Tom Groot Haar works for Foreign Affairs: ‘every important issue comes by our desks’
Working as a diplomat for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: for many students it would be their dream. Alumnus Tom Groot Haar is busy making it a reality. 'My career seems like a preconceived plan, but it wasn't.'
Groot Haar had already finished a bachelor's degree in Political Science in Nijmegen when he moved to Leiden for a master's in International Studies in 2015. 'My grandfather lived half the year in Indonesia, so I have always been interested in that region,' he explains. And in my student days you could see China emerging. I thought everyone knows everything about America, but fewer people in the Netherlands know about China and Asia, so studying these regions was a way for me to differentiate myself. Nijmegen had less expertise in those fields, which is how I ended up at Leiden University.'
Learning from the international sphere
He enrolled in the International political economy course. 'There whole atmosphere was an international: I was even in the minority as a Dutchman,' he says. 'You learn so much from that! For instance, I had an American fellow student who was a fantastic speaker. Everything he said sounded thoughtful and fluent. That made me decide to work on my own public speaking.’
'An American fellow student made me decide to work on my public speaking.'
Groot Haar also learned a lot from the lectures themselves. I remember university lecturer Jeffrey Fynn-Paul lecturing on the history of economic thought. That was really fantastic, also because his teaching style forced you to pay close attention in the working groups, and you had to apply the material directly in writing assignments. With him, I really learned a lot about the impact and background of different economic policy choices.'
Although Groot Haar enjoyed the master's in terms of content, he increasingly outgrew student life. Having taken an internship at the Dutch embassy in Singapore, he started working as a media analyst while still studying. His first job after graduating was as press desk officer at Aegon, followed by a departure for China, where he went to work for a consultancy firm carrying out projects for the European Commission and the European Chamber of Commerce. 'I have very broad interests,' he dryly reflects on the eclectic start to his career. 'But I also think it’s important to dare to try different things. If you only work towards the ideal in your head, it may disappoint you when you actually start doing it.'
'At Foreign Affairs you get to work on subjects that are important for the Netherlands, while in time you can also go abroad to work.'
For Groot Haar himself, that approach has worked out well. After a few years in China, he returned to the Netherlands in 2020. 'My wife had got another job here. I had actually planned to stay in China myself for a while, but corona made that very difficult,' he explains. So back to The Hague, where after a few months he decided to apply for 'het klasje', a work and development programme at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He now seems to have finally found a job in which there is room for all his different areas of interest.
'Politics, business, technical subjects: you can find all that at Foreign Affairs,' he says enthusiastically. 'You get to pick a new job every four years and work on new subjects that are important for the Netherlands, while in time you can also go abroad to work for Dutch interests.' He currently works as a policy officer in the China team, but next summer he will be deployed to a post abroad for the first time.
'Do that OWL'
Groot Haar seems to have found his niche. What would he recommend to current students? 'If you don’t ask, you don’t get,' he says. If you know someone who has a job that you would also like, go talk to them. Everyone likes to talk about their work and you might get an internship out of it.'
He also has a good tip for a fun student time during the master’s: 'Sign up for the OWL (Orientation Week Leiden), even if you’re Dutch. I only spent six months in Leiden, but I found a group of friends there very quickly. Don’t forget, all international students come to Leiden without a network.'