

Akke: ‘Our work now also takes place online. We try to keep in touch with our clients via phone and video calls. Talks about returning to people’s country of origin are difficult because going back is often impossible now due to the lack of air transport or counselling in the country of origin. And some of our clients are worried about housing. After all, how can you stay at home if you have no home or only a bed at the night shelter? This is a serious challenge for us, but mostly of course for our clients.’

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