Ruben Provencio Kuijk thrives in international settings
'An international environment is my natural habitat. I really thrive when I am in a setting where I am around people of all kinds of countries and cultures.'
Ruben Kuijk (27) is an International Studies alumnus and currently works at the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Indeed, the international scene has been a constant theme in his personal and professional life so far. A theme that even inspired him to go for a radical career change at the age of 25.
Ruben Provencio Kuijk grew up in Alicante in Spain, with a Dutch mother and a Spanish father. 'My mother made sure that I learned to speak both Spanish and Dutch. When I was young, I didn’t always like that, but she was quite strict in this matter. Now, I’m really happy that she insisted. Speaking both languages fluently has given me so many opportunities.' Ruben went to the British and international schools in Alicante, so his English is fluent as well.
These language skills, of course, were an advantage when at 17, he started the International Studies bachelor in Leiden. And yet, as his specialisation Ruben did not choose Latin America, but rather opted for East Asia. He did consider Latin American, but eventually went for a region where he felt he could learn more. 'And also, I had already learned some Chinese at the International school I went to, and I had a lot of friends from East Asian countries.' His choice for East Asia brought him valuable new experiences, for in his second year of International Studies he got the chance to spend time in Beijing and to study in Taiwan. 'I didn’t get to learn Chinese as quickly as I wanted, but my time in East Asia certainly added to my intercultural skills.'
A good preparation for a Master’s degree
Why did he choose International Studies in the first place? 'I was interested in international relations and felt that this bachelor would be a good preparation for a Master’s in that field. Also, the broad curriculum appealed to me. This gave me the chance to get a taste of several disciplines and find out what interested me most. And finally, I really liked the international setting of this Bachelor’s. In our first year, we had 70 nationalities! It doesn’t get more international than that. I got to know so many interesting people from so many cultures, that was awesome.'
Ruben was all set for a master’s study in International Relations, his initial interest, but then life got in the way. For personal reasons, he had to return to Spain and postpone his study plans. He started teaching English to Spanish students, and by doing so, discovered a second passion, after international relations. 'I really liked being a teacher, I liked to work with children and teach them something valuable.' One thing led to another, and via a Master’s degree in International Education and Bilingualism and a second Master’s in Secondary Education and Teaching Foreign Languages, both at the university in Madrid, a degree in teaching the International Baccalaureate and several positions at international schools in Spain, he ended up teaching Spanish and English at the International School in Utrecht.
'Follow your interests'
And then, the Covid pandemic struck. 'I spent a lot of time at home, thinking. Finally, I realised I still would really like to pursue that international career.' At 25, Ruben made a radical choice to end his successful teaching career and to start looking for a job in the international relations field. 'Everybody told me this was not a good idea, that I didn’t have a chance to find a good position. But I decided to go for it anyway. I would advise anyone to follow their interests. After all, when you’re young you have the opportunity to do so.'
It meant setting the stakes high, but Ruben gambled and won. 'I send out scores of application letters and was turned down many times. After all, I was this guy with three years of teaching experience, looking for a job in the international relations field. Who would want to hire me? But I persisted and the Mexican Embassy in The Hague gave me a chance, offering me a job. At the embassy I worked both in the political and multilateral affairs and the cultural and educational affairs departments. I reported to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Mexico about significant Dutch news events and was involved in the organisation of cultural and political events.'
Consular and Visa Affairs
In the meantime, Ruben has moved on to a different position in the international relations field, now working for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Consular Information Officer at Directorate for Consular and Visa Affairs (DCV). 'In our department we receive requests for support from Dutch nationals abroad and make arrangements to help these people. Also, we assist the global network of consular sections of Dutch diplomatic missions. We deal with all kinds of emergency situations, from lost passports to kidnappings. The work is very interesting, and on top of that: our department is one of the most international departments of the entire ministry. I have colleagues from all over the world.' Ruben stresses that his International Studies bachelor’s degree has certainly helped him get this job. 'The ministry apparently regards the study as a good basis. I have several colleagues who are also International Studies alumni.'
Ruben adds: 'Current students or alumni who are looking for tips, for instance on how to find a job at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, are welcome to contact me. I would be happy to give them some advice, if I can.'