As the train slowly leaves the platform, it seems that carriage two is suffering slightly under the popularity of the NATO carriage. After a small group of girls decided the last minute to switch to that coach, eleven students, dressed 'business casual', now remain in carriage two where the representative from the Dutch Bureau of International Civil Servants (BIA) starts talking about how to obtain an internship at the European Union. Standing in the aisle and leaning against one of the seats, she talks about the prejudices that many people have about EU civil servants. "Yes, they do lunch longer in Brussels", she says, "but overtime is also longer". While the city of Maastricht slowly gives way to the rolling Belgian hills, the small setting lends to interactivity. One girl wants to know whether she can do the internship with only a Bachelor’s degree, the Austrian boy sitting in the booth next to hers is mainly concerned with the cost of the training courses BIA offers.
It must all look fairly strange to the one lost 'regular' passenger who got in at Liège.
The first edition of Catch That Train was put into motion at Maastricht's central station last Thursday morning. During this event, a high-speed train journey to Brussels, followed by a three-hour 'networking lunch', allowed students with international ambitions to meet company representatives as well as Maastricht University alumni now working in Brussels, ask them specific questions, and engage in networking. The organization of Catch That Train is a collaboration between UM Career Services and The European Corner, a small group of representatives of faculties with a European focus within MU. With 155 participants from 12 different nationalities, Catch That Train was the first large career event organized by the coalition, and was considered successful enough to repeat annually from now on.
According to Koannie Lauw, the UM Career Services representative of The European Corner and one of the main organizers of the event, having part of the event take place on the high-speed train from Maastricht to Brussels serves several purposes. "Through this concept we can show Brussels what Maastricht has to offer", she says as the Belgian landscape passes by rapidly," and also show students how well the two cities are connected".
Another central theme today is networking. "Eighty per cent of all vacancies are on the hidden job market these days," Lauw says, "someone knows about a vacancy, tells someone else and it's gone before it was even officially there". According to Koannie, this makes it essential to build relations by simply talking to people. By allowing students to meet company representatives and MU alumni, she hopes that this initiative can aid students in this process and make them start giving out their business cards.
After the train has come to a halt at the station in Brussels and participants have made their way to Le Palais des Beaux Arts, or BOZAR, it is time to start with the serious mingling part of the day. Fancy-looking sandwiches are being devoured while students walk around trying to make themselves known and get information on the labour market. A small circle of students has gathered around a Maastricht University law alumnus, Peter van der Hijden, who now works for the European Commission and is spreading his practical knowledge to the newer batches of students today. "You can get by without French in the Commission these days," he says as the circle of students expands and contracts at the same rhythm as the sandwiches disappear from little white plates, "but then, you miss out on all the informal information which can be extra useful, the stuff that only the secretaries and security guards know". Elsewhere, students try a more one-on-one approach and accompany the company representatives briefly to ask for specific information.
Perhaps the most popular representative of the event is Antoaneta Boeva, who provides students with more information on the NATO internship programme. The carriage NATO presented in was booked full and it seems that there is little time for a quiet lunch as students circle the table where Boeva stalled out her brochures and informative DVDs. "I didn't really know what to expect today, but this is what I was hoping to see," she says enthusiastically, "the students here know what they want to ask. I would say Maastricht University has done a good job".
Students generally seem to enjoy the day, although some are a bit more critical about the event. "I really liked the open atmosphere today," one International Business student says, "I've talked to quite some people who may have useful contacts for me, I even talked to Jo Ritzen, which is what networking means for me, and that’s what I was hoping to get out of today". One German student, however, thinks the companies present did not quite echo the international emphasis of ‘Catch That Train’ and is disappointed that BIA could not really give him information for non-Dutch students. Eli, a European Studies student from Rwanda, and Emmanuel, who studies at the Graduate School of Governance and is originally from Ghana, think the event was too focused on Europe alone. "I really liked today," Eli says, "but I think it would have been better if more international organizations had been represented". Emmanuel agrees and thinks that "the event was more inter-European than international".
President Jo Ritzen and the mayor of Maastricht, Gerd Leers, both joined the other participants on the train and in the BOZAR for lunch. "I really mean it when I say that the students are the best that Maastricht has to offer," Leers says holding a plate with brie-laden sandwiches, "I hope that this event can show them how close Maastricht is to Brussels, so that they might stay in Maastricht after graduation". By keeping the brains in Maastricht, Leers hopes new businesses will be lured to the city as well and give Maastricht a boost: “maybe Maastricht can become some sort of spin-off from Brussels.”
When lunch came to an end, participants could choose to spend the return trip networking, chatting with their fellow students or just chilling out and taking a nap. Some others decided that Brussels needed to be explored more before heading home. Because the return ticket was valid all day.