From Latin America to Africa: 'I always say I ended up on the wrong continent'
During her study of Latin America, Tineke Floor laid the intercultural foundation that has served her well in her career. Floor currently works as Director Europe at African Parks, an NGO that promotes nature conservation in Africa. How does she look back on her studies? And why the leap to another continent?
Why did you choose Leiden University at the time?
'Before I went to university, I did a gap year which I spent partly in Madrid. I learned to speak Spanish well and I loved it, but I also loved history. I was hesitating between studying history or a language. The adventurous aspect appealed to me as well. Latin-America studies combined it all. I thought: maybe this will take me somewhere.’
Are there any areas of expertise that you acquired during your time in Leiden that you now use?
‘I had mainly generic jobs, which required good analytical skills in order to grasp and process broader issues quickly. Latin America also proved useful: in my first job I worked at a consultancy in the field of intercultural management where we taught the staff of large multinationals about the influence of cultural differences on international business. I was responsible for the Latin American region. From there I continued to grow.’
What is your current profession and how did you end up here from Leiden?
‘When people ask what my background is, I always say that I ended up on the wrong continent. After having worked in the corporate world for 15 years, I wanted to do something with more social relevance and so I started working at the World Wildlife Fund, where I was responsible for fundraising for major donors.’
‘That's how I ended up at African Parks. At first sight, it has nothing to do with Latin America, but sometimes the experiences from my first job come in handy in Africa. My studies have also given me a kind of lens through which I have a good sense of cultural differences and how to deal with them. In a French-speaking country, for example, the emphasis is on a good relationship, but in an Anglo-Saxon country you often start with a contract. The relationship then matters less.’
What tip would you like to give to current students?
I have children who are studying and I see a big difference between my generation of students and now. Today's students are much more focused on the future than we were. On the one hand, that's a very good thing, but sometimes it's also a bit of a shame, because it might accidentally close doors or make studying too stressful. It doesn't all have to be useful or career-oriented. Sometimes it is good to take your time and explore uncharted territory. Discover where your qualities lie.'
How do you look back on your time as a student in Leiden?
'What I liked about my study was that it was a small and fun group. That's why we were close with the lecturers. I felt taken very seriously as a student. I had friends who were doing bigger programmes and their experience was very different. We really had a say, because lecturers asked us for feedback to take the study to the next level. You were also very involved in the lectures. You couldn't just sit under the table, hungover, because there were only ten of you, so you had to participate.’