Alumni about their dreams: did they come true?
“I owe my current life to the interview in Observant!” Hans Wassink (37) still has a tendency to exaggerate things. Of all the alumni we interviewed about their dreams for the future, the then 22-year-old fourth-year student of Dutch Law was by far the most outspoken one. His dream for the future was to become a decadent prick. He wanted a globe bar filled with cognac and whisky, a Chesterfield chair and fat cigars to smoke. He wanted a large swimming pool in the garden and a Mercedes in the driveway. And sure, he’d be willing to write a strategy plan to achieve world peace as the president of Israel.
He smiles as he rereads this during our interview. “Maybe I really was that type of frat boy back then. I was playing a role without being fully aware of it.”
We’re at Waterkant, a pop-up style restaurant in Amsterdam under a dark, deserted car park. Meeting in the neighbourhood where he lives, De Pijp, wasn’t an option: “I’ve already been everywhere there.” He begins to tell me about his life. He tells me about the degree in Dutch Law he pursued, but never finished. “I wasn’t interested in learning. I was more concerned with living.” He tells me about switching to Knowledge Technology. “A blessing arising from necessity, as I wasn’t allowed to continue my studies for a year.” He didn’t finish this degree, either. Most of all, he tells me about being more or less forced to leave Maastricht. “I thought, and still think, the city is great and I had a great time there. But I eventually lost myself. I went to all the drinks, drank myself into oblivion and did anything but studying.” He had such a good time it became dangerous for him. “I no longer knew what I wanted out of life. I became unhappy and started having severe panic attacks.”
The best thing for Hans to do was to pack up and leave Maastricht after five years. He enrolled in an Information Engineering programme and applied to become a programmer at an advertising agency. During the interview, the director unexpectedly put a copy of his ‘dreams for the future’ interview on the table. Hans turned pale. “But they though it was hilarious. It became somewhat of a reclaimed story for me after that.” When the company went bankrupt, he was able to make a deal with the liquidator (who happened to be a friend from university) and take over an interesting portfolio of clients, including big names like Red Bull and National Geographic. From there, he slowly but steadily built a small conglomerate of successful Internet companies such as Producthero, Canners, Simpler and Wavelabs.
He’s been in a relationship for seven years now. He met his girlfriend at a gala in Maastricht. He thought his date for the evening wasn’t interested in him, so he took a look around and made a move on Maartje. As it turned out, he’d made an error in judgement. “My date jumped between us. It was a total mess. Screaming, hair-pulling, that kind of stuff.” Years later, he met up with Maartje again in Amsterdam. “We’ve been together ever since.” She’s a woman with a strong personality and a mind of her own. “Sometimes what she wants matches what I want, but it usually doesn’t.” It’s their strength as a couple: “We find each other in being different.”
They’re getting married soon. His proposal was “the most beautiful thing that happened in the past twenty years”, even if it didn’t quite go as planned. “I spent weeks preparing it. Holiday, beach, sunset. It was going to be about as idyllic as it gets.” But then his suitcase – with the ring in it – got lost, and he had a very difficult time shaking off an Indian street vendor on their walk. To top it all off, he’d neglected to consider the cardinal directions. “The sun suddenly set behind the mountain.” And the moment was gone.
Although he regrets the way he went about student life (“I still strongly advise everyone to go be a student”), it did bring him where he is today. He’s still and always will be someone who lives life on their own terms and doesn’t want to be weight down by material possessions. “I organise my life in such a way that everything could go wrong tomorrow, but it’d remain perfect.” It’s no surprise, then, that he doesn’t have children. “I always thought I didn’t feel the biological urge to be a father.” He’s recently been reconsidering this. “My greatest fear is ending up like those couples who sit opposite each other at a bistro and the only thing they have left to talk about is the quality of the lobster.”
He never did get that swimming pool he once wanted, and he drives a Peugeot. “Taxi drivers ruined the Mercedes brand.” He did succeed at owning a globe bar: friends gave it to him. And he still dreams big. About having an oyster farm in the Bay of Biscay, for example. “But if this article does as much for me as the article fifteen years ago did, I’ll probably buy Dubai a couple years from now.”
Niels van der Laan
Read here the article written in 2003
In 2003 we interviewed UM students about their dreams for the future. Now, in 2019, it’s time to check in with them and see where they’re at. They’re about forty years old now; did their dreams come true? We’re using this special year (Observant is celebrating its 40th birthday!) as an opportunity to find out. Former student journalist Niels van der Laan, who wrote the majority of the interview articles in 2003, is writing a fair share of this year’s articles as well. In addition to the previously interviewed alumni, we’re interviewing former Observant student journalists about their fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams.