StartUp - Karel Leusink of International Students Work

As an international student, it’s really difficult to find work in the Netherlands. After studying in Japan for half a year himself, Karel Leusink really started to understand just how hard this is when you’re abroad. “Students from all over the world are coming to Nijmegen and Arnhem to study and work here. Through International Students Work, I want to help them find a job in the region while and after studying.”

Meliska and Karel of International Students Work

When walking around the campus of Radboud University Nijmegen, Karel came across a big discrepancy. “On one hand, I heard that the provincial government of Gelderland is looking into hiring international students and expats to compensate for labor shortage in certain fields. On the other hand, I spoke a lot of students who couldn’t find a job here and got into financial trouble.” As someone who was pursuing an education in Business Administration, Karel saw an opportunity here. “The demand and supply are there and I saw an opportunity to bring about social change. With International Students Work, we want to link international talent to local organizations that are looking for young employees.”

Offering solutions

In 2019, Karel started International Students Work together with a friend. “I was still studying at the time. In the beginning, it was mostly a matter of approaching nearby restaurants and asking if they were looking to hire people.” Soon, Karel ran into his first challenge. “It’s normal to be addressed in English when you’re at a restaurant in Amsterdam, but not when you’re in Nijmegen. A lot of people want to order a beer in Dutch. Although that’s slightly changing due to the pandemic.”

However, Karel discovered that there are a lot of opportunities for international students in distribution centers. “If you don’t speak Dutch there, it’s less of a problem. Plus, it made me start seeing some cultural differences between Dutch and international students; distribution centers are almost always outside of city limits, meaning you’ll have to travel to get there. An Indian student from Mumbai told me he had no issues with the distance between work and home. Mumbai is bigger than Arnhem and Nijmegen combined, so he was used to living further away from his place of employment.”

Becoming an entrepreneur

Starting a company will always be full of challenges. Karel thought the starting period was very educational. “You start with an idea for a company, which will net you a lot of reactions, both from people who believe it will be a success, and people who think you’ll fail. As an entrepreneur, you want to make the best of it.”

In the end, Karel thought it was pretty simple. “It’s a matter of calling companies and putting up a website so students can register. It’s a slow start, but we started growing pretty quickly. You just have to be properly prepared.” Karel didn’t just start his company one day: they had preparatory meetings with clients and researched legislation on foreign workers in advance.

Karel has been a member of StartUp since last month. “I’d already had a few meetings with Dick before I registered. Coming here was definitely the right decision. Dick and Jan are actively helping me develop my company and StartUp’s partners have useful insights. I had four meetings this first month, but I have 20 more of them planned!”

“It’s great to be surrounded by people who have a lot more experience: someone like Dick has already seen every possible business model a hundred times over. It’s great for morale and you get some honest feedback about how you’re doing – and, most importantly, how you can improve.”

Celebrating your success

Entrepreneurship also means being happy with the things you’ve achieved. “I can remember the first time I met an international student in a restaurant who had gotten that job through my company very well. It’s also fun to see that people sometimes react differently than the average Dutch person: one time, I got a text message that said ‘God bless you.’ That’s not something you hear very often.”

Karel is also proud of a pilot he ran recently. “That pilot was at a logistics center. They were facing a shortage of people and wanted to compensate for the summer rush. Initially, they hired 5 students, but we ended up with 18 of them working there for the entire summer. This pilot showed me that you can slowly go in the right direction with your business, until you look back and suddenly see the success you’ve had.”

StartUp Nijmegen

In this blog series, The Life Net and StartUp Nijmegen like to show what an attractive region Nijmegen is to start and establish as an entrepreneur. It spotlights various internationals or companies that attract internationals. They like to share their inspiring story about how they started and grew with their business. Check StartUp Nijmegen for how they pay attention to this.