intercultural sensitivity training – a sneak peek

Last month I trained associates at Towers Watson, a global professional services firm, to improve their relationship management skills – but with a special focus: intercultural sensitivity.

In any profession, but especially for consultants, relationship management is key to success. Whether it’s with your colleagues, your boss, your clients or potential clients, there’s always room for improvement and clarity.

Take a look at the presentation I used as part of the training – it hopefully inspires some of your thinking about the importance of intercultural sensitivity.

A piece of hard work – my Master’s dissertation

As part of my master’s dissertation, I extensively researched the field of intercultural training in corporate environments. I applied my theoretical findings and developed an intercultural training framework aiming to increase intercultural sensitivity for my workplace, Towers Watson.

Click here to read the original.

deliciously Dutch.

I hadn’t been back in the Netherlands for nearly a year, so it was time I went back to satisfy my Dutch food cravings. Which one’s your favourite?

selection of Dutch food

Left-hand side

Top: sate kroket (a bit like peanut sauce, breaded and deep-fried, best to get from the ‘hot windows’ at Febo)

Middle: hagelslag (chocolate sprinkles to be put on your bread for breakfast), indonesian food (great mix of sates, vegetables, meats and tofus)

Bottom: kokos brood (slices of pressed coconut to be put on your bread for breakfast), bitterballen (breaded and deep-fried meat, a great snack to go with your beer at an after-work borrel, or try the vegetarien alternative kaassouffle – cheese souffle)

Right-hand side

Top: dubbelvla (similar to custard, but comes from a tetra pack and combines the flavours chocolate and vanilla, saving you the mixing), tompuce (a pastry with icing, especially served in orange for queen’s/king’s day)

Middle: fresh mint tea (it’s common to get fresh mint leaves for your tea, add a little honey, et voila), broodje kroket (these breaded and deep-fried snacks come in all varieties, so besides the sate one you can also have any kind of meat mashed up inside, or even veggie options, then nicely served in a bread roll)

Bottom: kibbeling (fresh fish and seafood can’t be missed in a Dutch diet, especially when these deep-fried little fish pieces are served with the most delicious knoflooksaus – garlic sauce)

Is there anything missing that you consider ‘Dutch cuisine’?* Let me know! 

*Stroopwafels have been left out on purpose as I would crave them too much when looking at their picture.

Taking you on a journey…

Today, I gave an intercultural training session to students at Edinburgh Napier University.

With the goal to increase their intercultural awareness, I focused on basic theoretic concepts, giving them the opportunity to apply and critique theory, and ultimately helping them discover their own multicultural selves.

To see the presentation and perhaps increase your own intercultural awareness, click here: Intercultural training Napier April 14

mental motivation.

I’m currently studying how to motivate employees in organisations. Easier said than done. Motivation is different for every individual, changes depending on the employee’s life stage, and is never to be exactly pinpointed.

But if it’s so difficult to define, measure, and use motivation, how can we stay motivated?

Personally, my main motivation is based on McClelland’s concept of “the need for achievement”. But what motivates you to go that extra mile? If you haven’t thought about that yet, try and figure out your own motivation needs, and how you can use that info to its full potential.

I think particularly in stressful situations we can become less motivated and ask “What’s the point?” or “How did it come to this?”. This is where management needs to be active to keep employees motivated, but there’s something you can do as well.

Last year I did a fantastic training course on managing stress, so let me share the key lesson with you. This concept helped me to get through many very busy and stressful projects, staying motivated and focused because I knew I would manage to deliver everything on time if I could only manage my own motivation.

Although we experience stress usually through external factors (traffic jam, bus delayed, colleague sick, or else) it is us who create the idea of stress in our minds. So to deal with stress effectively and stay motivated during busy periods, we need to manage our mental processes.

Here are three simple steps that help keeping you motivated:

Step 1: Think about a situation in which you felt “on top”, where you managed everything perfectly well, efficiently, and even with a smile on your face perhaps. What were the key factors that helped you manage this situation so well? What were you thinking; what helped you through this?

Step 2: Now the opposite. Think about a situation you didn’t manage well, didn’t deliver as well or as timely as you wished, felt stressed and perhaps even moody. What triggered your mood swing and raised your stress level?

Step 3: This may sound simple, but just use the triggers from Step 1 in a situation that could potentially become stressful (Step 2). This is tough because in moments of stress we like to react hastily and forget that sitting back and taking a deep breath can actually influence the way we deal with tasks.

If you’re asking yourself how this can work in real life, here’s an example for you.

