Netherlands welcomes tiny new ambassadors

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Netherlands welcomes tiny new ambassadors

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Children from the children’s center in Jongno District take a group photo with Ambassador Paul Menkveld of the Netherlands last Tuesday. They are the first group of children to be invited to the embassy in Jung District, Seoul. By Jeon Min-gyu


Eight underprivileged Korean students became the first children to ever enter the Dutch Embassy in Seoul last Tuesday, when they received clogs and “special ambassador” certificates from Dutch Ambassador Paul Menkveld.

The kids are from a Jongno District children’s center, all of whom come from low-income backgrounds, and some of them orphans, were invited as part of efforts to promote cultural exchange between Korea and the Netherlands on the year marking the 50th anniversary of Dutch-Korean bilateral relations.

“This is the first time we have invited children [here],” said Ashley Choi, the embassy’s press officer. “It is a small invitation for them to come and learn about the embassy.”

Twelve-year-old Choi Young-Joon and his friends soon shed their inhibitions after receiving the gifts from Menkveld, who gave them a tour of the premises in Jeong-dong, central Seoul, and let them take turns sitting in the ambassador’s seat, much to their delight.

Choi presented the diplomat with a colorful basket of 50 flowers and used his limited English vocabulary to communicate their symbolic meaning on this milestone year of bilateral ties.

The day’s program included a screening of a short animation film called “Say Cheese,” a mini presentation, a tour and a group photograph.

In the conference room, a few of the children expressed their admiration for the Netherlands by presenting hand-written letters and drawings. One student’s letter expressed his desire for the two sides to cement a long-lasting friendship, accompanied by a picture showing figures from both countries shaking hands and greeting each other like old friends.

After their tour of the embassy, the children were treated to a highly anticipated “surprise event” during which Menkveld decorated them as special ambassadors for his country.

“I see really good ambassadors for the Netherlands in Korea. [So] I pronounce that you all will be special ambassadors for the Netherlands,” he said.

“If you study hard, maybe we can even find a job vacancy for you here.”

Some of the children said the day’s program had given them a greater understanding of the country that is famous for its clogs, windmills and, more recently, for almost winning the FIFA World Cup last year. Others said it had whetted their appetite to visit the country or work there after college.

“Today was really fun,” said 10-year-old Lee Min-jung. “I hope I can travel to the Netherlands with the ambassador one day.”

As the event wrapped up, some of the students expressed their reluctance to leave after an eye-opening day on the closest they had come to spending time on foreign shores.

“Can I get invited to the embassy again?” Choi asked as he exited.


By Eileen Hong Contributing writer [enational@joongang.co.kr]
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