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A flash interview with a foreign alumna: Selina about hagelslag and what inspires her at working for a large firm

German alumna Selina Holstein tells us all about the Dutch broodjes & hagelslag, the team diversity and variety in work while working for a large firm and the importance of the Noordwijkse beach.

Why did you choose Leiden University at the time? Have your expectations been met? How has your period in Leiden shaped you and contributed to what you know and how you handle things?

I chose Leiden University because of its esteemed status and the stimulating learning environment focusing on freedom of spirit, thought and speech as well as acknowledging its responsibility to future generations. Given the fact, that Leiden University excels in the discipline of Law, Politics and Administration, I believed there was no better place to complete my LLM. However, I chose Leiden University not only because of its excellent reputation. When I first visited Leiden and the University campus, I fell immediately in love with the University and the city as well. My time there went above and beyond all expectations - it was a great time and a very unique experience for me. During this time, the interaction with people with different cultural backgrounds allowed me to learn so much more about the world and of course about myself. Living alone abroad is an experience that is amazing and will equip you with irreplaceable life skills.

If there was one thing you could do differently (of your time in Leiden), what would that be? 

I would go to the beach more often! It was one of the things I loved about living in Leiden, the beach is just a 20-minute bus ride away. Whenever you need a break from studying, Noordwijk is the perfect place to be and I had great times there with my friends after a long day of studying or with my family when they came to visit.

What is the most inspiring thing about your current job and had you expected it to be like this when you still studied? Do you use anything from your Master's in your work?

I work for Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer in a team that unites people from more than 20 countries. I think this alone is already a very inspiring working environment. It truly is a great advantage to always work in small or sometimes even very big teams with people from all over the world. I never feel I'm on my own. As Transaction Lawyers, we are part of various practice groups and we work on a variety of cases such as corporate and real estate transactions, antitrust investigations, finance deals and dispute resolution. Therefore, I am able to get insights into many different fields of law which was one of the main reasons why I wanted to work for a big law firm.

When I was a student, I always assumed that working life would only be about business and getting the work done. However, I consider myself very lucky to have great colleagues who have also become my friends. I completed an Advanced LLM in Law and Digital Technologies at Leiden University, mainly focused on regulatory challenges of technological progress, IT law and data protection. Even though I am part of the corporate practice group, I have recently worked on a project with a strong focus on the performance of data protection checks where the knowledge and skills I gained during the Master's programme came into play and had to be applied.

You are German, what has surprised you most about the Dutch culture or the Dutch ways? What would your ultimate tip/advice be for other international students? Would you choose the Netherlands/Leiden again if you could do it over?

I was very surprised by the fact that Dutch people love their ‘broodjes’ so much, especially with cheese, ham or 'hagelslag'! 'Hagelslag' is not for everyone I'm afraid ... Bikes and 'fietsen' (cyling) are an inescapable part of Dutch culture and I think it is amazing that bikes are used as the main means of transport. Unfortunately, in many German cities we do not have proper or safe bike lanes and in 2019 approximately one cyclist per day died in a traffic accident. I wish this could be avoided and we could see the Netherlands as a role model in this regard.

I would advise international students to enjoy their time as much as possible, the Netherlands is the perfect place for international students and of course, especially Leiden. I absolutely loved my time in the Netherlands. I lived there for four and a half years because I completed my Bachelor studies first at Tilburg University before coming to Leiden. So, I really got to know the Dutch culture. I know that it can be difficult sometimes to get used to a new and unknown culture - Dutch people are incurably outspoken. This is something you might have to get used to first. So my advice is: don't be shy if you need help or advice on how to handle things, you should see this as an advantage - knowing that you can ask a Dutch person anything and you’ll get a very straightforward and honest answer!

You chose to work as a lawyer at a big firm, what was your motivation? Can you balance your private and work life?

I chose to work as a lawyer at a big law firm for several reasons. I do appreciate a work environment honouring teamwork and diversity. The law firm I am working for is a people business. I find the culture of this law firm complementary and corresponding to my value system – people make the firm, diversity is a strength, fresh perspectives and creative ideas are always welcome. So we bring together the knowledge, experience and energy of the whole firm to help our clients. We think and work globally – I believe there is no better place for personal and professional development than a law firm that acts in a “truly international” sense and is advising major companies, banks and financial investors on national and international transactions.

The second Covid-19 wave has started. How is this bizarre period for you? How do you stay sane? 

I think this is a very difficult time for everyone at the moment. Here in Frankfurt, curfews were recently announced from 11pm for restaurants, bars and cafés due to the high and steadily increasing number of Covid-19 cases. Now, you have to wear masks also in public places and busy shopping streets and not only in stores or when using public transport. Of course, all these measures are aimed at combatting the coronavirus crisis and are definitely necessary. However, it can all be very challenging as well. For me it is especially difficult working from home for a longer period of time or not being able to see family members because they belong to the risk group. When working from home, I try to take a walk during my lunch break or after work and call the people I am not able to see at the moment as much as possible, like my grandmother. To stay sane, I think it is important in this time of uncertainty to create some certainty. Make small plans for every day – what needs to be done, what to cook at the weekend, what to watch on Netflix next, or arrange Facetime calls with your friends or colleagues and set up a virtual coffee date or after-work drinks together.

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