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In the spotlight: Jodien Houwers of the Office for International Relations

An interview
Jodien Houwers
Jodien Houwers

Wandering through the corridors of the Office for International Relations trying to find Jodien’s office, she has already spotted me and invites me in. The office of Jodien Houwers, senior international relations officer, is located on the second floor of the historic Academic Building.   

From grants to Welcoming Ceremony

The University of Groningen Office for International Relations carries out an incredible amount of work in many different areas, but much of it is done behind the scenes. Having worked with Jodien on several occasions, I have often been surprised by her extensive knowledge on a great variety of topics. Jodien is involved in many different projects: coordinating grants for incoming and outgoing students and staff, contact person for joint programmes and joint degrees, such as Erasmus Mundus, working on the legal aspects of internationalization, integration of Dutch and international students, and organizing the bi-annual Welcoming Ceremony for incoming international students, to name just a few.  

Educational Chain 

But this is not all, Jodien is also member of the Supervisory Board of international student union ESN and member of GISP, an organization uniting all international student associations. This may sound like a random collection of activities, but Jodien explains that ‘all these projects and tasks are actually interconnected. The main goal is to promote international mobility of both students and staff of the university. I consider organizing grants and partnerships as an essential tool to accomplish this goal. To me it is like a chain that starts with good advice for prospective students choosing a study programme, followed by a smooth admission and registration procedure, proper guidance during the studies, and eventually enthusiastic alumni willing to function as ambassadors for the university. This is why there are so many different aspects to my job, and this makes it very interesting.’  

Hectic weeks 

Jodien has experienced hectic weeks because of the disaster that struck Japan in March. Europe and Japan being her area of expertise, she was the contact person for concerned staff members, students and administrators. ‘I was very relieved to discover that all our students in Japan were safe. We had one student from Sendai studying in Groningen, whom I contacted the very same day to find out how he and his family were doing. I am so grateful for all the support I received from my colleagues, who immediately offered me assistance. The lesson we’ve learned is that whenever a crisis occurs somewhere in the world, we should be able to act right away. We are therefore writing a crisis protocol, which clearly defines the lines of communications and, even more importantly, who will take the lead.’  


Originally a historian, Jodien likes to reflect on her work from an analytical point of view: ‘I want to know why we do things in a certain way; how did we come to decisions; how have processes evolved?’ Her own career is also subject to thorough analysis: ‘I very much enjoy working at universities. I started my career at Wageningen University, and I have been working for the University of Groningen since 1988. In all these years, I have acquired detailed knowledge about internationalization both in the Netherlands and in Europe. I like to use my know-how to inform and facilitate the university’s administrators, faculty staff members and my own colleagues. However, I also find pleasure in the more practical aspects of my work, such as preparing delegation visits and even arranging the catering.’  


‘How I manage to combine my work and my private life? Well, I have thought this through and asked myself how far I wanted to go without losing balance between work, including all the travelling, and my private life. Being a mother of two, this has become even more important. Knowing my limits works very well. In addition, having children of 18 and 20 years old, brings an unexpected advantage: I understand even better the importance of choosing the right study programme and good guidance during the studies. This provides an extra motivation for my work.’  

To the readers of the Worldwide Newsletter 

‘What I would like to say to the readers of Worldwide? I hope that the readers of this newsletter think positively of Groningen, and that our alumni have good memories of the city and the university. On the other hand, I invite the readers to be critical. From another part of the world, you might have a very different perspective on what’s going on in this university. We are open to suggestions and comments. Just let us know!’

Last modified:12 March 2020 10.11 p.m.