We are celebrating our 75th anniversary as British Council in the Netherlands in 2020-21 by sharing 75 personal stories from people who have a special connection to both the UK and the Netherlands. Read the 75 NL-UK stories and join us in celebrating our 75th anniversary. Watch the personal story from Onno van Wilgenburg and expand the boxes below to read the full stories by Johan de Koning, Mathilde Bosma, Lara Neervoort, Pieter van Duijvenbooden and Maarten Selten.
75 UK-NL Stories - Student life
Johan de Koning
The Netherlands is geographically close to the United Kingdom, but so are other countries, thus there must be particular underlying factors that give rise to the fact that the UK is my favourite.
Probably the preference goes back to my youth, when I had two big passions, and still do, in which the UK played a crucial role, i.e., tennis and music.
I recall the unsurpassed BBC Wimbledon coverage with Harry Carpenter at the end of the 1970’s. More precisely, I was an attempt to watch it, as in those days we didn’t exactly have crystal clear BBC reception at this side of the Channel. To the contrary: the image was mostly snowy with hardy any visibility; but hey, if you finally managed to see a ball it came from Bjorn Borg!
Unfortunately, I only made it to the Wimbledon final on Centre Court as a spectator; it was an amazing experience nevertheless, although John McEnroe beat my big idol in that 1981 final.
The Beatles have been in my life since the day I heard a jazz pianist play the solo of “A Hard Day’s Night” during a school festival. On the basis of his performance, I bought a greatest hits album, and have been a huge fan ever since.
And I’m not alone in all of this; it is amazing to witness the immense and enduring influence of both British media and culture on a global scale.
The British Council obviously played an important role in promoting the latter in the Netherlands over the last 75 years.
One of the roles of the British Council roles was to administer the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Chevening Scholarships. It was an incredible privilege to have become the recipient of such scholarship in 1989, enabling me to do a master’s degree in international Relations at Cambridge University. Emmanuel College turned out to be a brilliant choice, both for academic reasons and because it was the only Cambridge College with grass tennis courts right in the city Centre - opposite the famous Duck pond.
The College has strong tie with the US with John Harvard being one of its former members; the same man who gave his name to that other great academic institution in Boston.
In addition, I discovered a strong Dutch link: Sir William Temple also studied at Emmanuel College, and went on to serve as British Ambassador to the Netherlands. In that capacity, he was instrumental in arranging the 17th century marriage of William of Orange and Mary Stuart, creating the ultimate bond between the UK and the Netherlands.
In my life, Anglo-Dutch ties continue right to the present, as I am happily working for a multinational company with a strong Anglo-Dutch heritage.
My master thesis in Cambridge was on ‘The Dutch attitude towards entry of the United Kingdom into the European Community 1957-1973’. The Netherlands was by far the staunchest support of British entry all along. It may not come as a surprise, that personally I feel rather sad that the UK has decided to reverse course. At the same time, this implies that the work of the British Council will be more important than ever. Therefore, I am convinced that the institution will go from strength to strength in the next 75 years. But for now it’s time to cherish the first 75 years-episode; many congratulations!
Johan de Koning
Many happy memories come to mind when I think back to my time studying at the University of Birmingham five years ago. The stunning red brick university buildings, especially during autumn. Of the one-pound national express bus deals; they allowed me to view Bristol’s finest street art, go punting in Cambridge and enjoy high tea in Oxford. Memories of the unique British pub culture. A place that brings together people of all ages, that offers affordable local food and where you can feel all hot and flustered in a Christmas sweater during holiday season.
Some things took time getting used to. Like having to wear five sweaters at home to avoid skyrocketing electricity bills. Beers double the size the ones back home and a considerably higher average drinking speed. Figuring out how to crack jokes without being too direct or offensive.
But soon enough I felt at home. I had an amazing group of international friends. University life was exciting. There were societies I could join ranging from the Harry Potter society to the hummus society. The diverse background of our teachers and my fellow students made it a really interesting study environment. And procrastination was not an issue with the library being open at all times during exam period.
I never got used to partying in short skirts or high heels, or wearing no jacket during winter, but I’ll always have friends across the globe and a terrible British accent.
Congratulations to the British Council on the 75th anniversary of your work in the Netherlands. My British experience started when I got admitted to the MSc programme Psychology of Economic Life at the London School of Economics, something that I was very pleased about. The British Council helped me secure my place at LSE by offering the IELTS test that I gladly got good scores on.
My Master’s at LSE was an incredible experience for me: we were taught in a small class of only 30 students who had come from all over the world to learn about this niche combination of economics and behavioural science aimed at making existing business models more sustainable. Living in the vibrant city of London from September 2018 onwards is very stimulating. For me, the city has everything to offer you can possibly think of, from going to the ballet to underground night clubs and eating food from cuisines all over the world.
