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 Lucy Winskell and expand the boxes below to read the full stories by Johan de Koning, Mathilde Bosma and Sybrand Buma. New stories will be added in the months to come.
75 UK-NL Stories - Education
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.
It was the 21st of September 1989 still in the morning when I arrived after a long trip by boat and train at the gate of a castle-like building in the center of Cambridge. The building was Sidney Sussex College, my home for the next year. I reported to a man in a black three-piece suit with striped pants and a bolar hat. It was not the master of the college, nor was it a professor, it was a man who was much more important in daily student life, it was the porter. It was the first of many times I had to fully spell my impossible name: Sybrand-van-Haersma-Buma. The porter replied dryly: my name is Easy, easy to remember.
This day was the first day of a lifelong love for Britain, for its people and its habits. A country where curiousness for the future goes hand in hand with a crave for times long past. In 2009 I joined the steering board of the Apeldoorn Conference. During a decade I attended the NL-UK conferences until its demise in this form in the Brexit turmoil. Today bilateral relations will have to be rediscovered again. For example, will students be able to study in each others’ countries in the future as easy as I did in the past? It is all written in the stars, but what we do know is that the friendship of the past 75 years should be the guide for cordial relations for the next 75.