Interview with an expat: working in Holland

Working in Holland

An expat’s point of view

HollandHires talked to Gabby Paeva, a Bulgarian scientist who went to the Netherlands some 15 years ago. Now, she is working at one of the high-tech companies in the Eindhoven region, ASML, spanning a career of almost 10 years. ASML is producing sophisticated machines for computer chips manufacturing for leading companies in the world.

Here’s what Gabby told HollandHires about her professional experiences and scientific endeavors in Holland!


HH: Tell us a bit about your career. 

Gabby: I studied optics and spectroscopy in Sofia University. After I worked three years for the Bulgarian Academy of Science (‘БАН’), I went to the Netherlands. Was it a real decision, or did I go by accident, I can’t remember, but I went!

I started at Eindhoven University, as a Ph.D. student in plasma physics. After little over 4 years, I finished my Ph.D. and I also had given birth to my first child along the way. Following that, I started a Post Doc position at the same University.

Unfortunately, I felt that I was working too much on my own and I was missing a team. With the Post Doc, I did applied research for a company. In that way, I was still dealing with science, but got a better feeling as the company used my scientific work to improve their products. This was more fulfilling than pure science for me!

The next step was joining ASML as design engineer. In this position I was also involved in contacts with clients providing solutions for   certain technical challenges.  Later I became a team lead, followed by position of ‘Study lead’. This was also very interesting as with my team we were working on the feasibility of future products of ASML.

Currently I am project lead, responsible for the functionality of a system coming on the market by the end of the year.


ASML Headquarters, Veldhoven. NL (copyright: ASML)
ASML Headquarters, Veldhoven. NL (copyright: ASML)

HH: When you  arrived in Holland, how did you experience Dutch culture?

Gabby: А big difference with Bulgaria was that, and it is still strange to me, is to have lunch in only 15 minutes! Now I am more relaxed about it. I also remember that I got a bike and had to go to work like that every day!

But more seriously, the freedom to work was the most difficult. In Bulgaria, I was used to be told what I have to do. This was not the case in Holland! Bulgarian culture is much more hierarchical (or at least it was when I left). In the University in Netherlands nobody tells you what to do.


At ASML, I was received a bit more professionally than at the university. For example, I received twice cultural awareness workshops which helped me to deal with cultural differences at work and at home.

Still, I  miss my Bulgarian friends and easiness of communicating in your own language. Dutch people also seem to be more in their own world and live their lives inside. In Bulgaria, people  make easier contact in public. But I am used to it now.

But what I really miss, is the sun! Luckily I am often ‘high’ from my work.


HH: What were the difficulties (‘challenges’) to start living and working in Holland?

Gabby: Going on the bike, while it was raining, which is so often in Holland. But I am not complaining anymore, as I am now driving to work by car.


HH: What do you like in your current work?

Gabby: I feel that I am working now for the best company in the world! We work on things that seem impossible, but at the end, we manage to fulfil and achieve our highly set goals.

And this is funny, because when I was still at Eindhoven university these ASML people seemed so arrogant when I met them at drinks. But now I have exactly the same feelings: pride of what we are able to achieve.


HH: Can you say something about the atmosphere within your company, the daily routine so to speak? 

Gabby: Of course. On the work floor, I sense there is always too much work. And nowadays, as a project manager, I have to fight for resources, make plans, prioritize and defend them.

What I have noticed, is that technical people in Holland are not so much career and money driven. For a Bulgarian person, that may look strange. A higher salary is better. But for most people around me, not the money but the technical challenge is the main driver. Therefore, many people have long careers at ASML, as they look at their technical achievements.

And our management is quite relaxed, too. I would not expect a Bulgarian director riding his bicycle to work, as you could see the ASML directors do!


Gabby and some of her ASML colleagues


HH: What would you recommend people who may have an interest to work for a Dutch high-tech company?

Gabby: One thing is for sure, you should speak English.

Two to three years ago, we needed a lot of mechanical engineers. But now for example, we are in need of professionals who know how to deal with thermal challenges. So, physics as background is quite universally helpful for our company but also chemistry or material science.

We have a number of people who have studied on a BSc. Level, but most have finished a master’s. And ASML has also many scientist and engineers with a PhD. For example, the project I am currently leading includes 16-17 people, all of them with a PhD, from India, Ireland, Russia and Poland.

Our colleagues who hold job interviews may pose very tough questions or difficult assignments. But I think what we are looking for are people with a particular mind-set and way of thinking. And it does help if your communication skills are in order, especially in this international environment we are working in.

My advice if you apply and would be invited for an interview: just relax and be yourself. And if you see a position that does not  completely fit your profile, still try! If I read the vacancy for my own job today on the internet, probably I would not dare to apply for it. But you can do everything if you just believe it.