Keetie Roelen
Idealistic international

Keetie Roelen (33) only hesitated for a second before she chose Maastricht. She calls herself a ‘double alumna’: she earned both her master’s degree and her PhD at UM. Born in Eersel, North Brabant, it would perhaps have been a more obvious choice to study at the university of applied sciences in Den Bosch. Instead, she chose an academic university and Maastricht. The English-language programme would prepare her for the international career she was looking for. 

She listens attentively and carefully chooses her words: ‘I feel privileged that I was able to study in Maastricht.’ Active learning was the focus of attention in Maastricht: working together in groups, giving presentations. But she also learned as much from and about her fellow students with different cultural backgrounds. She was not really someone who liked to join organisations; instead she had her own ‘club’ in Heugem, in a large student house where she lived on a corridor with eight other students. A tight-knit group, they still see each other every year around Christmas.

After her graduation, she was at the forefront of the creation of the School of Governance. She looks back on it with great pleasure. ‘It was a lovely time; we were given a lot of responsibility. Perhaps that is typical of Maastricht University. You don’t see that in England: being given responsibility at an early age. It gives you self-confidence; it’s encouraging and motivating.’ Professor Chris de Neubourg and Doctor Franziska Gassmann encouraged her to pursue a doctorate. She travelled often and extensively in Vietnam, where she researched childhood poverty. After her PhD defence, she made the move to the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton. 

She now travels to all corners of the world and gives advice based on her research. Her goal is to make her own work superfluous. Does she see a difference compared to when she started? ‘Certainly. For instance, major steps forward have been made in Vietnam. And of course that goes together with economic growth, but a lot of progress has also been made in the area of poverty reduction. We cannot do it all with economic growth alone. I still see too many and too large income disparities, and in too many places the assumption remains that as long as there’s work, everything will be OK. Poverty is especially challenged when you approach it from multiple sides.’

Four years ago she exchanged the Netherlands for England. Now she and her husband live together in Milton Keynes. ‘The Almere of England’, she laughs. It’s a city designed to house commuters to London. Her home is three hours away from her workplace, but the world is her worksite; she loves to travel and enjoys being on the go. 

‘At this time of year we always like to go back to the Netherlands to visit family and friends.’ The run-up to Christmas is extraordinary in England. In August, there are already advertisements saying ‘book your table for Christmas’. The drinks parties and dinners with colleagues, the outings—everything is planned during this period. 
From October, many colleagues are busy with ‘Panto’, also known as ‘Pantomime’. It is a typical British phenomenon: participants sing self-written songs or perform a cabaret or dance, all based on an existing story or fairy tale. At the same time, it is an opportunity to hit a critical note, to make jokes with an exceptional English edge. Then no one talks about it anymore. Going back over it is simply not done. This week, Keetie was asked whether she wanted to join the Pantomime at her institute. She is still thinking about it.

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