Diplomacy and International Relations: Interview with Dutch Ambassador Doornewaard

By Helena Reinders

2021 will mark 60 years of diplomatic relations between South Korea and the Netherlands. In those 60 years, the Netherlands has changed a lot. Through these changes, the country has moved towards an era in which the focus lies on technological and sustainable development. During this period, the diplomatic relations between the Netherlands and South Korea have flourished. Following up on the interview with the South Korean ambassador to the Netherlands, Mr. Jeong, Sphaera Magazine also conducted an interview with Dutch ambassador to South Korea, Mrs. Doornewaard. Mrs. Doornewaard has been a diplomat for over 25 years and has worked in Mexico, Poland, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Indonesia. Previously to becoming a diplomat, she worked as an architectural landscape specialist in several foreign countries. 

This interview focussed on how the Dutch manage their diplomatic relations, how one can become a diplomat in the Netherlands, and Dutch-Korean relations from the Dutch point of view. The interview was conducted at the end of July 2020, through Skype, as the COVID-19 crisis prevented a meetup in Seoul, South-Korea. 

The first part of the interview focussed on how one becomes a professional diplomat in The Netherlands. In this regard, Dutch students can apply to enter a traineeship at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the area of their interests. Following this traineeship, most young diplomats learn on their job since diplomacy is something which you can best learn through practise. As explained by Mrs. Doornewaard, nobody has to be an expert in all fields since there are many aspects to the job of a diplomat. One should mainly be open to learning throughout the course of the years and be open to an international environment. Mrs. Doornewaard also referred to the website of the Dutch government, which you can find here. This website can be used to find more information on requirements and possibilities for those who want to work for the Dutch government. In addition, the ambassador encourages young students to also check out a podcast on which she was a guest, also on the topic of diplomacy in the Netherlands. This podcast can be found here. Do mind, however, that this podcast is in Dutch.  

When it comes to the distribution of positions, the Dutch seem to handle this aspect much like the Koreans (as was explained in the previous article, our interview with Korean ambassador Jeong). Once a year, positions open up for which people can apply. Usually, this means people give three to five preferences, one out of which might become their next position. Although expertise can help when faced with difficulties, Ambassador Doornewaard explained that it cannot guarantee you your preferred position. After all, there are usually multiple people applying for the same position. Something to take into account when one aspires to become a diplomat is that it isn’t always pretty. There can be circumstances nobody prepared you for, as Mrs. Doornewaard experienced first-hand during the COVID-19 pandemic. During the early stages of the pandemic, Mrs. Doornewaard and her team worked together to provide help in the return of Dutch citizens who were in South Korea. After that, they were tasked with providing for any citizens’ concerns about staying in Korea, while also being faced with uncertainty about their own health safety. Important to remember in these situations is that you’re not on your own, there is an entire team at the embassy and at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs backing you up. Good communication and openness in these teams are vital, as it will make your stay much more pleasant and will increase effectiveness during unforeseen situations. 

Having learned a bit more about what it means to be a diplomat in the Netherlands and how one can become a diplomat, this next part of the article will go deeper into Dutch-Korean relations. 

As explained by Ambassador Doornewaard, and previously explained by Ambassador Jeong, the Dutch and the Koreans are quite close when it comes to international relations and diplomacy. South Korea is one of the biggest investors in the Dutch trade market, whereas the Netherlands is one of the biggest EU investors in the Korean technological industry. On top of that, the Koreans are always actively participating in the Dutch Design Week, where the works and concepts of over 2600 artists are presented. This week is usually visited by well over 355.000 people from both the Netherlands and abroad. The Korean interest in Dutch design and art is one of the foundations of many prosperous careers of Dutch architects in South Korea. 

There are many different aspects to Dutch-Korean relations, one of which is their cooperation when it comes to sustainable energy. The Netherlands is a great advocate of green energy and finding sustainable ways of creating that green energy. In this regard, the Dutch and Koreans have started working together to realise the building of more off-shore wind turbines, much like has been planned or already built by the Dutch in the north sea. In exchange, the Dutch are very much interested in the huge amounts of electric cars produced by Korean companies. This interest has led to cooperation between the two countries in all aspects regarding hydrogen and its possibilities for a greener future. Boosting this cooperation has been the Korean decision to pass a green deal for a post-pandemic South Korea. This deal aims to, among other things, cut carbon dioxide emissions to the point of net-zero emissions by 2050. It has proven to be yet another point of agreement between the two countries. 

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, South Korea has handled the situation very well with their current death-toll having only just reached over 300 people. As a region that experienced the devastating effects of SARS and MERS, South Korea was better prepared for a similar outbreak than the Netherlands was. This, combined with the use of top-notch technology, is how the Koreans were able to create COVID-tests as quickly as they could. Later, this became one of the most important export products of Korea towards the Netherlands. The Dutch also learned from how the Koreans have dealt with the virus as a whole. From setting up separate hospitals or hospital wings for infected people to drive-throughs where people can get tested, the Koreans have shown the Dutch many ways of dealing with the virus. As was mentioned before, Ambassador Doornewaard explained this to be one of those unforeseen situations a diplomat might have to deal with. Since the Koreans were so much more experienced with outbreaks of infectious diseases, the diplomatic relationship between the two countries has proven to be an important part in the open communication between the two countries regarding the virus and all knowledge about it. 

As the interview came to an end, the question had to be asked. Did Ambassador Doornewaard have any words of advice for young students who aspire to become a diplomat? Her answer may come as a surprise to some. 

“You have to do what you love, not what is best for your career.”

As she further explained, one should always study what they love. If you choose your study at what is best for your career, there is a big chance you will not enjoy your study as much as you could have. This will ultimately show in your grades or motivation towards your future job. This is not to say that you should drop all courses you don’t like, as some are a necessary part of the bigger picture. However, Mrs. Doornewaard emphasized that if you love what you study, it will show and it will get you to the job that you’ll love as well.

Edited by Jacco van der Veen

Artwork by Mira Kurtovic