In this series alumni of Maastricht University talk about what came true of the dreams they had as a student.
When he was 18 years old, Jean Dohmen wanted to go to university in Groningen or Amsterdam. He liked the idea of being far away from Heerlen, where he grew up. He ended up going to Maastricht, only 25 kilometres away from his hometown. “I never regretted that decision.” Choosing between the busy Randstad and Limburg is a recurring theme in his life. “I’ve always felt both nostalgia and wanderlust. I love Limburg, but I also really wanted to leave.”
Somewhere deep down inside, Lieke van den Krommenacker (39) always knew what she wanted to do with her life. But more than once, she let herself be swayed by… well, by what, exactly? Following other people’s dreams and expectations? Making the kinds of decisions she thought an adult should make? The point is: more than once, she went down a path that turned out to be the wrong one for her. Not anymore, though. “More than ever before, I’ve found my place. I’m happier and I feel more at home with myself.” She laughs. “My eighteen-year-old self would say, ‘Nice job’.”
We’re walking through Utrecht Science Park, hunched into our coats to protect ourselves from the fierce wind whipping around the dreary buildings. One of the massive concrete structures is covered in green scaffold netting, not because it’s under construction but to prevent debris from falling down and killing people. It’s not exactly an inspiring environment for the many researchers who work in this part of the city. Arts and Sciences alumnus Koen Beumer (35) is one of those researchers. “Strangely enough, no one complains about it. It’s a frightening thought that I will come to think of this as normal within a few years, too.”
She was only seventeen years old when she came to Maastricht University to study Arts and Sciences in 1994. Very young, Ariane Hendriks (43) thinks, looking back now – especially because she went straight from living with her parents in Veenendaal, a town in the centre of the Netherlands, to living in Maastricht, almost two hundred kilometres away by car. It was a deliberate decision: after a relatively protected and religious upbringing, she wanted to go out into the world, see different things, meet new people, stand on her own two feet. And she ended up doing all that. “I’m a lucky person.”
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 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.”
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.
It’s 9.00 a.m. on a Monday morning in mid-December. Jan Machielsen (35), senior lecturer in history at Cardiff University in Wales, is still in his Paris hotel. After our telephone interview, he’ll head for the library to continue working on his research. “On foot. There’s another strike going on. Public transport, including the metro, has been crippled. Ah, well. It’ll be good for me to walk for forty minutes, or else I’d just be sitting all day,” he reasons. He’s quite used to this happening in the French capital. “When I was studying in Paris for three months during my master’s degree, my university was affected by strikes for a month.”
Knowledge Engineering alumnus Frans van Egdom
After being buzzed into the building where Frans van Egdom (34) lives, I almost trip over a large bookcase filled with second-hand books and DVDs for communal use. A notice board in the entrance hall invites me to the daily ‘coffee with the neighbourhood’ moment. “It’s an attempt by the municipality and the housing association to cultivate connection in the neighbourhood,” Frans tells me later. It’s not a bad idea: two young people were recently shot dead in front of this block of flats in the neighbourhood Kattenburg in Amsterdam.
He didn’t really have big dreams for his future, so he didn’t try to pursue anything in particular. “I was never working towards a specific goal. One thing just led to another,” says Eugène Baak (51). His career in journalism began when he was a student at Observant. He later interviewed film stars like Sylvester Stallone and Jodie Foster for the Dutch weekly magazine Nieuwe Revu. Since 2016, he has worked as editor-in-chief at RTV Maastricht.
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?
He always wrote long articles, filling entire pages with them. “You paid us per word, that’s why,” laughs Marc Bonten (1964), who worked as a student freelancer for Observant between 1987 and 1989. His writing was great, but his future wouldn’t be in journalism. He was studying medicine, but did he want to be a doctor? He was in doubt about it. By now, he’s a professor and an internationally recognised expert in the field of infectious diseases who has received an NWO Vici grant. And spends a lot of his time in meetings.
Marie Zwetsloot (30) has only just returned to the Netherlands. She spent seven years in the US as a Fulbright and Huygens scholar, obtaining a research master’s degree in soil science and writing her PhD thesis on the influence of roots on belowground carbon in the context of climate change. None of this is what she planned to do when she came to University College Maastricht in 2007. As a UCM student, she studied subjects related to politics, society and philosophy and worked at Observant. Her plans changed after an exchange programme in Ecuador.
His 2003 interview revolved around one thing and one thing only: cars. He wanted to become CEO of Ferrari and would personally save the brand from a takeover by Mercedes or Volkswagen. His house would also have to be big enough to accommodate his fleet of vehicles, which was to consist of five shiny red Italian sports cars for Sunday afternoon drives “and a Golf GTI for grocery runs”. But dreams can change. Sixteen years later, Maarten Scholts (36) doesn’t own a Ferrari – not even close. He drives a Peugeot (“It is a GTI, though!”) and works as a contract manager at… hold on to your hat… NS, the principal passenger railway operator in the Netherlands.
