From MAIS to Diplomacy

DA alumnus Jan Willem Scholten on his career since graduating from MAIS 17 in 2014


DA: Following your studies at the DA, you became the second secretary at the embassy of the Netherlands in Ankara. What exactly are your responsibilities on the job and how did your career path look like so far?
Jan Willem Scholten: I followed the MAIS programme at the DA from 2012 to 2014 and started working for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2016. After a two-year stint at the Europe Department in The Hague, my first posting as a diplomat was at the Dutch embassy in Ankara between 2018 and 2021, with the grand title of Second Secretary. My work in the political section was two-fold. On the one hand, it involved political reporting and analysis of developments in Turkish politics. On the other hand, it involved setting up and overseeing projects in the field of human rights as well as conducting public and cultural diplomacy. Both aspects of the work were enormously interesting and enriching. I particularly loved travelling through Turkey, meeting with a wide range of people and talking to them in my – somewhat rudimentary – Turkish. Turkey is a diverse country, rich in history and culture, and it was a pleasure to immerse myself in the country. Last summer, my wife (who is also a diplomat) and I returned to The Hague, where we now both work at the Foreign Ministry again. In the coming years, I will be working with the Strategic Policy Planning Unit, a sort of in-house think tank tasked with looking at foreign policy questions in the long(er) term.

Have you always been interested in this specific career or has this interest developed over time?
From a young age I have been interested in politics and history. During my Bachelor’s degree at Oxford I took courses in International Relations and slowly started thinking about a career in diplomacy. Towards the end of my time at Oxford, I attended an information event about the DA hosted by Professor Neudeck, who was on one of his "hunting trips" to find British applicants to the Academy. He gave me a leaflet, a mini-lecture and a glass of Austrian wine and of course I was immediately convinced to apply (even though I’m not a Brit). At the DA, my interest in international affairs and diplomacy further deepened, ultimately leading me to apply to the Dutch foreign service.

How has the DA helped you develop your career?
I absolutely loved my two years studying at the DA. Anyone who has studied there will recognise the exciting feeling of spending time together with an international crowd of young people, brimming with energy and ideas, but equally capable of partying hard. Living in Vienna was also a fantastic experience. Having the Musikverein, Staatsoper and a range of beautiful museums within walking distance and going for runs in the gardens of the Belvedere makes you nod in approval when you hear the Austrians sing ‘Volk, begnadet für das Schöne’. Living in Vienna also gave me a different perspective on Europe. I learned a lot about Central Europe, which I later profited from in my first position at the Ministry. I also have fond memories of study trips to the Balkans and Ukraine.

Is there a specific skill set taught at the DA that is particularly useful for your current job?
Academic knowledge about international affairs is indispensable in the skill-set of a diplomat, but diplomacy is also something you have to learn in practice. It takes decades to master this. The DA gets this right by focusing on a combination of academic knowledge and more practical skills. For instance, I benefited from the language classes taught at the DA, which improved my French and German. Fluency in multiple languages is an important asset in a diplomatic career. In the long term, what I cherish most from the DA are the friendships forged there. We still have a yearly ski trip with a group from our MAIS programme, whom I count among my dearest friends.

Where do you think the future will take you?
The good thing about working in a foreign ministry is that you don’t know where you will be living in a few years. The coming years we will be working in The Hague. After that, who knows? I certainly wouldn’t mind returning to Vienna for a bit!

[February 2022]