Alumni in the Spotlight Webster University Leiden- Kate Avis

Kate Avis, Psychologist at PsyQ International Mental Health Services and Webster Alumna
Webster University Alumni in the Spotlight • issue 3, 2015

Webster Alumni in the Spotlight - Kate Avis

Alumni in the Spotlight
Kate and I meet in the city center of The Hague, the city where she works and lives with her Dutch partner. She just got back from work and feels energized. While sharing her story, she realizes that many of her choices were not consciously planned. Things just happened, and every time she felt they were positive.

Stumbled across Psychology
When I was younger, I always wanted to go to medical school; that was my dream. However, it was difficult for me to get into the program in my home country, South Africa. Since the end of Apartheid in 1994, there has been a focus on giving people equal opportunities. Because I’m white, it was harder for me to get into the program;
even if one works tremendously hard, there is still a barrier to cross. During my gap year, I came to the Netherlands since I have family here and met my Dutch boyfriend. I hadn’t made any plans in South Africa, so I thought, “Why not stay here,” and then I came across Webster University.
My dad was a psychologist, so it runs in the family, but I kind of stumbled across it at Webster. I was looking for English-speaking programs in the Neth-erlands, and one of the programs was Psychology. I’d always been interested in Psychology although it was not something I really considered a career. But I thought I would try it and see how it went, and then I really loved it.
“The international environment is truly unique to Webster.”
We had some really exceptional instructors, like Christine Fitzgerald. She was really passionate about the subject, and I think that passion is contagious. The way it was taught, in small groups, made it more interesting than it would have been in huge lectures. We were encouraged to carry out debates, which, in my view, gets one more engaged in the topic. I think the most important advantage of the program is that it exposed me to a lot of different cultures, and that is something I really need in my current job at PsyQ. As a psychologist for expats, I treat people from all over the world, so having an international mindset and knowledge of cultural variation is crucial. I found the international environment to be truly unique to Webster, and I felt that all students were understood and accepted, despite their different backgrounds.

From research to people
When I started at Webster, I was convinced I wanted to do research. I think it was after the internship at The International Baccalaureate when I realized I would have liked to deal with people more. During that internship, sitting behind my computer all day and not speaking to anyone made me come home so tired and drained rather than excited, and I did not look forward to the next day. I really missed that interaction with people. In my current job as a Psychologist, I feel energized throughout the whole day, and that is what I love. But I only found that out later.
After leaving Webster University in 2012, I started my Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology at the University of Leiden. This was something I thought a lot about. My theory was that if I studied Clinical Psychology, I would be able to work with different populations and different disorders. When I first started, I doubted that it was meant for me, but as I carried on, I came to love it.

Challenges
It’s pretty difficult to find a job in English as a psychologist in the Netherlands. But I do think that if you’re determined and really look closely, it’s possible to find work here. A lot of people tell you that there is nothing, but when you actually have to find an internship during your Master’s degree, you do find things; there is actually quite a lot, but you just have to look for it. Actually, I found every internship through networking.

“It’s also my belief that things will always improve.”

If people would like to work in the Netherlands after graduating, I would say, “Start networking.” But you have to keep trying; there were times when I wanted to give up, thinking, “This is not going to work out, maybe I should go back home, or maybe I should just go somewhere else,” but if you really want something, you just need to keep working towards it, and eventually you will get it. I guess I’m also some-one who doesn’t want to give up. It bothered me a lot that I couldn’t converse in Dutch or fully integrate in society, but I thought, “I’ll give it a try and see what happens.” It’s also my belief that things will always improve. At times, I would start to focus on the positives, but at times, I would focus on all the negatives. Then I thought, “Let me try to see the good,” and that really helped. Acceptance is important, and therefore, I lead my life proactively, while still being able to let go of the stress and negativity.

Picture and interview by Laura Weijers
Edited by Allison Kirk