For me, the need for achievement is rather large, so I enjoy ticking tasks off lists, seeing progress, and similar. I’m also very reliant on music and my mood changes according to what song I’m listening to. So in busy situations, instead of running around like a headless chicken, I make myself a list with prioritised tasks, put on a good song, and just get going. And yes, even if this means to work til 10pm that evening, at least I got my workload done and I will feel I have accomplished something. That means I can start the next day with a clear desk (and clear head).

I don’t expect my approach to work for you, but what I want to stress is that you need to figure out what makes you tick. Only then can you start dealing with stressful situations more efficiently.

Clearly, if those stressful periods are ongoing,  you may want to approach your manager. But overall, it’s key to find what motivates you and how you can use that to your advantage. Do you enjoy nature? Have a desktop background picture of a beautiful landscape to calm you down. Do you like to socialise? Take a 5min break and have a quick chat with your colleague in the tea kitchen. No matter how busy you are, you should always have 5min for a time out – that’s the ground rule. Do you like to concentrate and not be interrupted? Make sure the people around you know your preferred working style; work from a cafe for one day if you can, or try a different office/room just to mix things up.

Good luck and relax. 🙂

hello hijab.

On 1 February, it was World Hijab day. Its aim is to raise awareness about wearing hijabs and better understand the reasons and motivations for women to cover their hair in public.

I’m not religious myself and I personally don’t believe that a piece of clothing/jewellery/any other visual identification helps to bring you closer to your religion. But that’s my opinion and I respect anybody who does decide to openly show their religious orientation.

Since I enjoy seeing different perspectives, I chose to wear a hijab for a day (although not on 1 February). My personal hijab day was a normal day of the week, just to see whether or not it would influence me and my daily activities in any way. And even more so: to see if people would treat me differently.

The first challenge: putting on the hijab
You might think it’s easy to wear a scarf, but a hijab is a totally different story. As I was completely new to this, my hijab-wearing friend helped me getting it right and tight. Although she did poke me with one of the small pins (twice!), I liked the preparation and being close with my friend. And as we both stood there, in a tiny bathroom both wearing hijabs, I felt we were much closer all of a sudden.

First encounter with my chubby face
The first look in the mirror was a bit of a shock, I must admit. Usually I use my hair to distract from my chubby face, but with the hijab my cheeks just seemed endless. I also normally don’t wear make-up, so that really didn’t help either.

This made me realise that women who wear the hijab and look nice got to look super-stunning without their hijab. Would you agree with my logic?

The first few hours
I attended a lecture at my university and my classmates all wondered, stared and asked me why I was doing ‘this‘ (as in: why I was wearing a hijab). But after a few minutes, we all focused on the lecture and I totally forgot that I was wearing a head scarf.

My lecturer asked me later if there’s a reason I’m wearing a hijab – I totally understand that people may ask as I haven’t been wearing one before, but how funny/sad would it be if you just approach a woman with hijab and ask “Excuse me, Miss, why are you doing ‘this‘?”.

Walking around university I felt a bit insecure and was more than usual checking if people were looking at me. I felt they did, but I am not sure if that was because of the hijab or because I was looking at everyone. It was a vicious circle.

Getting into it
By the afternoon I was used to wearing my hijab and forgot more and more that I actually wore it.

Walking home, I saw a lady with hijab and instantly felt we were somehow connected. Completely stupid, incorrect and generalising, but that was my gut feeling. Whether or not this is applicable to women wearing their hijab regularly, I don’t know. But I like the thought that you feel close to a person, even a complete stranger, because you have something in common. In an abstract way, I think it lowers the barriers to get to know each other easily and feel connected through belief or convinction. 

I spent the evening socialising at a group dinner and only the bathroom mirror reminded me that I was wearing a headscarf. So not a big deal (to me at least). 

Wearing a hijab: how did it feel?
Wearing the hijab felt rather nice, like I was being protected. It did get hot at times and slightly itchy, and I wondered how it would feel to wear it all day long in the summer or warmer climates. Has anybody invented hijab fans?

But remember that I also wasn’t used to wearing one in the first place. I like the analogy of wearing glasses for the first time. I never wore any, so I assume wearing a pair on a first day would be rather annoying, and probably take time to get used to.

Overall hijab rating: why not?
Again, I’m not religious and won’t be changing my opinions because of this experience. I do however now understand how some women identify with their hijab and see it as their protection, privacy, religious statement, obedience, or even fashion item.

