A group of thirty students ‘Office Management’ from Rotterdam enters the 18th century church of the Dutch Consulate in Istanbul. Slightly intimidated by the beauty of this ‘house of worship’, the group seems shy at first. As I am on a business trip this time they are received by Jeroen Gankema (head of the Press and Cultural Affairs Department) who after his introduction leaves ampel time for questions.
‘Are there still services being held in this church?’
‘Yes, three services every Sunday, with 100-150 people each time,’ Jeroen answers, ‘We have an excellent relationship with the board of the Union Church of Scotland, already for over 150 years. After every service our King is thanked for letting the congregation use these premises’. Then Jeroen points to a wooden bar with the sentence “De Heere is groot en zeer te prijzen” (God is great and should to be praised) written on it above the altar. His remark is answered by silence and questioning gazes. The students start giggling when a projection screen descends from the bottom of the bar. ‘In this church we also give lectures, organize performances, have human rights debates and let Dutch companies introduce their products. Last year we organized over 160 events at this consulate; many of them took place in the church.’
These students from Rotterdam aren’t the only ones visiting us. As part of the ‘Meet the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’-program (‘In gesprek met BZ’), the Dutch Consulate General welcomes more than fifty (mainly student) groups annually. The goal of the program is to show the public the activities and aims of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while providing them with general information about Istanbul and Turkey and explaining the work of Embassies and Consulates.
Most of the student groups which visit the consulate are on a study trip. In general they arrive well dressed and prepared. A few at times use the opportunity to sit down in the church for a nap to recover from their long nights out in Istanbul. They have my full sympathy of course, but fortunately we always manage to engage in interesting discussions. There is a lot to ask and tell about Turkey, an important country few of us in The Netherlands understand well.
After a tour through the palace, some drinks and a traditional group picture on the steps of the consulate, the students from Rotterdam are about to leave. One of the students is quite curious and keeps asking questions.
- ‘Can you tell me something secret about the activities at the Consulate General?’ (Secret things do happen, but as they are confidential there is nothing I will tell about them)
- ‘What’s the difference between an Embassy and a Consulate?’ (Read the blog of the consul general)
- ‘Is this Dutch territory?’ (No)
- ‘Do you accept trainees?” (Yes, like the one who wrote this blog 😉).
Are you organizing a trip to Istanbul, and would you like to have a briefing at and a discussion with the Consulate General? Send a request per e-mail to IST@minbuza.nl. We focus on student groups, but others are also welcome.