Ilja’s column: The Hague

After weeks of ACTing in Forum, we were ready for a day out.

About one week of our ACT project* was dedicated to finding people to interview. We tried reaching policy workers, preferably from the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. That meant sending 80 e-mails, getting 30 automatic out-of-office messages, another 30 ignored e-mails and the rest who were interested but didn’t necessarily feel like sitting down at a table to talk to two students for an hour.

The e-mail onslaught on the Ministry was kept up until the end of the week when we finally got a positive response. What followed was the most cheerful e-mail that I ever expected to get from a policy officer: ‘Yes, please! Would you like to speak to my managers too? How fun!’ We decided to go to The Hague with the whole group, and so not with two but with five people to interview one cheerful policy officer. Anything for a day out. With ACT, you’ll soon find yourself in the same small classroom for weeks on end. We really wanted to replace the view from the seventh floor of Forum with the grey-green landscape seen from a train window.

We were prepared for any eventuality in our interview in The Hague. We had tailored our interview questions to the interviewee, we signed in at the front desk, we had our identity cards with us, and we were wearing (reasonably) neat clothing. Despite that, there was one factor we didn’t take into account in all of our preparations: the weather. We had to walk 20 minutes from the train station to the Ministry. It turned out to be a rough trip, as the rain came down in buckets. None of us had a hood or an umbrella. The water collected on the roofs and was then blown into our faces by the strong wind, like a free waterfall shower.

We stood there waiting, dripping water onto the smooth floor of the hall

When we arrived completely soaked, the woman behind the front desk looked at us inquisitively and a bit sympathetically. She pointed us towards the toilet so we could wring out our hair. ‘Our’ policy officer would come and get us soon, she said. We stood there waiting, dripping water onto the smooth floor of the hall.

She was late because she had a problem with her hearing aid. Good-humoured, she ignored our soaking wet clothes and shook our hands enthusiastically. ‘I’m retiring in a month,’ she said. ‘Have a seat. Or should I show you the coffee corner, for when you come to work here later?’ She found a bag of Haribo candy in the coffee corner, from another employee. ‘But for you too, for the long journey. I always love receiving students. What would you like to know from me?’ Instantly, we forgot about our rough journey. If everyone in The Hague was like this, we’d almost consider working here too. Later.  

*In the Academic Consultancy Training (ACT) course, Master’s students from different degree programmes work together as consultants for a real client.

Ilja Bouwknegt (25) is a master’s student in forest and nature conservation. Ilja is interested in the relationship between humans and nature and prefers to try every hobby at least once. Currently, that is crochet, but writing remains the undisputed favourite.

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