Living a grand and exciting life, writing, and exploring the world. Those were the dreams alumna Judith Maas had for her future back when she was a student. They both did and didn’t come true. Her career as a diplomat – she’s currently deputy ambassador in Mexico – took her to many continents, but she didn’t end up following in Thea Beckman’s footsteps to become an author of children’s books. The desire to write still lingers, though.
“Are you happy with the way you look? Well, I’d rather be 10cm taller and/or 5 kilos lighter, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I think I’m hideous…
Do you want children? ‘That’s just about the last thing I want to think about’ isn’t included as an option on this dating site.
Do you smoke? Shoot, there goes my chance of meeting the woman of my dreams I’d quit smoking for.”
Château Neercanne, 5 September 2015. “Max, maybe you think you were the one who came up with the idea of buying that house the two of you bought in Sint Pieter last month. But it couldn’t be less true. You’ve been manipulated. You were set up.” Inge’s wedding witness produces a yellowed copy of Observant from her inside pocket and begins to read a passage from the interview with the then 19-year-old student of Law out loud. “‘I’m enjoying it here in Maastricht. I’d like to come back here after seeing the rest of the world. I wouldn’t mind living in Sint Pieter.’”
Life has calmed down for her. Working as a programme manager at a coaching business, being with Onno (“I met him at the pub on my 31st birthday”): the past years have been the happiest of Jorien Knevel’s life. Getting there wasn’t smooth sailing, though. She enjoyed studying and working well enough, but she lacked a sense of purpose, “meaning something to others”. She often wrestled with questions about life and her dreams for the future. What do I want to achieve? Who do I want to be? That’s when she suffered the worst setback – a burnout.
The Bonnefanten Convent was the domain of the Sisters of the Holy Sepulchre until 1789 and of the Bonnefanten Museum from 1952 to 1979. Maastricht University has owned it for almost forty years now. There’s a bookcase in the attic; the top shelf holds books entitled I can do it and I’ll get through this. The shelves below contain brochures on such topics as fear of failure, depression, negative self-perception and – relatable to every student – procrastination. The bookcase and its contents belong to Sibren Fetter (37), career counsellor at UM.
No trains are running between Sittard and Maastricht this week. I’m at the mercy of a small local bus. It drops me off in Bunde, a village where you could hear a pin drop. I ring the doorbell of a terraced house across from a playground. My interviewee’s boyfriend opens the door. “She’s just getting a pie from the bakery round the corner.” Inside, the house smells a bit musty. There’s a cuckoo clock on the wall and a floral-patterned armchair in front of the window. This is going to be the most boring interview of the whole series, I think to myself. Yonne Tangelder (36) soon proves me wrong.
In July 2017, on her first trip as a war correspondent, she was shot at. Lisa Dupuy (28), a University College Maastricht graduate, fell into an ambush in the jungle of eastern Congo. “We were in the middle of the Okapi Wildlife Reserve when we were attacked by a gang of criminals. They were looking for gold and didn’t want any prying eyes.” Five of the people in her group – which consisted of twenty journalists, supervised by park rangers – were killed. “I was perplexed. I wanted to run away, but I had no idea where to go.”
Having children was not in the cards for her. According to then 23-year-old Marjolijne van der Stoep, now almost forty, people should spend a little more time thinking before deciding to have children. Not everyone, she said, is fit to be a parent – herself included. She thought she’d be a terrible mother, a pushover with no authority.
“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.
She was eighteen years old, a first-year student of Arts and Culture and already quite domestically inclined, by her own account. “A white-picket-fence kind of person.” She wasn’t overly ambitious and she wouldn’t mind becoming a housewife, provided that her husband earned enough money to support their family. Fifteen years later, not much has changed. Frouke Verhagen (33) is married, drives a Skoda and lives in a cute, decent house in a “quiet, family-friendly neighbourhood” in The Hague where the streets are named after fruits. Inside, toys are scattered everywhere. There’s an Ikea play kitchen and a large finger painting above the fireplace, presumably made by her four-year-old son Fedde.
In 2003 we asked 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 end up coming true? We’ll use this special year (Observant is celebrating its 40th birthday!) as an opportunity to find out. In 2003, Niels van der Laan was the student journalist who wrote the majority of these interview articles. He’ll write a fair share of this year’s articles as well. Today, though, the spotlight is on him: the little boy who couldn’t stand injustice, loved legal drama series and became a criminal defence lawyer at 24, just like he intended.