Amsterdam-based author Martin Vesseur

Have you always had an urge to write?
Ever since I was 10 years old. I discovered a comic (with the text underneath) by Marten Toonder in the newspaper and that did something to me.

Is it true that good writers have to read a lot?
For me personally, the answer is “yes”. I do believe, though, that there are some a lot are inspired by their hectic lives (travelling all over the world, meeting many people, etc.).

What are your ideal writing conditions?
Solitude. That can be: 1) a room without people 2) a park or a forest 3) a situation where I am left alone (although that is my least favourite). I don’t have any other specific needs. I can write for one hour or for two days in a row, whatever time slot is available. But the key is discipline. You must be
able to put your writing first and exclude the disrupting influences and endless other things you could choose from. Banish keuzestress. ‘No’ is a vital word.

You started out with short stories. Can you remember the first one you published?
I do remember my first story called “You Don’t See Many Women These Days” being published. But from the moment I took my writing seriously: “Burning Neil Armstrong” and “Babyface Junkie” in 2002. I had reached a point in my life as an advertising creative where I realised I was only doing stuff on behalf of others and nothing genuinely creative myself (few advertising types do). I wanted to do something autonomous without deadlines, the need to earn or any other pressures. I wanted to be creative in its purest form: to tell short stories on paper just for the story’s sake.

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Opera: “This is what I’m here to do”

Ian Spencer (bass at the Dutch National Opera)

How did you get into music?
As a kid I played trombone until I was told at 15 that if I carried on playing it would kill me – my lungs couldn’t take it. My music teacher heard my low voice and persuaded me to start singing.

And next?
I started singing in a male voice choir when I was 16 although I learned to drink more than I did to sing. After choir practice we would go down the pub where the landlord would happily ply us with beer as our singing brought the punters in.

How did you train your chords further?
My music teacher arranged some interviews with music colleges. Most would not take me as I was too young for my low bass voice to be safelydeveloped – you physically need to be in your twenties to start and a bass voice matures when you’re in your forties. Trinity College in London, however, saw their chance to get a second bass ( I can sing bottom B-flat) and snapped me up. I spent my first year partying and then I was old enough for them to work on my voice. They trained me to sing without a microphone and taught me the theatrical skills you need to be an opera singer.

So how did you end up in the Dutch National Opera?
After college I did whatever came my way. A low bass voice is rare but so are the parts for it. In between assignments I did courier work and was a motorbike instructor – anything to pay the bills. On several occasions I freelanced for the Ambrosia Chorus who did the music for many films from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Their sight-reading skills were phenomenal. I remember them rehearsing a newly discovered Rossini opera one day and then recording it in the studio the next! I also worked for the English National Opera occasionally but when they auditioned me for a fulltime post I froze and couldn’t sing a note from Aida. However, my music teacher phoned me afterwards and said: Be at Covent Garden tomorrow. So I turned up relaxed thinking I didn’t stand a chance, gave it my best shot and DNO took me on. A one-year contract became fulltime and I’ve been here 27 years now! Thanks to my music teacher who spotted my gift and was willing to go the extra mile for me.

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Beyond Words: artist Miles Phillips

What inspired a Canadian artist to move to Amsterdam?
I wanted to broaden my horizons beyond North America and to land a job in ICT here in 2001. I was also on a quest for more inspiration, a community of likeminded artists, history, culture and felt I might find more of this in Europe.

An ICT expert and an artist?
My work in ICT pays the bills. But, to be honest, I also like exploring the whole approach and psychology of User Interface Design and Interactivity.

Are you focussed on an audience when you paint?
At the moment I’m focussed on creating a message to have people think about what’s going on in the painting and possibly, by extension, in their own lives. It’s a bonus really if a person understands and enjoys my work! I hardly ever promote myself. Last year I exhibited in a cultural event in Amsterdam and I showed at the Rijksmuseum during the museum night one year. I suppose I paint for myself. An audience of course would be the pay-off.

Why do you paint then?
I paint to resolve the issues in my head. To explore tensions, conflicts, visually and socially, and to try to convey things that words just cannot.

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Amsterdam’s United States Consul

Interview with British born John Wilcock

You are British and studied at Reading University. When and why did you make the move to the US?
Yes, I grew up in the UK and moved to the US in the mid-90s a few years after meeting my future wife, Karen, at Reading University while she was over in the UK for a few months of study. Her dad warned her that she’d meet some British guy and never come back. He was eventually wrong on the second count,
because after a few years in the UK we moved to the United States.

It wasn’t a difficult move for me. Like thousands of others I’d spent a summer during University working as a camp counsellor on the US summer work and travel program. I loved the experience, and I loved the country too. So, it wasn’t difficult for Karen to convince me to move there.

I thought only US citizens could work for the US Foreign Service. So how did you
land a job there?

Yes, you do have to be a US citizen, but you don’t have to have be a citizen at birth. I naturalised a few years after moving there. As for how I began my diplomatic career, I thought I had experience and perspective that was useful, and I really wanted to serve my adopted country, and I’ve always been interested in foreign affairs. So I took the test, it was that simple. The only qualifications required are that you be a US citizen and that you are capable of passing the test, which is free to take. That alone speaks volumes about the United States. It’s a country of immigrants, and it rewards ability above all else. I like the fact that I personify US values in that way.

