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“It’s easy to underestimate the complexities of living abroad”

“It’s easy to underestimate the complexities of living abroad” “It’s easy to underestimate the complexities of living abroad”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Own archive

Alumni about their dreams: did they come true?

The first time she visited Jordan, UCM alumna Floortje Rawee (28) already loved the country. But she never expected that, by 2020, she would’ve been calling it home for three years and counting. Her internship at the Dutch embassy in Amman led to a job. In September, she started working at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). She’s still settling into her new job, which may not be what she wants to do forever. “I spend every day in the office.”

When she was in secondary school, Floortje Rawee was quite convinced she wanted to study medicine. “I think it was because I always wanted to help people. Being a doctor is an easy way to go about that. But maybe I just wanted to have an answer ready to the question of what I was going to study.”

In her final year, she began to consider alternatives in case she didn’t get accepted into the programme. “I looked into gap years, travelling or volunteering abroad. The more I thought about it, the more I began to think that maybe I didn’t want to study medicine at all.”

She left for Senegal to do volunteer work. “That’s where I heard about university colleges for the first time. I always wanted to go to university in the Netherlands. I would spend a year abroad in Senegal and then go back to the Netherlands and lead a normal life. That was the plan.” 

She vividly remembers her first evening in Maastricht. “My mum and sister had left after helping me move in. There was a thunderstorm. I thought, ‘I live here now, but I don’t even know where the supermarket is’. The introduction week began the next day, and then it was all fine. This is a recurring theme in my life. I’ll come up with something new and the night before I’ll be like, ‘Why did I have to go and do this? Things were fine the way they were!’ But eventually, everything works out fine.” 

UCM was the right place for her. “I loved how it was finally OK to be interested. In Dutch secondary schools, you’re not cool if you do your homework and ask questions. At UCM, we had class discussions about historical events and world politics.”

Rawee studied international relations and decided to go on exchange. “I wanted to go to a completely different country, like Lebanon or Egypt, but it had to be a Western country. Australia and the US were too mainstream for me – I never knew I was such a rebel.” 

She went to Canada, where she wrote blogs for Observant. After graduating, she did an internship at Dutch daily newspaper NRC. “I still have a passion for writing, but I ultimately preferred to be involved in things myself rather than write about them.”

And that’s how she ended up working at a non-governmental organisation, completing the Master in International and European Law at UM, and landing a job at the Dutch embassy in Amman. “I’d gone on holiday to Jordan in 2012 and absolutely loved it there. To many people, the Middle East seems very scary and intense. Maybe that’s what eases the pressure to have fun. If having fun is not a given, it’s all the better when you do. Jordan is a country that seems very undiscovered, even though it isn’t, of course. You can drive anywhere and just walk among ancient ruins.”

These types of internships rarely lead to jobs, but Rawee was lucky – in a sense. The war in Syria was in full swing, meaning the embassy had its hands full. “My area of focus was humanitarian aid. I coordinated all kinds of refugee-related projects. We looked at how Jordan was doing as a host country for Syrian refugees. It involved a lot of discussions about what did and didn’t go well and how to solve problems.”

In September, she moved on to work at the UN. She chuckles. “As students, we thought the UN was a terrible organisation – badly organised and very bureaucratic. The latter is true, by the way. But I’m less naïve now. Being against everything gets you nowhere. And the people who do this kind of work are idealistic, of course, but in the end it’s just a job. You need it to pay the bills.” She’d like her next job to be more hands-on. “I’m in the office every day now, assisting the executive office. Maybe I still need to settle in, though. I’ve only just started working here.”

Her understanding of the complexities of living abroad has also evolved. “It’s easy to underestimate it. Living abroad is actually quite complex. Major life decisions are just a bit bigger and present themselves quicker. You often spend four years in a new position. This means I have to think about whether or not I could meet a partner or would feel comfortable having children there, and whether or not I want to go if the answer to those questions is no. I spent the past few years in a relationship with an American diplomat, but he accepted a position in China. Why would I go to China? At the same time, does this mean I have to meet someone new and go all in again? Balancing your career and your relationship is always difficult, but it’s even more complicated in an international setting.”

(Un)fulfilled dreams

In 2003 we interviewed UM students about their dreams for the future. Now, in this academic year, it’s time to check in with them and see where they’re at. Did their dreams come true? We’re using this special year (Observant turned 40 in 2019/2020) 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.

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