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Master's student in Mongolia: Intern and Soap Opera Star

31 July 2018

Tom Wagenmakers (22) is a student at the Faculty of Arts of the University of Groningen. He is taking part in the International Security track within the International Relations master’s programme. He recently returned to the Netherlands after a three-month internship in Ulaanbaatar (Mongolia), what would become a very unique experience.

Tom in Mongolie


Tom is one of the first Arts students to follow his internship in Mongolia. His internship was at Transparancy International, a company that leads the fight against corruption worldwide. After a somewhat chaotic beginning, he very much enjoyed his internship. "I wrote articles about the financing of the political parties in the West, and what Mongolia could learn from this." On this subject, he even gave a presentation at a conference in the company of parliamentarians and ambassadors. He was also interviewed by TV channel Bloomberg about the Dutch approach to the financing of political parties. "People first thought I was fluent in Mongolian" Tom laughs, "but I was just dubbed." Little did Tom know, that this was not going to be the last time he appeared on television.

Tom op de Mongoolse tv


Tom was sitting in a bar with his Mongolian friend when two men walked in. They were initially looking for the French owner of the pub to ask if he wanted to play the role of an American in a popular soap opera called Girls. The pub owner declined the offer. He suspected that he could hardly pass for an American with his French accent. Moreover, he is living with his wife and children in Mongolia and did not want to become famous. When the men approached Tom with the same question, he didn’t have to think about it for long. "Why not? I had plenty of spare time." Filming was a very unstructured process. The episode in which Tom plays a role was filmed in seven days over a period of 1.5 months. "I did have lines, but I did not have to memorize them in advance. They said that I just had to be myself." The cameras took him some getting used to at first, but after a while he thought: “Whatever, I’m just going to go with it.”

Tom op de set

Media attention

The past couple of days, Tom has been getting a lot of attention in the Dutch media after his Mongolian soap opera adventure. Multiple outlets picked up his story. On July 30th he even appeared at M, a talk show on Dutch national television. Tom thinks all the attention is pretty funny. "I don’t think it’s such a big deal, two people asked me if I wanted to play in a soap opera and I just said yes."


Tom would very much like to return to Mongolia one day. Not to act or to see if he has become a national celebrity, but because the company he interned at wants to set up a follow-up project that he would like to be part of. "We could use the internship to improve things in the provincial city, then you can also make a real difference there." There might also be a job waiting for him in the future. "If I find a project in the Netherlands that can be implemented in Mongolia, I would get a paid position there." But for now, his main priority is graduating. He will leave for Moscow in four weeks to write his master's thesis there. The topic of his thesis will be Russia and the former Soviet Union with a focus on security and geopolitics.

Last modified:21 May 2019 3.42 p.m.
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