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IOC Vice President: ‘Leiden is where I learned to stand up for myself’

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972 made a big impression on Nicole Hoevertsz. I’m going to be there one day, the eight-year-old Nicole decided. Her passion for sport and her perseverance brought her further than the once so introvert Aruban had dared to hope. Her appointment as Vice President of the IOC is the crowning glory of her work. Her studies in Leiden helped her develop as a person.

If there is a common thread running through Nicole Hoevertsz’s life story, then it is Aruba. Her love of the island in the Leeward Antilles shines through everything she says: when she says she feels 100 percent Aruban and will always live there, when she explains why she will advocate for the smaller countries at the IOC, but also at the end of the interview when she produces some souvenirs of Aruba from her bag and proffers them enthusiastically. But she is also Dutch, half Dutch to be precise. ‘My father came from Aruba and went to the Netherlands at the start of the 1960s to do teacher training. He ended up in Limburg, where he met my mother. They fell in love and she went to Aruba with him. Really brave. Imagine how big that step was for a girl who had never left Limburg.’

‘One of my teachers said: “Why don’t you study law?” I had no idea what it was.’

Nicole was born in 1964. A quiet girl who found her passion in synchronous swimming. ‘I could join a group of girls who did synchronous swimming. A bonus for me because I was really shy and wouldn’t have dreamt of doing sport with boys. We trained in hotel swimming pools because there was no public swimming pool on Aruba. I loved it. I spent all my free time in the water.’

Hard-working at school

Nicole also worked hard at school. She did her pre-university diploma at the only school to offer that on the island, the school where her father had succeeded in becoming headmaster. ‘There came a moment when I had to think about what I wanted to do afterwards. I wanted to do something to do with sport but there weren’t any such programmes. One of my teachers said: “Why don’t you study law?” I had no idea what it was. But it sounded like a broad programme that I would be able to do lots of different things with.’

‘Together with some schoolmates and friends, including Mike Eman, I made plans to go and study in Leiden. Mike’s older brother Henny had also studied in Leiden and was a well-known figure there: he started cafés like ’Keizertje and de Bonte Koe. Both Henny and Mike later became prime minister of Aruba. For various reasons the plan to go to Leiden with that group didn’t turn out as we’d hoped. And so I came to Leiden at the age of eighteen all on my own and enrolled for Dutch law. I graduated in Dutch law with the international specialisation.’

Nightlong discussions

Hoevertsz found a room at Pelikaanhof. ‘I remember it being difficult. I really had only one goal: to return to Aruba as soon as possible. I wasn’t your average student who went to the pub or joined a student association. I studied and I swam at DSZ in The Hague. I did make some friends and had fun with my housemates but nothing permanent came out of this. Every now and then I would visit my father’s youngest brother, who was studying at VU Amsterdam and lived in the Uilenstede student district. We’d sit up all night discussing things.

During that time I definitely shook off my introvert side. That is what I like about the Netherlands and what Leiden taught me: you learn to stand up for yourself and your opinions. I still benefit from this today.’

Read the full interview in Leidraad, the magazine for alumni of Leiden University in Dutch). Also read about the five benefits of ICT tools in education and which learning strategy master’s journalism student Vera Brouwer is using.

Text: Nienke Ledegang
Photos: Manon van der Zwaal

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