Alumna Marjolein’s story

December 11, 2023

Alumna Marjolein at UWCM

Can you please introduce yourself to UWCM alumni who don’t know you?

My name is Marjolein but most people at school knew me as Marj. I graduated in 2012, so I have been part of the pioneer group since I entered the school, back when the International School of Maastricht turned to UWC Maastricht in 2010. I came to the school as a day student and I got to join at the same time as the first batch of boarding students. My family and I came from South Africa to South Limburg and it was a rocky start for us. I was getting used to living in the Netherlands as well as discovering what this UWC thing was actually about. I was suddenly surrounded by all these motivated, very determined people who wanted to make the world a better place. It took me a while to get a grasp of everything but I loved it. I had a great time. 

Could you share with us your favourite UWC memory?

I have a lot of good memories but I have also forgotten a shocking amount which I realized during the reunion. The one thing I think about most often when I think about UWC is just how diverse it was. It was a great crash course in different cultures, languages, and personality types as well as stereotypes, and prejudices. It was a great way to not only get used to the Dutch culture and the new country I was living in, but also to learn more about people from other countries, literally from all around the world. It was also good to learn about these people and places from their perspective and it was so instrumental to unlearning a lot of the stereotypes and prejudices. I remember having deep conversations regularly and talking with people that had very different perspectives due to their backgrounds and it was so refreshing to learn about the world directly from these people. We were in the experience together, we were far away from home, living abroad, often homesick and coming to UWC was like a warm hug. 

You graduated more than 10 years ago, what have you been up to since then?

So many things! I decided to stay in the Netherlands and go to Utrecht to study Earth Science since I wanted to focus on geology and discover more about why some places have mountains and others deserts, why we have earthquakes and just better understand how the Earth actually works. I got to spend 6 months in Australia during my studies and appreciated being back in a more international environment and having some more sun. I continued to do my master’s in Earth Science in Utrecht, focusing on ancient extinct volcanoes and as a part of my research I got to work in Iran focusing on the volcanic mountain range called The Zagros. Currently, I am working as a junior lecturer in Earth Science in Utrecht. I am lecturing and running courses for first-year students. I simply love talking to people about science. I also take part in a really fun project called the “Hoe?Zo!Show”; it’s a science show that we do for children in Dutch primary schools. I am also one of the presenters of the Geo Tour de France which brings geology information to the viewers of sports shows such as Tour de France. 

Reflecting on my experience, I recognize that UWC taught me or rather helped me develop empathy as well as high tolerance for differences which is something that I get to benefit from every day and even more so on the various trips abroad. UWC embraces differences, we highlight them, we discuss them, we compare them and in my experience, there is very little judgement when doing all of this. 

In July you returned to UWCM, what was it like to be back for your reunion?

I returned to UWCM before, I was there for the graduation of my first years, then for the graduation of my sisters and then also for the 5-year mini-reunion. Then I got to check out the new campus but it was this reunion in July 2023 that was very special. It was nice to reconnect with people from my year. For most of my peers, it was their first visit to this campus, so it was interesting and good to see the new facilities. Nevertheless, for me, the most special was to see the people that I had not seen in a decade. As time goes on, after graduation, you lose contact with many people, so it was wonderful to reconnect and bring back all the memories. It was so good to see everyone and have time together. 

Have you been connected to UWC in between your graduation and the reunion? 

In the beginning, it was easy because my sisters also went to UWCM, so I knew what was happening via them. I did not keep in touch with most of my UWC peers who stayed in the Netherlands, so I appreciated the opportunity to come back to the UWC and have this chance to reconnect with my old friends and get nostalgic during the reunion in July 2023. 

If you look back at the last 11 years or so, in what ways would you say you continue to live the UWC mission in your academic, private and professional life?

I see the UWC mission in the way I connect with my international colleagues and how much I missed international friends during my studies. The two years at UWC are a crash course in tolerance, you learn not only to be open to other points of view and perspectives but to expect them and to seek them out. During my studies, I sought to go abroad and I looked out for the international students who joined my study programme and felt determined to support them in navigating the new country and being away from home. Now as a lecturer, I focus on diversity and inclusivity. These are two of the biggest things that I took away from UWC: diversity is a strength and inclusivity is a necessity. With a couple of colleagues, we started a workshop for students just before they go abroad to talk about cultural as well as personal differences to help them prepare for their experience focusing on empathy and tolerance.

Having said all of this I see that at UWC I was removed from my culture and this experience gave me a very different perspective on a lot of things and I learned as well as unlearned a lot. The biggest change I made in the two years at UWC, and that I carried with me since then, is that I am not only aware of global issues but I am more actively involved in change, even if it’s at a smaller, more local scale.