I was alienated to the idea of covering my hair all day (assuming I’m in public and men are around) as it does not resonate with anything I believe in. However, having worn it for a day (and one day only probably won’t give me an understanding of discrimation or burden or even religious grouping) I feel closer to the idea, and also closer to women who wear the hijab.

After all, we make our own choices, and as long as women choose on their own to wear the hijab, I don’t see why they can’t do it at work, while driving a car, going shopping or else. Has anyone ever discriminated against people wearing a Christian cross necklace around their neck?

Religion should be practiced voluntarily and if people choose to do it in a particular way, let them – as long as they don’t interfere with or pressure others.

I’m aware this is a quite greyzone-area topic, but I’m happy to hear about your views on this. Have you ever worn a hijab? And also be honest: do you see hijab-wearing women as confident females?


Our first few days in Delhi  rushed passed like the Delhi traffic – ‘organised chaos’.

I wondered how long it would take for me to get used to all the people, the busy streets, the noise, the heat, the dirt, the smells, the colours – it was a lot to take in at first.

Suprisingly, it didn’t take long (2 days to be precise) until I wiggled my way through tiny, busy alleyways in Delhi’s old town just to find the best cafe for filled paranthas.

Although I heard many stories about the famous Delhi-belly (tourists would spend a lot of time in bathrooms because of ‘exotic’ food) I wasn’t too worried about eating in  street cafes and local places. And guess what: my braveness was rewarded with putting on weight instead of losing it. Me: 1, Delhi-belly:0.

I think it’s fair to say that food tourism was our main motivation when travelling India. We ate ourselves through many menus and followed Tripadvisor’s and Lonely Planet’s ‘must eat’ lists. Plus, we just had to try antything that looked different/we hadn’t tried before/smelled nice. Because you only live once.

So between numerous curries, paratas, rotis and dosas we also tried Indian-style fast foods and desserts. See below for some Delhi-cious things to eat!

food collage

From top left to top right:
– a local take on roti with a spicy chicken and a vegetable curry at Gun Powder (in Hauz Khas village)
– spicy dosa from a street stall near Akshardham
– tofu curry at Anupam in Greater Kailash
– spinach and potato curry with vegetable rice and naan bread in Greater Kailash
– fresh fish at Gun Powder (in Hauz Khas village)
– garlic and spiced paratas at  Anupam in Greater Kailash
– milk sweet bought in Greater Kailash
– grilled cheese sandwhich Indian style at Saby’s joint
– spicy tomato curry with kefte at Karim’s Hotel near Chadni Chowk
– sweet paratas filled with nuts and raisins near parathe walli galli (‘parata maker alley’)
– chocolate dessert bought near Greater Kailash
– cheesy parata at Saby’s joint

Central picture:
– sweet pudding bought from a small stall near Jama Masjid

Clearly, we had a yummy time in Delhi and used our food-induced energy to explore the city. More on this in my next blog.

5 unmissable things to do in Edinburgh.

Whether you’re in town for a short weekend trip or for longer, these 5 essential things simply have to be on your to-do list when visiting the Scottish capital.

But since we all like doing things differently, I have given you a couple of options below. So let’s find out what kind of tourist you are!

1. Admire Edinburgh from above
Edinburgh is a hilly city, so you have loads of opportunities to catch a lovely view.

A: Be a historian! Climb Calton Hill (just behind Waverley train station) to get a stunning 360° view of Edinburgh and its surroundings. If climbing the steep steps isn’t challenge enough for you, why not visit the Nelson Monument (and climb another 222 steps)?

B: Get physical! Arthur’s seat is a must for every hiker, adventurer, active person or highlands fan. The steady route may take you about 1 hour (but the shortcut straight up the hill cuts it to 30min at normal pace).

View over Edinburgh from Arthur's seat

2. Reset your watch
No matter where you’re at in Edinburgh at 1pm, you’ll be made aware that it is indeed 1pm. Why? I’d say tradition.

A: Listen up! Did you hear the bang? A cannon shot is released every day from the castle at 1pm (except Sundays they say, but I still heard it then).

B: Take a closer look! Make sure you have a good view of the Nelson Monument on Calton Hill and you will see the time ball drop at 1pm.

The Edinburgh castle cannons

3. Visit the coast
A city at the shore simply calls for a few hours at the seaside – even if it is windy.

A: Let’s get beachy! Feel the sand between your toes at Portobello, do some antique shopping, or win some bucks at the arcade.

B: In style! Take the bus to Ocean Terminal, see the Royal Yacht in the harbour, and grab some bargains at the shopping centre.

