Photographer:Fotograaf: Archive Tim Aretz
UCM alumnus Tim Aretz
From Hollandaise sauce to Indian dal, UCM student Tim Aretz included many different recipes in Eat, drink and be merry, his weekly series of food articles for Observant. He came very close to opening his own restaurant when he was in his thirties – in Canada, no less. But life had something else in store for him.
He wasn’t the kind of student who mapped out a clear career path for himself – quite the contrary. He could see himself working at a university, though, as a researcher or lecturer. Or both. After graduating from University College Maastricht, Aretz even stayed on as a tutor in what appeared to be the first step towards a future in academia. But appearances can be deceiving.
Aretz had already dabbled in various things before enrolling in university college. He’d studied computer science in Germany and European Studies in Maastricht. Although he was pushing thirty after UCM, he didn’t feel quite ready to enter the labour market. He decided to pursue a master’s degree in philosophy at Leuven instead, but this university wasn’t the place for him: too rigid, traditional and hierarchical.
What next? After ten years of studying, he felt burnt out and frustrated. He’d reached rock bottom. It was time for a break. He left for Canada on a working holiday visa, which allowed him to work and travel for a year. “I wanted to clear my head, start over. I loved to cook and I wanted to experience what it’s like to work as a cook.”
In Vancouver, he found a vegan café serving only raw food, where he could demonstrate his skills. Aretz felt rejuvenated. He fell in love with a Canadian woman, moved in with her and applied for a residence permit. It took two years, but his application was approved.
In addition to working at the café, he started his own catering service. He didn’t just provide food for parties and events, but also received guests at home. “We emptied out the living room and served, in two shifts, a four-course meal for a total of twenty people.”
Things went swimmingly. Aretz even landed a job at a high-class restaurant serving vegan haute cuisine. “We closely collaborated with local farmers to get unusual, seasonal, organic vegetables, like edible flowers. We also experimented a lot with fermentation and vegan cheese.”
Eventually, the obvious question was whether he would open his own restaurant. Such a move was foreshadowed in the description of his weekly food series for Observant: “Were he not a student, he would open a vegetarian slow food restaurant.”
But he didn’t. “I came to the conclusion that cooking wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It’s not just very hard and stressful work, but also risky. I knew quite a few people with their own restaurants who were constantly struggling to keep their heads above water. The failure rate is high.”
On a trip to Europe in 2014, he ran into a fellow UCM alumnus, who told him about an open day for master’s programmes in Maastricht. There, Aretz found himself intrigued by a programme offered by the School of Governance: Public Policy and Human Development.
Back in Vancouver, he discussed the idea of moving to Maastricht with his girlfriend. She was interested. Aretz applied for the programme, was admitted and travelled ahead in August. But his girlfriend, who was supposed to follow him to Europe in December, got cold feet at the very last moment. Aretz was perplexed, but she stood by her decision and pulled out of the plan. It meant the end of their relationship.
Meanwhile, his studies kept him busy. He took an extra year to complete his degree, graduating in 2017. Sometimes he thinks back to his time at UCM and his fellow students, who went straight from their bachelor’s degree into a master’s programme and then started applying for jobs. “It definitely would’ve been better for my career, but I wouldn’t have missed my experience in Canada for the world. And I really needed to spend time working in a restaurant, even if only to disprove the thought that it was my calling.”
Aretz was 37 when he started applying for jobs. He quickly found one at GIZ, the German society for international cooperation. It employs 20 thousand people. Two thousand of them work in Germany and the others are spread across 120 countries. “I work for the exchange programme that introduces employees from the international business community to each other and to the German economy. My job is to monitor and evaluate the programme.”
Aretz, who currently lives in Bonn, was especially interested in working at GIZ because the organisation expects its employees to change jobs every seven years. He’s planning to get a job abroad next. His new girlfriend, who lives in Aachen, is open to the idea. He wouldn’t want to settle abroad, though; his time in Canada made him realise how dear his family is to him. He wouldn’t want to be too far away from his parents and his nephews.
So how is he right now? He’s happy, he says – in fact, he’s never been happier. He always wanted to become a father before his 40th birthday, which is in August. His desire is about to become a reality. “My girlfriend, who already has a teenage daughter, is pregnant. Her due date is in April. We’re getting married in February. Suddenly, you have a family of your own.”