I built a very diverse friend group in London, including people from the US, Libya, Lebanon, the UK and the Netherlands. The fact that London attracts people from every corner of the world is what I find very inspiring and has taught me a lot about different cultures and my personal values.
Although I feel like the UK and the Netherlands are culturally quite similar, there were a few times that the cultural differences surprised me. When I was trying to find out whether a British professor wanted to supervise my thesis, he kept saying he found my thesis topic “interesting” but after a few conversations I still couldn’t figure out whether he wanted to work with me or not. When I asked him directly, he gave a very polite answer but it was still unclear to me. The Dutch directness is definitely something I had to work on, also when I entered the corporate world in the UK.
Currently I find myself working in a very interesting bubble, namely as Innovation Advisor at the Dutch Embassy in London. Working with 80 Dutch people in the UK feels very special. We do constantly interact with our British network of innovation and research partners that we connect to Dutch innovative companies and research institutes, which enables me to keep learning about British culture. Being in a relationship with an Englishman also taught me a lot about things I hadn’t encountered in the Netherlands such as cricket, rugby, English breakfasts and pints at the pub.
Although living in London during the pandemic wasn’t always easy, I am still really enjoying my time here and hope to strengthen the ties between the North Sea Neighbours in my work for the Embassy. Thanks to the British Council for this opportunity to share my UK-NL story and congratulations again on your jubilee.
Pieter van Duijvenbooden
Happy 75th anniversary to the British Council Netherlands! Having completed both my Bachelor’s (in English and Education) and Master’s (in TESOL) degree at British universities has provided me with the unique opportunity of spending some time in the UK. Thinking back to my days in England, a few things spring to mind.
I fondly remember fun times spent with fellow students from across the globe at the Student Union, in pubs, and in nightclubs. Some recollections are clearly more vivid than others, for which I blame the absurd student deals back in those days. I’m sure a pint for £1,50 will be difficult to come by these days, which is probably for the better of course.
I remember captivating lectures delivered by fascinating lecturers, who all had great difficulty pronouncing my name. The fact that most assignments consisted of writing essays suited me to a tee; writing essays enables students to show and elaborate on their knowledge of a given subject by exploring subfields of their own choosing. This, in my view, is much more instructive than asking students to reproduce facts in an exam; a test type commonly adopted at universities here in the Netherlands.
I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing two graduation ceremonies in the UK. Whereas here in the Netherlands these occasions are usually quite small-scale and informal, graduation ceremonies in England are quite something else. To this day, my parents, sister, girlfriend and myself cherish happy memories of these grand occasions with their (perhaps a bit too) lengthy academic processions, meticulous seating arrangements and stage management, and, of course, the cap and gown, which made me feel like batman for a day.
I was already big into football when I arrived in the UK. With the historic Molineux stadium of the Wolverhampton Wanderers being just around the corner from my student dorm and the many Sunday afternoons spent with friends at the local pub to enjoy the matches, a burger, and a pint, football became a true passion. I still watch English football whenever it’s shown on the BBC, and I’m an avid listener to British podcasts about the Premier League. Back in Wolverhampton, I played football in a Monday night league. Being a full-back here in the Netherlands, I was shocked to be fielded as striker. Might this be exemplary for the differences in quality and style between Dutch and English football? Perhaps it’s best not to go into that here, especially not after the last European Championship.
As I am writing this, I realise that I could touch upon many more wonderful aspects of British culture: its pop culture, its humour, and its cultural diversity. I owe a lot to England, and I’m grateful that I can keep its culture and traditions alive in my professional life here in the Netherlands as an English language teacher, ambassador for “Blink Engels”, and speaking examiner for the British Council Netherlands.
Pieter van Duijvenbooden
During my teacher training to become an English Language teacher in the Netherlands, we were required to work or study abroad for a semester. Having never been on holiday on my own, this was a life-changing experience for me at age 19.
I decided to apply for a position at PGL, the UK’s leading outdoor education provider. As a teacher I would work with teenagers in the Netherlands so I looked forward to working with them at PGL as well. After basic training I worked at the Little Canada center in Wootton Bridge, Isle of Wight for 3 months. Most kids and teens that came to the center were really excited to be there and they were really surprised that someone from the Netherlands worked there. Some of them thought I was from Sweden, Ireland or even the United States but never did I receive any negative comments about my heritage. In fact, there were actually quite a few groups which had Netherlands-born kids in them! I also met a few colleagues who had worked at PGL for some time or who were born in the Netherlands before moving to the UK. This made me realise that although the Channel is between our countries, it actually is as close by as Belgium or Germany.
This was my introduction to the UK and my first travel experience, which I will never forget. I have been to the UK at least once a year since then and every now and then, I even got to go back to the Isle of Wight. Hopefully, I will be able to pass my love for the UK on to my children and have it enrich their lives just like it did mine.