Photographer:Fotograaf: archief Marlies van de Wiel
European Law School alumna Marlies van de Wiel
She thought she might get a serious job in the legal profession – a lawyer working from the Amsterdam business district Zuidas, for example. “There was something romantic about the idea. Work hard, play hard, something like that. Work your tail off, but go skiing together, too. That sense of community appealed to me,” says European Law School alumna Marlies van de Wiel (37) about fifteen years later. Would it suit her, though? Was her skin thick enough? She also played with the idea of a career in journalism, courtesy of her student job at Observant. But how would she, a law student, even go about that?
To cover her bases, she decided to apply to the Dutch government’s trainee programme before she even graduated in 2007 (“You can only apply once a year”). Government trainees work at various ministries over the course of two years. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I thought. I knew the selection process was long and strict, and only 6 per cent of the applicants are considered. My expectations weren’t very high. I was quite level-headed about it.” Much to her own surprise, she was selected. And so she turned away from both law (“I was too much of a softie anyway”) and journalism (“many reorganisations and few jobs, I was told by a friend who still works at Eindhovens Dagblad”). She chuckles. “It was that easy. My career is ruled by coincidence.”
As a student, she was reliable. She wrote easily, had a clear mind, understood how deadlines worked and fit well into the team. She still writes, she says. “Well, I now write briefs to the board of Rijkswaterstaat [the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management] in The Hague.” In her position as board advisor, Van de Wiel is tasked with “communicating matters of importance within the organisation to the directors in clear language. They’re dealing with so many things and have no time to read all those policy documents.” She also took a creative writing course once, after which she and her former course mates kept in touch for six years to discuss their stories. “It’s just a hobby, not something to share with a large audience.”
She enjoys her job in The Hague. “It’s very dynamic. I meet a lot of new people and work on different topics. There’s pressure, too; I need that. My interest in the kinds of issues we deal with at Rijkswaterstaat – dikes, waterways, motorways, concrete, water management – has only grown over the years. I’m very content here.”
Her past self would have been bored at the prospect of working for the government and leading a white-picket-fence life. “As a student, I imagined a more exciting life for myself. I thought I would excel more.” At what and how, she wasn’t quite sure. “Around the time I got my degree, I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted in life. I wasn’t in a relationship and I didn’t feel the need to be. I knew I wanted children at some point, but that still seemed far away. I didn’t feel very grown up at 24. I was amazed by my fellow students who were thinking very seriously about what kind of work they wanted to do, where they were going to live, how they would settle down. I loved starting over by myself in The Hague, but that was about it. The trainee programme felt like a way station, like making the transition from student life to working life.”
Only two months after leaving Maastricht, though, she met the man with whom she now has two sons (five and three years old) and lives in a charming third-floor flat in a neighbourhood near the centre of The Hague. She’s doing pretty well for herself, she concludes. Does she still want to excel? “That was mostly about perception, really. My job is going well and I’m not very concerned with status, fortunately.” Does her present self think that her life is boring? She chuckles. “My life is somewhat similar to the life my parents lived, actually. They both worked, they also had two children and they were busy people, too. I never considered it a bad life. It just isn’t the first thing that crosses your mind as a student when you’re asked about your dreams for the future.”
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.