At ten o’clock on the dot, Carlos Scornik, Roberto Rodriguez, Esperanza Vargas, Maritza Montiel, Stella Vasquez, Sylvia Saborio and their partners are standing in front of Noordeinde Palace. All six alumni have no objections to waiting ten minutes in the rain while their passports are checked. “From outside, the palace still looks just the same!” says Sylvia, sounding happy. Roberto nods. “We often played a round of volleyball here in the front yard”, he says.
When the Institute was created in 1952, the ISS was accommodated in Noordeinde Palace. “After the war, the authorities didn’t feel it was right to provide money for refurbishment, so the State decided to use the premises for educating and housing international students”, recounts junior curator Sebastiaan van Venetien, who is providing the guided tour. This arrangement continued until 1977, when the building was indeed refurbished. Since then, it has been in use as a working palace where official receptions are held. In addition, the rooms are used as offices by staff of the Royal Household.
The guided tour starts on the first floor. The alumni can hardly believe their eyes when they enter the large Ballroom. The yellow stucco marble wall is a perfect match for the golden chandeliers hanging from the high white ceiling. Panels on the wall depict white lions, while the cream-coloured carpet is accentuated with little red and golden flowers. “What a beautiful room this has turned into!”, says Sylvia. In her day, this was their common room – a space to hang out and socialise together. “Back then, it was all brown: the wooden floor, the curtains, the chairs and the tables. The stucco marble wall was already there, but it certainly didn’t gleam like it does now.”
The alumni still retain clear images of the palace in their memories. “Back then, the building was divided into three sections”, Sylvia remembers. The jointly used rooms were in the middle. Places like the dining room, the common room and a party room. The girls’ rooms were in the right wing, and the boys’ rooms in the left wing. “Of course, you weren’t allowed to cross over to the other wing, but you don’t want to know all the things that went on in the evenings!”, Sylvia says with a wink.
The group enters a third room, the Balcony Room. In the corner of this elongated space stand four chairs and a table. This is where the King receives new ambassadors. The curtains and the wall panels are purple, while the chandelier in the middle of the room features glittering crystals. Just like the Ballroom, the chamber here has a few golden highlights. “The well-known balcony scene takes place here on Budget Day, when the King and Queen wave to the people”, says Van Venetien.
“That’s really nice. In our day, we played billiards here. The table stood here, in the middle”, recounts Carlos. “That’s right! And do you remember how our fellow students from warmer countries never left the palace during the winter. They found it much too cold outside. So they were in here all the time, playing billiards”, adds Roberto. Stella laughs. “In 1971, there was a huge amount of snow. We threw snowballs at each other all afternoon. Wow, we had so much fun here!”
An important period
The six alumni are full of stories during the guided tour. And group photos are a must, too: they take one in each room. “It feels like we were there for such a short time, but the two years I spent here determined the course of my life”, says Sylvia. In the first year, she studied Economic Planning, and in the second, she followed this up with a Master’s in Social Sciences.
Thanks to her studies, she realised she wanted an international career. “After graduating, I went to New York to work at the United Nations. I spent 45 years working outside my home country of Costa Rica.” The ISS was also important for her at a personal level. “I learned more outside the lecture room. My time here shaped my character: it gave me a can-do attitude for my life.”
No study rooms
After the tour is finished, the alumni continue to chat for a little while. Full of enthusiasm, they show Van Venetien old photos they have brought with them. Of course, they wouldn’t be ISS alumni if they didn’t ask some critical questions. “The monarchy in England is looking pretty shaky. What’s the situation here in the Netherlands?”, Sylvia asks. Van Venetien gives a friendly laugh and answers politely. “Sometimes, there are critical reactions in the Netherlands too, and it’s good that this is possible. Apart from that, I’m not someone who’ll express any opinion on this issue.”
Esperanza asks a final question. “Why haven’t we seen the former library, lecture rooms and bedrooms?” Unfortunately, that is not possible, answers Van Venetien. “Because there are more than 50 people currently working in these spaces.”
Outside again, Roberto takes a last photo of the palace. “He’s really moved and overwhelmed”, says his wife Leila. “He’s so happy about being able to visit this place once more.”