Learning in practice: A working visit to Belgrade

To keep up with the constantly changing circumstances and developments in work, it is necessary to keep developing yourself. We believe that learning is much more than taking a course. In April 2022 Amela Botic, Mirnes Kurtanović and other local staff at the embassies in Sarajevo and Zagreb made their first working visit to Belgrade along with former ambassador Jan Waltmans. It wasn’t easy to find three days when everyone would be available, but the countless useful insights and new contacts were worth the wait

Image: ©academie / academie
Colleagues Mirnes Kurtanović, Edita Straleger, Siniša Krmpotić, Joost Reintjes, Henk Voskamp, Jan Waltmans, Senad Omeragic, Amela Botic, Lea Šiljak, Natalija Draganović

Of course, as a member of embassy staff you have access to a variety of networks and opportunities to exchange information at conferences. But how often do you get a chance to talk to your counterpart at another mission about your day-to-day work?

For Jan Waltmans, former ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina, this was the question that inspired him to suggest a meeting between management assistants and advisers at the embassies in neighbouring Croatia and Serbia. Early last year in Sarajevo, he had asked his personal assistant Amela Botic whether she would be interested in meeting other colleagues. Amela, who has worked as a management assistant for 17 years, was surprised and honoured. ‘I had occasionally met other management assistants in The Hague, but I had never been to the embassy in Belgrade. This was a very special experience.’

In-person meetings

Amela, senior political adviser Mirnes Kurtanović and another colleague spent three days in Belgrade. With staff from the embassy in Zagreb joining them, Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia were all represented. A total of 15 participants from three countries took part. ‘Our countries were all part of the former Yugoslavia and we still share a language and a culture, so it’s logical for us to work together,’ says Mirnes. ‘We know each other from phone calls and emails, but it adds so much to meet each other in person. It was really useful to find out how other people do things: after all, to achieve anything in the region, it’s crucial for our countries to work well together.’

Full schedules

The idea for the exchange was met with enthusiasm, though it wasn’t easy to set a date. ‘Everyone’s diary is absolutely packed and it was hard to find a date when everyone could make it,’ says Mirnes. ‘It took a while before we found a time that worked for everyone.’

Once they did, plans proceeded smoothly. Amela: ‘The mission in Sarajevo was very honoured to have us and the ambassadors were enthusiastic. We did joint programmes with the ambassadors, as well as separate meetings for management assistants and policy officers. We talked about all kinds of practical things like our CRM, the TAM system and organising events for King’s Day. I was also very interested to see their open-plan office, which is so different from ours in Sarajevo.’

Closer ties

The meetings brought Amela plenty of new insights. ‘We all do the same job, but we all do it differently. For instance, the way we communicate within the mission. I took home some good ideas for us to try.’

Communication is easier now that people know each other personally, Amela has found. ‘We were already cooperating well, but meeting each other in person has made a big difference. You learn more about each other’s culture – because we do all come from different backgrounds. And now we know we really can call each other any time.’

The meetings also helped Mirnes forge closer ties. ‘My portfolio is all about political influence. So it’s very important to always stay on top of the right topics, to know how we can support the ministry in The Hague and what is going on in both parliaments. This has reinforced our day-to-day communication.’

Informal exchange of experiences

For Mirnes the most important thing was exchanging experiences in an informal setting. He would like to do the same thing with other Balkan countries. ‘Our embassies in the region all have networks for legislation and for stability and security, so formally we’re already working together. But it’s enormously useful to have an informal exchange of experiences, particularly with several Balkan countries being candidates for EU membership.’

Better contact

Mirnes added some valuable acquaintances to his network during informal chats, including a political analyst, an MP and a human rights activist. ‘We didn’t just exchange business cards, but actually established personal relationships. I’m now in weekly contact with a professor from Belgrade.’

For his part, Mirnes put a colleague in Zagreb in touch with interesting contacts in Bosnia. ‘It’s easier to spot opportunities when you know each other personally, so it’s beneficial for everyone.’ The visit to Belgrade was a one-off event for now, but both Amela and Mirnes are eager for more. ‘This is a good example of how we can improve the quality of our work,’ says Mirnes. ‘And that’s why it should be a regular part of cooperation across the region. That would make it easier to plan exchanges like this one from now on.’


Here are three useful tips for learning in practice, based on the working visit to Belgrade by local staff from the embassies in Sarajevo and Zagreb:

  • Look for opportunities to meet with your counterparts at other embassies and exchange thoughts. In-person meetings can help forge valuable contacts and expand networks.
  • Alongside formal networks and partnerships, it’s also important to exchange experiences in a more informal setting. This helps people establish personal contact and develop a deeper understanding of each others’ cultures and background.
  • Every country and every embassy has its own approach to day-to-day business. Talking about this together is a good way to learn about different approaches and try them in your own situation. Identify best practices and apply them in your own context.