Olga Gorbarenko, Financial Expert at Global Ports, talks family life as an expatriate in her home country.
Working for APM Terminals can take you to all corners of the world. A new environment, new cultures, new foods, habits and languages. Living outside your home country is an eye-opening journey. Yet what happens when you move back to the country which saw you grow up?
“In the beginning, I felt like a stranger,” says Olga Gorbarenko, Financial Expert at Global Ports in Moscow, Russia.
Born and raised in Russia’s capital, Olga moved to the Netherlands in 2007 at the age of 27 to study an MBA at the Rotterdam School of Management. Two years later, she joined the APM Terminals Corporate Finance department in The Hague, eventually finding opportunities to work on Russia-related projects, something she was particularly keen on.
In November 2013, Olga packed her suitcases and returned to her home country, this time accompanied by her Dutch husband Roger and three-year old daughter Maya, after having accepted a new position at Global Ports in Moscow to develop, provide input and support to various finance processes.
The decision to move had not been an easy one, as Olga was three-months pregnant with her second daughter Sofie at the time. Yet she took up the challenge - one of several she would encounter along the way.
While Olga had worked in Russia prior to moving to the Netherlands, it was for two international companies. So working for Global Ports is the first time she has worked in a truly Russian culture and had to adapt to an office environment that is structurally different from that of APM Terminals.
“The main challenge for me was the business culture, this was when I realised I had changed while living in the Netherlands where everything is planned and officially defined. In Russia, it is all based on verbal agreement and trust. There is no defined organisational structure or strict split of responsibilities. The main challenge is to understand the role of each person and how to work with one another,” Olga explains.
Besides business, one of the main drivers behind the decision to accept the Global Ports offer and to move to Russia was a family one. Olga and Roger decided to relocate to Moscow to allow Maya – and soon to-be-born sister Sofie - to discover a culture that was theirs but until now, one they had only experienced during summer vacations or at Russian school on Sundays in Voorburg, a suburb of The Hague.
“I realised that even though Maya understood Russian, she would not be able to properly speak, read or write by staying in the Netherlands. So an opportunity to go to Russia was the best chance for her to learn all of this by immersion, and get a true feel of the culture,” Olga says.
While leaving the Netherlands also entails moving away from a culture that defines their family life, Roger and Olga believe this is the best decision they have made so far. Life in Moscow has brought some contrasting changes from that in The Hague, many of which are welcomed: the capital city is alive 24/7 as opposed to the Netherlands where shops close early evening.
“There are also so many cultural events in Moscow, especially for children, so Roger and I have introduced a routine where every month we take Maya to the theatre, the circus or any one of the numerous children’s activities taking place across the city,” Olga adds. She also appreciates being able to speak her mother tongue on a daily basis.
Ten months down the road, what’s been the biggest lesson from this move?
“The main learning is that family is my first priority. If my family is not happy, I cannot be happy either. While Russia is my home country, it is not for my Dutch husband, so I feel more protective. As I was undergoing the challenge of getting reacquainted with my own country, he himself faced a few challenges, just weeks before my due date, where we were forced to fall back on one another and trust each other which ultimately brought us even closer and strengthened our relationship further.”
New baby Sofie was born in Moscow on 10th March 2014. Will her first word be in Dutch or in Russian?