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“i am not a tourist” Expat Fair organiser Danielle de Groot

“Our aim is to bring internationals together and help them feel at home.”

What’s your expat story?
My Dutch partner landed a job in Switzerland in the summer of 2001. As we were not married I could not join him straightaway because visas were only issued to married partners. I got my job and visa at the end of that year. On 30 December 2001 I arrived in a sleepy village near Zurich. And of course on New Years Eve we let off the fireworks I’d brought with me. Next morning we found the remains of our fireworks piled up beside our mail box and a note from one of our neighbours saying he did not appreciate our nocturnal attack on his property! After this blooper we settled in fine. We spent 4.5 years in Switzerland and our eldest child was born in Zurich. We made many Swiss friends and took every opportunity to enjoy Swiss life.

Was there an equivalent of the “i am not a tourist” Expat Fair there’?
No, but we had good colleagues who helped us find our feet. And as we spoke High German we encountered no language problems.

Can you give any tips for settling back down in your home country?
When I left the Netherlands for Switzerland I was not even married. We tied the knot out there and I came back with a toddler and heavily pregnant with our second child. My life had changed completely! And the same was true of my family and friends. I thought that coming back would be a piece of cake. But to be honest it was more like moving to a new country than coming back home. So my tip is don’t expect to hit the ground running.

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Amsterdam International Community School 10th anniversary

Interview with headmaster and school founder Boris Prickarts

Why was AICS founded?
A growing number of international students at the Berlage Lyceum in Amsterdam were following the bilingual education programme even though they only spoke English. They really needed a more international learning programme in English. The school’s principal, Sylvia Visser, recognised this need and came into contact with the principal of the International School of the Hague, Jaap Mos. He explained the history of Dutch International Schools and the Berlage applied for a licence to set up such a school. The licence was granted in 2002 and I was recruited as the new head. It was a risky adventure. I drew up an educational business plan, phoned parents at the Berlage who might be interested and we opened our doors in September 2003. We had just 16 students aged between 11 and 16!

Can you tell me something about the early years?
We grew and we moved. In 2004 we merged with the Europa School and acquired their licence for a Dutch international primary school. That was the key to our growth as, of course, primary pupils feed into secondary school. The primary school occupied two different locations before we moved to our current location near Amsterdam South train station in 2007. In 2006 Sylvia Visser left and Kees van Ruitenbeek joined as the new AICS principal. We now have about 800 children aged 4 to 19 years. Most of this growth has been organic – the parents like what they see and tell others. We offer the international primary curriculum (IPC), a middle years programme and the International Baccalaureate programme (IB MYP and IB DP).

How have you grown without compromising educational quality?
Our growth has been very carefully planned with just a few classes being added each year. We are accredited by the CIS (Council of International Schools) and evaluated by the Dutch Education Inspectorate. We use the feedback from these accreditation and inspection procedures to improve our quality and consolidate our growth. However, most of all we are very careful about the selection and recruitment of our staff.

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Serve the City Amsterdam

Interview with Brigitte Makkinje coordinator Serve the City Amsterdam

What is Serve the City Amsterdam?
A movement of volunteers serving Amsterdam in practical ways and inspiring people to be givers in this world.

How did it start?
Serve the City started in Brussels in 2005 as a safe and easy way of enabling volunteers to help people in need. I volunteered to help in Rotterdam in 2006 and later in 2007 I helped set up Serve the City Amsterdam. We started with a four-day festival of projects and music: 250 helped in 40 projects.

I thought the Netherlands had a really good welfare system. So why Serve the City?
The welfare system merely ensures that those at the margins of society are kept alive. Yet unfortunately these people often experience little warmth and affection, as our modern welfare system is more focused on cost-effectiveness than providing a listening ear. Serve the City makes a difference by adding a bit of love to the lives of those we help.

What is the biggest social problem in Amsterdam?
For the people we help, it is definitely loneliness. For potential volunteers it is overcoming indifference. You don’t see many needy people on the streets of Amsterdam; they are behind closed doors. That makes our lives ‘easy’ as then we are not confronted by their needs.

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Building relationships in Amsterdam

You like mountains and open spaces. What brought you to Amsterdam?
I used to live in Den Bosch working for ICI implementing SAP so I knew the Dutch culture. When I was coming to the end of my first training job as a minister I saw the job in Amsterdam and felt I fitted the profile. That was back in 2001!

What does your job involve besides preaching on a Sunday?
A mixture of management and personal coaching. Christ Church has four congregations and I am the senior minister in the team. I am also responsible for my colleague Anglican church ministers in the Netherlands. The coaching side has various aspects. Counselling people with difficulties, running courses on marriage or the basics of the Christian faith, and getting alongside people in their places of work. Plus there is a lot of just getting out and meeting people. For example, I recently took part in the art and culture festival Nuit Blanche at the NRC offices on Rokin.

Can you describe the Church you are minister of, Christ Church, in 3 USPs?
Diverse (more than 30 nationalities).
Welcoming (you can be yourself, find community and connect).
Accessible (it is easy to become involved and join in).

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