Policy Officer Northern Africa and Middle East Department at Dutch Ministry Of Foreign Affairs
UCU: BA (International Relations, Politics, Law and Economics)
After UCU: London School of Economics and Political Science; MSc (International Relations)
Do you come from a ‘Diplomat’ family? “No, not at all. My father works in Mental Healthcare and helps and treats people with addictions and my mother works in Youth Care. My sister is studying medicine. So with my background in Law and Political Science I’m a bit of an exception. I went to school in Venray and most of my classmates went to University in Nijmegen, Maastricht or Eindhoven. But after 18 years in Venray, I was ready to move a bit further away.
Why did you choose to go to a University College? Well, like many UCU students my interest wasn’t limited to one certain area; I liked economics but I also liked philosophy, Greek and Latin. Besides that the idea of living on a campus as well as in Utrecht really attracted me. I had heard that UCU offers high level education and that you had to apply with a motivation. After visiting the open day, I was sure UC was where I wanted to go.
How would you describe your time at UCU? Mainly as a very happy time with a lot of possibilities to develop yourself. I felt at ease on Campus fairly quickly. What immediately struck me was the fact that everyone around me was motivated to study hard; people all wanted to get the best out of themselves, whereas in school you were there because you had to. Of course there was pressure, especially around the finals, but we were all in it together.
So, was it just studying? No, there was of course the bar and a social life too. And I joined several committees. I helped reviving Politics Co, that was more or less a sleeping committee when I joined. We invited Greta Duisenberg to come over to the campus to talk about the Israel – Palestine conflict. The auditorium was packed. At the time we had quite a few Israeli students at UCU so you can imagine they were having a vigorous debate with her. I also joined Debate Co, which really taught me lot about public speaking. Danique van Koppenhagen was my debating partner and together we went to tournaments in Leiden and Oxford. Eventually we won the Interuniversity College debating tournament in Middelburg. The previous year UCU had also won and some of our students had taken away a painting from Roosevelt. They sent a letter to the Roosevelt Student Association that they could get their painting of President Roosevelt back if they would just admit in their Student Newsletter that UCU is the best. A letter returned, saying that we could keep the John Maynard Keynes painting… The year that Danique and I participated in the tournament in Middelburg, the paintings were all stuck firmly to the wall and there were also guards around….
What did you do to burst the bubble? In my third year I went on exchange to Sydney. It made me realize that there was so much more outside the Campus. It was here that I decided to apply for a Masters at London School of Economics. But first, after my third year I joined the UCU in Africa program. I went to Mtakuja, close to Moschi, Tanzania, and together with Renske, a fellow student, conducted a research for a Dutch NGO on the discrepancy within the Mtakuja community between their level of education, the profession they chose and the actual needs for these professions. I learnt a lot in Tanzania; I learnt how to be more flexible and patient. It was quite a culture shock initially and dealing with ‘African time’ was not always easy. People could come two hours late for an appointment because they were having lunch with family that lasted longer than expected…
What was studying at LSE like compared to studying at UCU? Applying for LSE required sending a letter of motivation and a list of grades. I was very glad I got admitted and I was impressed by the level of education at LSE. It was a tad tougher than studying at UC and the level of students was quite high. It was really cool to get taught by Professors that wrote the books that we used to use at UCU. I did International Relations and I wrote a thesis based on literature research on the foreign policy of the US towards Iran.
And then… working life? Yes, even though I had only studied for 4 years, I felt it was time to explore the world of work because I had no idea what that entailed. I considered working for a bank or a consultancy firm. Through a friend of mine I got in contact with Groupon, the daily deal website. At that time nobody knew Groupon and it was a small startup in Amsterdam Noord. I worked there partly as analyst and partly as Relationship Manager to get to know the core business. It was a very commercial job and I think it was good for me because I’m not commercial by nature. After 9 months I became head of Partner Support, managing a team of 14 that was responsible for all back end processes. When I was asked by my manager to work as a project manager in Istanbul I didn’t have to think twice; l missed living abroad. Here I became responsible for projects in 8 countries in the region and focused on streamlining all processes for these countries. In Istanbul it was the time of the heavy riots as a protest against the government’s authoritarian behaviour. The riots took place close to my house and I realized I was still fascinated by politics. Therefore I decided to apply for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Diplomatic Training at the Clingendael Institute.
What does the diplomatic training at Clingendael consist of? It’s an intensive program for which 20 people get accepted per year. It involves theory on themes like Human Rights, International Law, Economics and the Middle East but you also practice skills like debating, presenting, writing speeches, dealing with the media and crisis management.
And now you work as a policy officer for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs; how will your professional career for the Ministry develop? After Clingendael, you get a 7 year contract. You subsequently work in The Hague for 2 years, abroad for 2 years and back in The Hague for 3 years. I’ve worked for Foreign Affairs since July 2014 and I currently work on the Syria and Iraq dossier. It’s extremely interesting and the more I learn about it, the less I understand the whole picture. I’m very interested in the crisis areas and I would very much like to work in Jordan, Lebanon or Israel. What I like about working in the diplomatic arena is that you get to focus on the content of political issues and that you can really have an impact on foreign policy.
Do you still feel UCU Alumnus and if so, in what way do you want to stay connected to UCU? Yes, I still feel very connected to UCU and I made a lot of friends for life during my time on campus. Staying connected to UCU is very important to me and what I envisage is an online platform where Alumni working in different sectors can meet. Also, I’m convinced there is a lot of goodwill amongst Alumni to give back and it depends on everyone’s personal situation or phase in their professional life how or to what extent they want to contribute. Personally I really enjoyed giving a talk during the open days and telling prospective students more about my work. I’ve also been back on Campus with a few of my colleagues to tell students what’s it’s like to work for foreign affairs. I would also like to share my ideas on fundraising amongst Alumni to contribute to the UCU Curriculum. I envisage for instance using these funds to hire a specialized professor to give classes here during 2 semesters on a specific topic (Iran Studies?). Although I realize that fundraising is a difficult topic in the European Culture, I do believe we should make a start with it. The Alumni population is growing steadily and as a group we gradually start to earn more so we could give back more.”