Photographer:Fotograaf: Own archive Kate
Alumni about their dreams: did they come true?
Six months ago, Kate Surala (26) started writing a book. Where does she find the time? It’s a fair question as she spends already plenty hours a week as a partner and chief compliance officer at a London-based equity research firm. But she loves writing and she’s a good one, as evidenced by the weekly series of restaurant reviews she wrote for Observant four years ago. Surala is all about healthy ambition. And sure, she’s also interested in having a partner and, in due time, children – although she’ll have to find her soul mate first.
The book, titled Unleash Today, is about female empowerment, “making full use of your talents as an ambitious woman”, says Kate Surala. She’s co-authoring it with Sarah Wagner, a friend she met while they were studying in Maastricht. It will be a book full of advice. What’s her most important piece of advice? She needs some time to think about her answer. She sends it in later, by email. “For students it would be: the more questions you ask and the more you listen, the more you learn and the more you can grow.”
Surala shared a sneak peek of Unleash Today’s first chapter on LinkedIn last week. It’s about making a good first impression at work and covers a technique called “power posing”, standing with your feet apart and your hands on your hips. Now, it’s not like you have to walk around the office like that all day. Every once in a while, just stand in front of the mirror in your bathroom or bedroom at home and strike a power pose. It boosts your confidence, says Surala.
She certainly exuded confidence when she stepped into the Observant office in autumn 2015 – charming, friendly and well-put-together. She was enrolled in the Master in European Public Affairs, working as a student tutor, and looking to take on more. She’d previously had her own coaching business, teaching secondary school and university students how to study (e.g. using mind maps), and played the guitar in a punk band, back home in the Czech Republic. This time, she wanted to write. She ended up going to restaurants, pen in hand, and writing four-hundred-word reviews about her dining experiences. The series was called Work Like a Slave, Eat Like a King.
The United Kingdom had been calling her name for years. “I was twelve when I visited London for the first time. I fell in love with the city, the Underground in particular. I love the busy lifestyle and its cultural diversity.” So why did she first come to Maastricht to get a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree? “I didn’t think my English was good enough. Going to university in England was also much more expensive. Visiting UM’s open day, I realised Maastricht would be a perfect stepping stone to a future in London.”
She dreamed of being a lawyer, preferably one specialising in corporate law. “My plan was to first get a job at a law firm and then continue my career at a different organisation as an in-house legal expert or lawyer.” After earning her second master’s degree from Oxford, she went straight into an in-house job at a small equity research firm based in London. Surala leads the company’s legal and compliancematters. The cherry on the cake was being included in UK Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35. “I moved up very quickly and made partner within two years. I love working, so it was a dream come true.” And if you thought that was all, think again. She’s also working on her PhD thesis as an external PhD candidate at Radboud University Nijmegen.
But not everything has been smooth sailing for Surala. When she started European Law School in Maastricht, her mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. “I found it difficult to leave, but she said it was OK. It’s what she and my father had worked for their entire lives: their children’s future. Fortunately, my mum made it through.” She still sees her parents often, but moving back to the Czech Republic is not an option for her.
Surala was initially nervous about Brexit and its potential impact on her life, but she’s grown more optimistic. “I’ve been working here since 2017. I’ve shown that I belong here.” She’ll be eligible to apply for residence after five years of working in the UK. “It’ll probably be fine.”
In closing, a few questions about her love life. Yes, she would love to meet the one, her soul mate, someone to share the “joy of good life” with. And, yes, she has someone in her life, but it’s still very early days. “We’ll see where it goes.” Having children is “a project for later”. For now, her career is her priority, although she knows there’s more to life than work. She does salsa dancing on weekends and likes to meet friends for coffee or dinner. “You have to watch out for burnout. In my first year at the firm, I wanted to do everything. I was essentially doing three jobs, working through the weekends. I could feel that it wasn’t good for me.” She scaled back her activities and took up meditation. “It’s a way for me to find balance.” Every morning, she does a few mindfulness exercises, probably before striking a power pose, smiling at herself in the mirror.
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.