Arlene Houk (BBA84) learned about a chance to transfer to the Netherlands on April Fool’s Day of 2020. Naturally, she thought her boss was joking.
She has now been in The Hague working for Aegon as a senior internal audit manager for three years.
“I was already retirement eligible, and some people around me were starting to retire. I thought, ‘No, no, no—I’m not done working yet,’” she said. “I have no regrets doing it at this stage in my career. I’m a lifelong learner always looking to keep my mind sharp and enthusiasm up. So, of course I took advantage of this opportunity.”
If you can’t tell yet, Houk is inquisitive, lively, and adventurous. She has traveled with her husband Andrew Houk (BM86) to over 60 countries, taking their Hawkeye flag everywhere from Cinque Terre in Italy to the Great Wall of China. “We just got back from an African safari!” she told Iowa Ledger.
Her time in Botswana included a run in with an angry, trumpeting elephant that didn’t want to let their vehicle pass, and an after-dark walk between camps where they came upon a leopard stalking an impala, their escort armed only with a flashlight and a stick.
“I manage risk for a living, so I manage my risk. But within my tolerance, I do like adventure,” she admitted.
Houk got bit by the travel bug her second year of college at Iowa. She played piccolo in the Hawkeye Marching Band (HMB) while getting her accounting degree and got to travel to multiple bowl games, including the 1982 Rose Bowl.
DYK? Houk is president of the Hawkeye Alumni Band Leadership Board and a member of the band.
You can always find her in Iowa City playing with the band for Homecoming. “I wouldn’t miss it.”
“The HMB director at the time, Dr. Morgan Jones, had a passion for travel and later organized trips to Europe with select high school band and choir students that Houk and her husband got to chaperone. My time with the band got me hooked on football and really sparked my lifelong interest in travel,” she said.
Houk’s move to the Netherlands isn’t as daring and far-fetched as it sounds the more you get to know her.
She has been with Aegon and its subsidiaries her whole career, starting with Life Investors in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the 1980s. After Aegon acquired Life Investors and Transamerica, she worked in the Transamerica tax department for 22 years before moving to internal audit because she wanted to “try something new.”
“Change is good,” she said. “The opportunities and mobility that Aegon and Transamerica have offered me have been great.”
Since Aegon is a Dutch-based company, they needed information from their U.S. subsidiaries for reporting, so Houk has worked with team members in the Netherlands for years, first in tax and then in internal audit. She even got to go quarterly for a couple of years before it was switched to remote collaboration.
“I had already done some work with and met my global colleagues,” she said. “So, when the chance came up to relocate and take this assignment, it was just like a dream come true.”
Her advice if you’re contemplating making a move abroad?
“Go into it with flexibility and with an open mind because it challenges you. Think about what you will contribute and learn both professionally and personally. The best advice I was given was, ‘Sometimes you regret the things you don’t do.’ If you thrive on experiencing and understanding different cultures, then it’s just a fantastic opportunity.”
Arlene's Netherlands: Travel recommendations for fellow Hawkeyes
MUSEUMS: Rijksmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, Rembrandt House
CANAL RIDE: Don’t take the first one out of the central station. Do a little bit of research and find one on a smaller boat with good reviews that fits your interest.
Don’t limit yourself to Amsterdam
Visit Delft, Noordwijk, and Netherland’s seat of government, The Hague.
Go to the beach
Scheveningen is a beautiful seaside resort area of The Hague with a great boardwalk with restaurants and shops—and kite surfing, parasailing, and swimming for those willing to brave the chilly North Sea.
Rent a bicycle
It’s the Dutch way. If you’re not used to biking a lot, get an electric bicycle. You can see things like windmills, canals, and quaint neighborhoods beyond where public transportation can take you. Just remember to be aware of your surroundings—look behind you, left, and right—because another bike is probably coming!
See the flowers in Spring
Keukenhof is a park with flower displays that is a must-see in the Spring. Rent a bicycle and take it on the train to a station near the flower fields for an incredible experience cycling through the tulips. Stop at your leisure for things to eat and drink.
What to eat
The Netherlands has lots of great cheeses and chocolates! And don’t miss the poffertjes—bite-sized pancakes served with lots of butter and powered sugar. They’re just wonderful.
Time of year to come
It’s rainy, but April is a fantastic time to come. Bring a good waterproof jacket, wind-resistant umbrella, and rain pants if you plan to bicycle a lot.
Dutch language tips
Most people speak English, but for menus and signage Google Translate is your best friend!
The locals have a habit of saying “It’s not possible,” but rarely mean it. If someone says this, just say, “That’s a pity, how are we going to solve it?” They usually come up with a way to make the “impossible” possible.