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Alumni meet up in Japan. ‘Finally the chance to speak Dutch again’

An impressive 60 alumni recently came to the Dutch Embassy residence in Japan to meet, network, see friends and practise their languages.

With a sea of tulips in the garden, the Dutch Embassy residence in Tokyo really does feel like a small piece of the Netherlands in Japan. And for a few hours at the alumni event, the residence felt like a small piece of Leiden. It began at the entrance with guests being greeted by Japanese Studies students who are doing an internship at the embassy.

In her welcome speech Rector Magnificus said how pleased she was to see so many alumni. ‘I’m proud to see how strong your ties are with your alma mater because you are the ambassadors of Leiden University. There is no better opportunity to get to know each other than at events like this. I can’t wait to hear what you’ve all been up to since you graduated.’

Ayumi Ashikari returned to Japan after her master’s.

Ayumi Ashikari (Museums and Collections)

‘The alumni event takes me back to my time in Leiden. I love the people, the atmosphere in town and the university’s traditions. To start off with I found it difficult to study in English but I had really nice friends who helped me. After my master’s I returned to Japan, where I’m now a curator at Ibaraki Ceramic Art Museum. I organise exhibitions and collect works of art −­ although I’m currently on leave because I recently had a baby. I want to practise my English today because I don’t often have the chance to do so.’

Duncan Iske teaches German in Japan.

Duncan Iske (Political Science)

‘My dream was to work at a ministry on leaving university. But the Lehman Brothers’ bank went bankrupt soon after I graduated and that sparked a global crisis. Ministries made cuts and it was really difficult to find a job, also in the years that followed. I decided to go to Japan for a year because my best friend from childhood was half German and half Japanese. I’ve been here six years now.

‘I teach German at the University of Yamagata. Half of my students are taking my classes because they want to and the other half are medical students who have to. The idea is that medicine is linked to German because some words in Katakana (one of the Japanese scripts, ed.) come from German. I’m looking forward to meeting other alumni at today’s event and to speaking Dutch again for the first time in five years.’

Nina Steenmetz and Denise Boxem have a close group of friends from their degree programme.

Nina Steenmetz and Denise Boxem (Japanese Studies)

Denise: ‘I’m about to start work at a Dutch bank but am here travelling. Friends from university asked if I wanted to come along to the alumni event today.’ Nina, who has been working in the sales department of a Japanese company in Tokyo for three years, adds: ‘The Japanese Studies study association is really close-knit. We know who’s in Japan and meet up regularly to go out for a meal together, for instance.’

Nina: ‘I made friends for life during my studies. Many of the other students shared the same interests because Japan fascinates us.’ Denise: ‘What I also really liked about the programme was the exchange we did in the second year. We got to see for ourselves what we’d learned about Japan in lectures. And during the exchange you make even more friends who come from all around the world. You’re together almost 24/7 for three months so you get to know each other really well.’

During important trips abroad Leiden University tries to organise an event for alumni from the country it is visiting. This was the case during the recent visit to Japan (19-24 March) by a delegation that included Rector Magnificus.

Text and photos: Dagmar Aarts

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