Made in Maastricht: Denyse van Opbergen
If Denyse van Opbergen has to choose one word that suits her, that is ‘wanderlust’. After years in Ghana, Vancouver Island and Edinburgh, she returned to her hometown of Maastricht for her master's degree. She is now on the other side of the world again. It's Toronto, Canada, where she lives and works.
From Ghana to Scotland
Her wanderlust was kindled at an early age, says Denyse. “When I was two years old, my family moved to Ghana for my father's work. After two years, we returned to Maastricht. But when I was 16, I left again to go to school in Vancouver Island, Canada. I had a great time there at Pearson College [one of seventeen United World Colleges worldwide].” Then it was time for university. She moved from Vancouver Island to Edinburgh for the bachelor's programme in Biological Sciences. She also describes her time there as ‘very successful’.
‘Home sweet home’ - for a while at least
When she was figuring out where she wanted to follow her master's degree, Denyse came across the Sustainability Science and Policy programme at UM, “a study that gives you a broad foundation in sustainability. The programme also fit well with my interests and gave me the opportunity to be closer to my family.” But her itch to travel continued. "I had been really interested in Canada for a long time. The country offers so much space and nature. That’s why I made the move to Toronto about a year ago.”
In Toronto, Denyse works at Ecovert Sustainablity Consultants, where, as project coordinator, she focuses primarily on making new and existing buildings more sustainable. “When I moved to Toronto, I immediately noticed that the ‘green building’ industry is growing rapidly here. In Canada, cities contribute to around 60 percent of CO₂ emissions. Buildings in particular are harmful. In my position, I advise on how the location, water usage, air quality, etc. of buildings can be made sustainable. In that context, I work with people in a variety of disciplines, such as architects, real estate developers, structural engineers and mechanical engineers.”
Broad perspective on sustainability
Her master's degree definitely contributes to her work in to her current job. “My study programme taught me to do interdisciplinary work, and to make knowledge understandable for people with different backgrounds and from different disciplines. That’s important because a shared understanding leads to good cooperation. Thanks to my studies, I have a broad, international perspective on sustainability. We learned not only about European, but also about global policy.” Governance for Sustainable Development was my favourite course. That, too, is about a variety of perspectives; you look at ways to make the world more sustainable - from government initiatives and grassroots campaigns to market forces. Many fellow students also had a background of living, working or studying internationally. They talked about their country and unique experiences, problems and solutions in the field of sustainability. I now use that broad perspective in my work.”
Toronto is just as international in nature as Denyse’s university days. “There’s always something going on. In my free time, I like to go to the gym and I do Muay Thai [a type of boxing]. I also like to try out new international recipes and restaurants. But despite the international character of the city, employers are generally somewhat suspicious when it comes to international experience. They all find it interesting, as long as there’s a study programme, work experience or volunteering in Canada on your CV. That’s difficult for a new immigrant.”
Quickly into the ravine
What Denyse likes most about Toronto is immediately clear to her. “In one word: the space! In my free time, I can usually be found in nature. My favourite spot in Maastricht is the Ambyerheide. Taking a nice walk with the dogs through the forest - preferably with a cup of tea and a slice of pie at Uitspanning De Nachtegaal afterwards. It’s great that I now live in Toronto in the heart of the city - with all the benefits, nice things to do and opportunities that go with it - but at the same time I can go into the ravine in less than twenty minutes. Because of this, Toronto is sometimes called ‘a city in a park’. It looks like Denyse will stay in Toronto for a while, enjoying all the green and good that the city has to offer.
By Milou Schreuders, March 2019
Denyse van Opbergen followed the bachelor’s programme in Biological Sciences (Honours programme: Ecology) at the University of Edinburgh and the master’s programme in Sustainability Science and Policy at Maastricht University. In 2016, she graduated cum laude. She then went on to work for the Municipality of Maastricht, among other employers. Denyse has been working at Ecovert Sustainability Consultants in Toronto since 2018.