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26.06.2016
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How I Wound up with a Research Internship in Leiden

My first weekend here in the Netherlands is coming to a close and tomorrow morning I´ll be back at work…

post by miss.melissa.parks@gmail.com

My first weekend here in the Netherlands is coming to a close and tomorrow morning I´ll be back at work bright and early. For the past couple of months I´ve been posting on my Facebook page about my upcoming extended stay here, but many of you are probably wondering–how exactly did I find myself doing an internship in Leiden?

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In order to explain that I need to rewind to last July, when, after having spent over four months in Amsterdam for work, my boyfriend was starting to wonder if he wasn´t going to have to relocate their on a more long-term basis. ¨You might want to start looking for ways to come over here,¨ he mentioned in one of our Skype calls. The fact that I was missing living in the same city as him, coupled with the fact that last year´s non-stop heat ¨wave¨ in Madrid left me drooling at the prospect of running away to the wind, rain and overcast skies that characterize the Dutch climate, meant I didn´t even stop to wonder at just how serious he´d been with his suggestion. As soon as we hung up, I was exploring the internet for ways to move to the Netherlands.

Working as a therapist seemed to be out of the question, given that most expat therapists I encountered all provided therapy in Dutch as well. I´d always thought that if I left Spain I´d have more success pursuing research or academia, so maybe that would be a good place to start exploring? I decided to take a look at what was happening in the Netherlands in terms of research on eating disorders, considering that´s my field of expertise, and lo and behold I discovered that the president of the Dutch Academy of Eating Disorders was working only a thirty minute train ride from Amsterdam. Now, not only was this professor well known in the Netherlands, but he´d also served as the president of the INTERNATIONAL Academy of Eating Disorders and glancing through his ResearchGate and LinkedIn profiles made it quickly apparent that he had made significant contributions to this field.

But, how was I, an American pursuing her PhD in Madrid, going to get my foot in the door in the field of eating disorders research in the Netherlands? The answer: an internship.

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My university in Spain encourages students to gain international experience while pursuing their PhD by spending a three month period in an institution abroad. I´d been looking into opportunities to do just this back in Seattle since that seemed like the most feasible option, given that it would be unpaid. However, with my boyfriend in the Netherlands and a world renowned researcher in my field just ¨down the road,¨ maybe this would be an even better opportunity?

Which is the very logic that inspired me to send an email off to this researcher the following day, mentioning that I´d be in the Netherlands in just two weeks and inquiring if he would  by chance have time for me to come by and meet him in person and discuss the possibility of doing an internship. Less than two hours later, I had received a reply and an invitation to come meet with him in the university town of Leiden.

The most summarized version of what happened next is this:

  1. The meeting went incredibly well and I was invited to come do an internship there
  2. One month later my boyfriend moved back to Spain.

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With my boyfriend back in Madrid and the summer heat having died down, I started to have some doubts about whether or not this was truly the opportunity for me, but the universe basically stepped in and made it perfectly clear that an internship in the Netherlands was going to be in my future. Let me explain.

While last July was the first time I´d actually paid a visit to the town of Leiden, it wasn´t the first time I´d heard of it. That´s because my sister´s closest friend from college moved there a couple of years earlier to work at the American school at the Hague. And when this fellow Seattleite learned that I´d have an opportunity to come to her new home away from home, she sent me an invite to come and stay with her and her husband. Suddenly the dilemmas of finding housing for such a short stay and not knowing anyone when I arrived were resolved. But even so, with the cost of living in the Netherlands significantly higher than Spain, it would take a miracle to make it work. And right around Christmas that very miracle showed up. My PhD program released a scholarship for a very specific profile of students: Clinical Psychology PhD students who were doing their studies without funding in order to be able to go do a three month internship abroad. That was my situation in a nutshell. And I got it!

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But there was still another problem to resolve. What was I going to do with my patients during those three months? It took a bout of intense insomnia during the first couple of weeks of 2016 to stumble across the idea. My initial desire to go to the Netherlands had been partially fueled by the misery I´d experienced during summer 2015. As an expat therapist, the majority of my clients either return to their home country or travel during the summer months. Why wouldn´t I just ask if I could do the internship in the summer instead of the spring? (It´s amazing how sometimes these relatively simple solutions only seem to be accesible at 4am after staring at the ceiling for hours). So that´s just what I did, I requested to change the dates of my internship and was granted permission by both my university and the institution in the Netherlands. I really had nothing to hold me back now. That is, except for six more months of a looming fear of the unknown. Thankfully, I had my own therapist, meditation, journaling and a whole other host of coping skills to help me ride the waves of uncertainty until I boarded my flight last Tuesday.

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While I have certainly encountered a couple of hiccups since my arrival, overall it has been an amazing week. The town is nothing less than charming, the people are friendly, I received flowers on the day I arrived at my internship and the next day there was cake in honor of the research team having published an article. I get out of work at 5pm (instead of 9pm in Spain), I have coworkers that I interact with (not the case when you´re a therapist) and the weather is amazing (never mind that I´m dressed in layers and keep getting caught in rainstorms in the middle of June). I still have some important things to do in order to feel more acclimated here, mainly 1) buy a bike 2) make friends, but my sister and brother-in-law arrive on Wednesday so those things will have to wait.

I can´t wait to share with all of you the experiences I´m having living in a completely new European country, including all of the things I´m learning and all of the skills and knowledge I´m putting into action in order to adjust to life abroad here. But for now, I think I´ll go have a drink on the sidewalk cafe on a canal right across the street from where I´m living. Doei!

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