Before coming to LUC, many students dream of a career in international diplomacy. And why wouldn’t they? The life of a diplomat is portrayed as fast-paced and glamorous. You get to live in exciting countries, learn about new cultures, meet interesting people and you might receive gifts every once in a while (a goat anyone?). For almost a year now, Jarre Middeljans (Class of 2016) works as the political attaché in the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in London. I interviewed him on his experiences working in the UK, Brexit, how he got to where he is today, and being a ‘small-town boy’ in a ‘big boy city’.
By Felipe van de Kerkhof (Class of 2016)
F: Thank you for taking the time to sit down with me. Let’s start at the very beginning. How does someone born in Hapert (Noord-Brabant) end up in an embassy in London?
Through a friend I found out about the European History programme at King’s College, which allowed me to take courses in London (King’s College), and in other European capitals. I decided to specialise on ideas of European integration in London before and during World War II, which was then an important hub of academics and people from the continent. I like the irony of me studying this era, while the Brexit debate was unfolding in front of our eyes.
Even though I didn’t really consider myself to be very diplomatic, let alone a diplomat, I decided to apply for a position at the Dutch embassy in London. I worked on British foreign policy and development, and was really lucky to be able to work together with some amazing people. Funnily enough of the eight interns at the time I was there, three came from LUC!
After spending semesters in Paris (Paris Diderot 7) and Berlin (Humboldt Universität), I decided to apply for a real job in the Embassy when it became available and that’s how I ended up in London.
F: What is studying and living in London like?
J: “It’s honestly really great because so much is constantly happening here. There is an abundance of activities: from cultural events, to museums and exhibitions, concerts and everything in between. However, what I’ve noticed and I find this really funny, the thing I like best about big cities is that you construct a routine to make it your home. At the end of the day you do your groceries in your ‘own’ supermarket, where you recognise the faces of your neighbours and cashiers. Next to that I love that you can’t possibly know every place in London, this means the city constantly surprises you! It feels like I’m on a permanent exploratory mission!”
F: You said you were working as a political attaché, what does that mean?
J: “Well, as you might have heard, there is this thing going on where the United Kingdom is trying to leave the rest of the European Union. The Brexit is quite important for the Netherlands, so I spend a lot of my time working on this. I have to go to British parliament talking to people there and get a feeling of where things are going politically. I try to look beyond the soundbites in the newspapers and on Twitter to inform the Dutch government and help them get a better understanding of things. One of the people I used to come across quite often, actually was fellow LUC graduate Jack Lindsay, who used to work for a British MP here. It’s a small world after all.
In the rest of my work I am focusing on the situation in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland as well as public diplomacy. This means as much as communicating Dutch policy to our ‘strategic partners’ and getting them on board: British government services, as well as non-government services such as think-tanks, universities, and British companies invested in the Netherlands and vice-versa.”
F: Now you’ve finished studying, what are the most important lessons you took on?
J: “I guess there is two important things. On the one hand, I’ve obtained a lot of book-knowledge during my studies. On the other hand, which is probably as important if not more, I’ve learned a lot about myself. It’s a steep learning curve dealing with new things by yourself, sort of surviving out there. Life is not an Instagram post. For those that are moving places, you need to realise that there will be times you are going to feel alone or uncomfortable, which can be challenging.
In terms of work, I think that LUC gives you the opportunity to study in combinations of courses that are quite unique. This allows you to combine a diverse set of things which really gives you a sneak-peak into so many different fields of study – which is really enjoyable. It also helps you in thinking fast and shifting quickly between topics.
Secondly, do what you enjoy – really! That’s just so much more valuable than any of the other things. Study the things you like – same for the job you might end up in. I personally never thought I’d end up in diplomacy, but I really enjoy it and what I do now doesn’t really feel like work. That might be the thing I really learned at LUC: as long as you enjoy it, it’s not really work.”
F: Finally, how do you see the role of alumni in LUC?
J: “I think that alumni among themselves have an opportunity to inform about, if not open, doors for others. I didn’t do World Politics, which would be the most logical path to diplomacy. It’s great for alumni to share the idea that your academic background doesn’t matter per se, and people can end up all over the place. That’s an important lesson.
Secondly, if you have questions: ASK THEM! You have a shared experience, even with the people you don’t know personally. That connection can be made stronger, for example through the hubs or the Brexit event coming soon.”