Jerke Verschoor, Neso Russia

10 years of exchange between Holland and Russia

'Russia has lots of optimistic young people.'
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Holland Alumni are helpful in strengthening bilateral relations, says Jerke Verschoor (Neso Russia).
Jeroen Langelaar
10 minutes

Whether it is students, university staff or business people, Dutch visitors to Russia are without exception impressed by what the country has to offer. Jerke Verschoor, director of the Netherlands Education Support Office (Neso) in Moscow, is encouraged by what has been accomplished through hundreds of exchanges between the Netherlands and Russia. On the 10th anniversary of Neso Russia, Jerke shares his thoughts on the value of Holland Alumni, opportunities in Russia, and the Dutch Science Talks.

Opportunities

Having spent almost half his life in the Russian Federation, previously as a journalist, Jerke Verschoor knows a thing or two about preconceived notions people have about the country. “There is politics and there is society”, Jerke points out, emphasising Neso is a non-political organisation. “There are extremely beautiful, good, fun things taking place here. What we sometimes overlook, is that Russia – just like any other country – has lots of optimistic young people. Dutch people coming here have generally travelled a lot, but most of them have never been to Russia.”

Yet at times there is no escaping the political realities. When Jerke took his position as Neso director in the Summer of 2014 – less than a year after the Dutch-Russian bilateral celebrations of 2013 – world developments caused friction between the governments of the Netherlands and Russia. With government and political visits taking place less frequent at the time, Jerke saw an opening. “In hindsight, this gave us the opportunity to spread our wings, to invest in building local relationships. We visited dozens of Russian universities and succeeded in widening our scope from simply promotion studying in Holland to supporting broader mobility between our two countries.”

Dutch Science Talks

The Dutch Science Talks are a prime example of this. In collaboration with the Dutch embassy and consulate in Moscow, Neso Russia has been organising scientific seminars with Dutch professors for Russian students. Subjects are related to four themes: Peace & Justice, Agri & Food, Circularity, and Designing the Future. These Dutch Science Talks don't just facilitate the exchange of ideas, they also create relationships between Dutch and Russian professors. “Suddenly Dutch professors realise: this or that university in Russia is doing the same kind of research I’m doing”, Jerke says. “Often this leads to further correspondence and even exchanges between their universities.”

Neso Russia plays an important role in keeping the dialogue going between Russia and the Netherlands at a time when other channels are not always wide open. “We are well aware of all sensitivities and therefore we have a strong working relationship with the Netherlands embassy.”

Portret of Jerke Verschoor, director of the Netherlands Education Support Office in Moscow

“We succeeded in widening our scope from simply promotion studying in Holland to supporting broader mobility between our two countries.”

Holland Alumni

Also spreading like an oil stain (across Russia, and around the globe) are the Holland Alumni, Russians that have spent part of their study in the Netherlands. Through networking events, social events and business events – yet again with the full support of the Dutch embassy and consulate – Neso Russia works hard at keeping this group of alumni close together. “These Russians are Holland-minded so to speak”, says Jerke. “They end up in higher education, business, and government. They are extremely positive about Holland and are very interested in strengthening ties between the country where they studied and their home country. This is a great starting point for strengthening bilateral relations.”

There are also plenty of opportunities for Dutch students to study in Russia or complete an internship there. “Currently about 50 or 60 Dutch students are on an exchange in Russia, ranging from English-language Slavonic and Russian studies to Econometrics and Political Sciences.” These students do have one thing in common though, according to the Neso director. “They are looking for a different kind of challenge. Most of the time their parents have some qualms about them going to Russia. But after returning to the Netherlands, many of the students want to come back.”

“Holland Alumni end up in higher education, business, and government.”

Anniversary

The 10 year anniversary of Neso Russia will be kicked off with the Russian-Dutch Forum on Higher Education Cooperation, several side events, and a reception with active alumni participation. Representatives of 15 Dutch universities, the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO), and the National Agency Erasmus+ are attending, as well as representatives of 50 Russian universities and the Russian deputy minister of Science and Higher Education, Mr. Grigory Trubnikov.

Despite the uncertain future facing the different Neso’s around the world, Jerke hopes the 10 years anniversary of Neso Russia will boost institutional collaboration and bilateral relations between the Netherlands and Russia. “We have a lot of new ideas. Whatever the future may hold, we have a job to do here. We are looking forward to going full steam ahead in 2020.”

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