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Stories from Design Bridge: Life as a young design expat

Ever wondered what it would be like to pack your suitcase, hop on a plane and move abroad for a career opportunity? We caught up with Jo Hawkes, who left the UK at the end of 2013 to work as a Designer in our Amsterdam Studio, and she told us what life is really like as a young expat living and working in the design industry away from home.

Hi Jo! So tell us, why did you move to Amsterdam?
At the end of a brilliant 2 month placement at Design Bridge London, I had a chat with two of the Creative Directors about the possibility of staying on as a Designer. At the time there were no opportunities in the London Studio, but they proposed the unexpected idea of going to Amsterdam. After such a challenging and inspiring time with the London team, I of course jumped at the idea! We sent my work to Claire Parker, Executive Creative Director in Amsterdam, and a few Skype calls later, I was packing my bags and on my exciting journey to the land of cheese and windmills.

Life as an expat 1

Are there any differences between working and living in London and Amsterdam?
London is fantastic. I love the energy and diversity of the city; the eclectic mix of people, districts and cultures makes for a truly creative environment. Amsterdam has all of those great attributes as well, just on a smaller, cuter and more relaxed scale. As well as living in London, I also spent 6 months in Barcelona and, for me, Amsterdam is a perfect mix of the two places – a buzzing creative hub combined with the homely tranquillity you feel as you glide along the canals on your oh-so Dutch bike.

Life as an expat 2

What advice would you give to Designers moving to Amsterdam?
Continuing on from the previous point, get a Dutch bike – the one with back pedal brakes – it’s an absolute essential here. Having said that, I’m also a big fan of walking around the city exploring the little streets, discovering hidden gems of handwritten typography or unusual architecture. The city itself is so inspiring and there are always fantastic exhibitions and events going on, so a yearly museum card (a pass that allows you into most museums for free) is also a great investment. Finally, and this applies to wherever you live, always be open to trying new things. I never thought I would dive into a bin for a photo-shoot; it wasn’t the most pleasant experience of my life but it was a good laugh!

Life as an expat 3

What’s it like working in an international environment?
We’re a real melting pot of nationalities here at DB Amsterdam, ranging from the local Dutchies to South Africans and everywhere in between. I think it’s really important to get to know people from backgrounds other than your own; you can learn so much from each other as well as laugh about all the cultural differences! This variety of perspective and experience feeds into our work as well as the social side of DB, such as our International breakfast days; each nation taking a turn to make a traditional breakfast for everyone. Of course, the English bacon & eggs is still the best!

Life as an expat 4

How did the Design Bridge team help you with the move?
Design Bridge is a company that really cares about its people and people were great in helping me settle in here. Never having been to Holland before, the Studio organised a little trip before I started so that I could explore this unknown, beautiful city and meet my future colleagues and friends. I fell in love with the city as soon as I soaked up the (subsequently rare) sun in the Vondelpark and I moved 2 weeks later. Everyone at DB was incredibly welcoming and we were having picnics and drinks before I even had time to unpack my bags!

Amsterdam is a very multicultural city and, luckily for me, most people speak English incredibly well. Nevertheless, I have embarked on all sorts of Dutch integration activities; from language lessons DB organised for me, to acquiring a taste for the infamous bitterballen snacks.

Life as an expat 5

Thanks Jo!

Like the sound of working with Jo at DB Amsterdam? Check our Careers page for current opportunities in the Amsterdam Studio.

by Marguerite Rubens

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