Portobello beach

4. Get cultural

A: Learn about it! Visit one of the many museums, most of them free of charge. Try the National Museum of Scotland, the National Portrait Gallery, or even the writer’s museum just off the Royal Mile if you fancy something different.

B: Get involved! Dance away the night at a Ceilidh, or listen to some traditional Scottish folk live music. You’ll find loads of pubs down Grassmarket or around George street in new town.


5. Explore Edinburgh’s flora and fauna

Edinburgh is a surprisingly green city, so there are loads of parks and places for you to have a rest.

A: Relax! Take a break at Princes Street gardens between your shopping sprees. Don’t forget to check the time on the floral clock (is it 1pm yet?).

B: Enjoy the view! Take a walk in the botanical gardens and warm up in the glass houses.

A sunny afternoon at Princes Street Gardens

Now count your A’s and B’s – what’s your result?

Unfortuantely there’s no solution – just a few ideas of how you can spend a fabulous weekend in Edinburgh. Better get planning! 

picturesque Pitlochry.

Living and working in Scotland now, I set myself the goal of travelling and exploring this new country as much as possible. So as part of that, I went towards the highlands and stayed a weekend in the lovely small town of Pitlochry.

Only a 1.5hr train journey from Edinburgh, I was welcomed with the freshest air I have ever breathed. This lovely little town sits nicely between mountains and you’d expect Inspector Barnaby (or his Scottish equivalent) to walk past any second.

pit town

Mostly known for hiking, the area boasts many walking routes ranging from shorter walks around the near-by lakes (or Scottish ‘lochs’) or longer hikes through the mountains of Perthshire.


North of Pitlochry, perhaps a 20min walk uphill, the area of Moulin with its old-style brewery is worth a visit. Also, there’s a lovely Inn where you can enjoy some traditional haggis and a home-brewn beer.

pit food

For artsy things to do in Pitlochry, there is the well-known Pitlochry festival theatre with lots of different shows put on all year round. And if you’re interested in some typical Scottish arts and crafts, visit the heather-gems shop on Pitlochry’s highstreet. There, you can buy beautiful heather gems straight from the factory and take a look how these are made. I’d never seen anything like it before – gems made from plants, how brilliant.


And finally, night activities. Besides the many pubs that have live music and traditional ‘Scottish’ evenings, I joined in on a very unique experience because once a year for one month only, Pitlochry’s forests become enchanted. Any idea what that could mean? Take a look at the pictures below.


Shuttle buses take visitors from Pitlochry 2 miles down the road into the forest. There, around a loch, fantastic sound and light installations welcome you to an enchanted new world.

This year’s theme was ‘absorb’ and I can tell you I absorbed as much as I could. I felt like a child standing there with my eyes wide open glaring at the lovely shades, coloures and shadows that were dancing all around me, choreographed to dazzling music and sounds.

You can spend as much time walking around the forest area as you like and it’s recommended to do at least two full circles in order to take in (absorb!) every little detail. The installations create the most magical atmosphere and although classed as a family event, this is something for everyone.

So if you’re planning your next highland trip, check for the enchanted forest dates.

India itinerary.

I just got back from 3.5 weeks of relentless backpacking across India and Nepal. And while I’m sorting my thousands of pictures and prepping some more detailed blog posts, I thought I’d share my travel itinerary with you to help you plan your next India trip or inspire your travel plans.

India itinerary

Day 1 – Arrival in Delhi
Day 2-4 – Sightseeing in Delhi and taking the overnight train to Varanasi
Day 5-7 – Sightseeing in Varanasi (this could have been shorter) and taking the overnight train to Calcutta
Day 8-9 – Exploring Calcutta (this could have been longer)
Day 10 – Flying to Kathmandu
Day 11 – Sightseeing in Kathmandu
Day 12-13 – Cycling to Nargakot (overnight stay) via Bhaktapur
Day 14-15 – Taking the bus for a short trip to Chitwan National Park (this could have been longer)
Day 16 – Flying back to Delhi and taking the overnight train to Kalka
Day 17 – Taking a ‘toy train’ to Shimla, spending the day there, then taking an overnight bus to Dharamsala
Day 18-21 – Relaxing in Dharamsala and returning to Delhi by overnight bus
Day 22 – Souvenir shopping in Delhi
Day 23-24 – Overnight stay in Agra to see the Taj Mahal (this could have been longer)
Day 25 – Departure from Delhi

I’d do it differently next time, but we had to travel this way because of (not) available trains/buses/flights.