Made in Maastricht: Jasper van Mastrigt
Mastrigt or Maastricht
‘Naturally I chose Maastricht because of my surname’, he said jokingly. But no, that was not the reason. After he graduated from secondary school, he began a degree programme in Social Geography and Planning at Utrecht University in 2005. However, the programme did not meet his expectations. He quit halfway through the year and decided to switch to European Studies in Maastricht.
Born in the big city of Rotterdam, he was looking for a small-scale historical city in which to continue his education. He was also attracted to the international environment of Maastricht, and the idea that he would not even need a bicycle to get around. He imagined Maastricht as something like an idealised version of Oxford or Cambridge, but the reality of studying was less romantic: the academic community was less close-knit than he originally thought. However, the problem-based learning at UM was very valuable to him: it challenged him to be well-prepared for his lessons.
In autumn 2008, he was an exchange student in Montreal, Canada, another special, historical city. The city’s name is derived from the nearby hill “Mont Royal”, or royal mountain. There he experienced a very cold winter, with temperatures down to -40 degrees. ‘In the winter, there are sometimes two meters of snow. Trucks collect the snow and drive it out of the city, taking it to the country.’ What did that mean for his social life, when it was so cold? ‘Under the city, a network of tunnels connects spaces with one another. There you can find shops and restaurants in a city under the city.’
In January 2009, he returned to the Netherlands. After finishing his bachelor’s programme, he chose to pursue a master’s programme in Leiden. Within a year, he successfully completed his master’s programme in Political Philosophy. He wanted to continue his studies, so he left the Netherlands again to study in Paris. He extended his stay in Paris with a half-year internship at the Dutch embassy. While working there he realised that he could also make that his career, so upon his return to the Netherlands, he registered for the ‘diplomats class’.
‘It’s no longer like it used to be, the image that only people with double-barrelled surnames were part of this class. It was a very diverse group. You get an extensive education and after a year and a half, you are looking forward to going abroad.’ Hanoi is at the top of the list of his 10 favourite places, but Seoul, Shanghai and Belgrade are also favourites. Why is Hanoi at the top of the list? ‘You can learn a lot about diplomacy in Asia and the adventure of being outside Europe also attracted me.’
His work for the Dutch embassy means that he keeps track of Vietnamese and international politics. For example, he has a lot of contact with visiting EU delegations. He conducts interviews in the field of human rights, and is responsible for the use of social media at the embassy. He also prepares for visits, such as last month, when the Dutch military attaché from Jakarta visited Hanoi. ‘We try to gather the information and pass it on, playing a sort of broker’s role.’
In Hanoi, Jasper once again finds himself in a special living environment. The city lies in a sort of bowl and has a humid climate. With 7 million residents and an estimated 3.5 million motorbikes, it is a polluted city. Despite these apparent disadvantages, he enjoys living in this dynamic city. The influences of the former French occupation have almost completely disappeared from the streetscape, except for ‘de baguette’, which is still for sale on almost every street corner. Almost no one still speaks French; at best, elderly people. One of the relics is the Hanoi Opera House, built in the French colonial style and inspired by the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris. On Sundays, Jasper plays for the World Bank’s football team, mostly as a right midfielder. Ordinarily, they enjoy a game of football on artificial turf in a very special place: on the Red River in Hanoi.