My time in Maastricht has shaped me intellectually

As a teenager, Marcia Luyten, economist and cultural historian, dreamt of leaving her birthplace Wijnandsrade for Amsterdam, that magical place where everything happens. After her studies at Maastricht University, she finally packed her bags and took off – perhaps for good. And yet she is back. Luyten is currently here doing research for her book The happiness of Limburg. And if that's not enough, she recently began presenting the influential political interview programme Buitenhof on Dutch national television. 
"I was at the Artis Royal Zoo in Amsterdam with a bunch of children when my phone suddenly rang", Luyten recalls. She expected "yet another request to participate in a discussion on development aid", as she had been writing extensively about the subject in the previous years. "When the editor-in-chief asked me whether I would be interested in being one of the three presenters of Buitenhof, I was amazed. I wasn’t expecting it at all. You know what's funny? The first job application letter I ever wrote was for a position at Buitenhof. Back then, all I got was a rejection." 
But times change, and Luyten's work as a writer, journalist, publicist and discussion leader has turned out to be good preparation for her first television job. "Although my experience with television is relatively limited, it certainly won’t be the first time I conduct an interview", she says. "Next to leading many debates and doing interviews on stage, I hosted a talk show at De Balie, a centre for politics, culture and media in Amsterdam. In the end, there’s no big difference between what I was doing there and what I’ll be doing in the studio."
From Maastricht to Africa
The foundation for Luyten's work was laid at Maastricht University, where she enrolled in International Business at the School of Business and Economics after graduating from high school. "I’d wanted to move to Amsterdam since I was 15, but I chose to study in Maastricht because of its Problem-Based Learning (PBL) system", she explains. "I knew straight away it would offer much more than just passively sitting in a lecture hall would. I’m still convinced it’s a fantastic system; it encourages you to think for yourself." 
Perhaps it was PBL that helped Luyten discover her true passion: thinking actively and, indeed, critically. She quickly decided her studies at the School of Business and Economics were "too practical" and switched to Political Culture at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. "I was in the first batch of students and everyone was extremely motivated. After class, we continued our discussions over beer, wine and whisky in the pub. It was the kind of education you dream of when watching the movie Dead Poets Society."
When the time came to start making money, she applied for the diplomatic programme at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – and was accepted. There, she discovered she was not fit for the life of a bureaucrat, but she did find something else: the love of her life. In 2001, she followed him to Rwanda and a new object of study presented itself, eventually resulting in two books. "I took as my theme Africa and the ways in which I didn’t understand its logic. In trying to fathom it, Africa unconsciously changed the manner in which I viewed the Netherlands. I learnt that the existence of our democratic institutions and arrangements is not at all self-evident, for I witnessed how difficult it is to acquire them."
Back to the roots
And here she is, at the time of the interview, in Heerlen, to do research for her new book The happiness of Limburg. A journalistic narrative of the economy and the economic structure of Limburg throughout history, it is worlds apart from her cherished subject Africa. "I’ve been away long enough to view Limburg from an outsider's perspective", Luyten explains. "Just like Africa, I treat it like an exotic domain that I’m attempting to understand."
The urge to write about this area came from a phenomenon she did not readily understand. Why did so many people in Limburg give their vote to the PVV politician Geert Wilders, who proposes measures that will not move an ageing population toward more prosperity? 
According to Luyten, the answer is to be found in the coal mining era of the 1950s and 1960s, years that will form the heart of her book. "In the space of 20 years, the south of Limburg industrialised rapidly. It was a prosperous and thus happy time, yet also a period of benevolent dictatorship by the church, the state and the mining companies. People didn’t have to think for themselves because their lives were arranged for them. I believe that a lot of today's sorrow and rancour, induced by the closing of the mines, stems from that period."

It promises to be a fascinating and insightful story, but for more details we will have to wait until the book's release in 2014. For those who are impatient: be sure to watch Luyten on Buitenhof in the meantime.

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