Expat Essentials

After growing up in China, Cécile Booms is Branching Out to help internationals adjust to Dutch culture

Participants in the Branching Out cultural training, with Cécile Booms at far right

Cécile Booms fits neatly into a uniquely Eindhoven category – the expat in her own country: Booms was born in the Netherlands, then grew up in China, attending international schools before graduating uni in the United Kingdom. Her mother Ilona is originally German, her father Paul is Dutch, and her preferred working language is English. So Booms is drawing on that between-worlds dynamic to build her business helping internationals who find themselves foundering in new countries.

Branching Out Eindhoven is Booms’ year-old consultancy helping expats settle in as a follow-on service complimenting corporate HR departments that typically provide housing, visas and other assistance as part of the executive on-boarding process.

Booms chose the “Branching Out” moniker and themes for various programs as a play on her family name, which in Dutch means tree: “I think a tree is a beautiful metaphor for settling in.” The name is also an allusion to both families and companies having multiple locations, or branches, around the world.

To branch out, you need roots

Cécile Booms

Booms’ aim is to help employers improve retention by helping internationals settle in, emphasizing that Branching Out handles the “soft factor,” social, emotional and cultural support people need “before it becomes an issue,” she said.

And it can be a big issue.

Eindhoven is the Netherlands’ deep-tech center, home to dozens of companies hiring thousands of internationals, including photolithography giant ASML and global chipmaker NXP. There are an estimated 40,000 internationals living here, 11,000 just in Meerhoven, the main expat enclave in the greater Eindhoven area.

The vast majority of highly skilled internationals comes from China, India and other countries in Asia, and a significant number – struggling with Dutch work culture and social isolation – packing it in before contracts end.

Research from multiple consultancies including KPMG estimate it can cost hundreds of thousands of euros to recruit, then replace, high-performing top executives … not to mention the lost opportunity costs of missing out on their talent.

To address all this, Booms has come up with a two-year program, Root’in, including cultural training and support, and coaching people through the emotional ups and downs of being a stranger in a strange land.

“There’s typically a honeymoon period where (employees) are excited and everything is new,” she said. “In about six months, people realize, ‘Right, I’ve got a routine.’ Do they like that? Are they coping with that? Do they know where to find some friends?

“At about the two-year mark, people tend to ask themselves, ‘Do I want to stay, or do I want to go?’ ” Booms said.

She sees her role as both managing expats’ expectations and helping negotiate the finer points of a long-term adjustment including how thrive in Dutch culture while preserving ties to their own. “I’m not for making people ‘Dutch.’ I’m for people having their own culture and then pick-and-mix” from both cultures,” she said.

Cécile Booms and her brother Björn with their favorite market stall owner in Nanjing (All photos courtesy of Cécile Booms)


Cécile and family friend Luuk on the Great Wall

Booms is all about cultural pick-and-mix, having spent her formative years overseas. The family lived in China for six-and-a-half years while her father Paul Booms worked for DSM, a multi-sector multinational based in Heerlen, Netherlands. All Cécile’s secondary education was in English at international schools, finishing at International School of Eindhoven after she came to Eindhoven from Nanjing at 15 years old.

“I remember repatriating back and I had to take the bus. I said, ‘ Oh my God, I have no clue how to do this! I spoke English to the bus driver …” Booms said.

That gives her an experiential connection to Eindhoven’s expats.

So, she knows of what she speaks when it comes to Branching Out’s various services including:

Culture Grove cultural training for teams, helping her clients’ managers and employees become more culturally aware.

• helping executives and employees work through cultural disconnects, conflicts and misunderstandings with non-threatening communication.

• coaching for leadership positions, managers with intels on their team

• coaching for people who are struggling between Dutch corporate culture and the work culture of the country of origin. For example, people from some cultures wait for guidance while Dutch managers like employees to be proactive, Booms said.

• private coaching for employees.

Branching Out’s fees can be adjusted by the project or charged by the hour. 

At just over a year old, Branching Out is working with other SMEs to leverage services, doing online workshops with, among others, a recruitment company that only recruits international high-tech talent.

With the pandemic, Booms feels like her services are even more crucial: “People coming here now really need support and guidance, and we can help the companies make sure they feel welcome and at home.”

Booms said she never thought she’d be an entrepreneur until she decided to become one, working as a teacher at her alma mater ISE when she decided she wanted to do something different. A holiday to Costa Rica with her mother gave her time to think about what she wanted to next.

“I came back and started thinking, ‘What do I want? What do I want?’ “

I knew I wanted to do something with internationals. I’m someone who likes the contact with people. I did the research and found a few companies are doing the hard factors, but I said, “Where is anyone doing the soft factors? Who’s helping people be happy?Maybe I should start it myself.

With the backing of her father, whom Booms said always wanted to be an entrepreneur, and her mother, Cécile is – well – branching out.

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Co-CEO of Dispatches Europe. A former military reporter, I'm a serial expat who has lived in France, Turkey, Germany and the Netherlands.

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