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I'm communicating with a Japanese penfriend on italki, and I've got a few problems with what she has written me in Japanese

For context: Amongst other things, I've told her that I've changed my profession. I successfully finished my studies to become a teacher, but I've changed into the IT sector because, in my country (Germany, Bavaria), there is no need for teachers anymore for the subjects I've studied.

Now, I haven't told her this background information and as far as I can understand, she tries to convince me to go for it. The problem is, as I said, that I don't understand everything she has written me.

仕事を始めるとき、最初の何年かはとても大変ですね。でも嫌でも続ける事は、何か自分に意味があります。そういうふうに、日本では言います。だから、本当に自分のしたい事が今できなくても、できるときがくるので、そのときまで粘ってください!かな???

What does 最初の何年かは mean? Does the topic marker は include the とき phrase as well?
=> "(Concerning?) The time you start your work, (concerning?) the how many years of the onset it is horrible.

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[何年]{なんねん}か means "a few / several years" (≂ [数年]{すうねん})

cf:

[何日]{なんにち}か ≂ [数日]{すうじつ} "a few / several days"
[何人]{なんにん}か ≂ [数人]{すうにん} "a few / several people"
[何回]{なんかい}か ≂ [数回]{すうかい} "a few / several times"

So 最初の何年か means "the first few years", and the は is a topic marker.

仕事を始めるとき、最初の何年かはとても大変ですね。
When you start a new job, the first few years will (usually) be really tough/hard/difficult.

p.s. 「数+counter」 sounds a bit more formal than 「何+counter+か」.

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  • 「何日か」と「数日」はこのように入れ替われるのか?日本語習ってた時、「『数個』は必ず4つや5つ」って先生に言われた
    – Sjiveru
    Nov 10, 2017 at 4:29
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    @Sjiveru 意味はほぼ同じだと思いますけど、「何日か」「何人か」「何個か」「何ヶ月か」などと「数日」「数人」「数個」「数か月」などが、それ‌​ぞれ厳密に「2~3」なのか「3~4」なの‌​か「4~5」なのかは人によって違うようで‌​、辞書などでも「2~3」だったり「5~6‌​」だったりします。デジタル大辞泉「数個」NHK「数日」は何日ぐらい ←これらを見ても、「『数個』は必ず4つや5つ」とは言い切れないと思います。「何~か」と「数~」のどちらが多いかはちょっと‌​わかりません。一つの違いとしては、「何~‌​か」のほうが「数~」よりカジュアルで、普‌​段の改まらない会話では「数~」より「何~‌​か」のほうがよく使われると思います
    – chocolate
    Nov 10, 2017 at 5:07
  • モノの個数が多いとか、分などの60分当たりとかの場合は、数~は4~5でも通りそうですね。週とかの単位が7日当たりになると、2~3になるでしょうかね。
    – user25382
    Nov 10, 2017 at 8:53

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