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Karin Aalderink: ‘It is very satisfying to help students on their way’

Her love for China made her study Chinese and go on an exchange trip in her third year of studies. As an Outbound Student Coordinator at the Humanities International Office, Karin Aalderink (45) now supervises students who go abroad.

‘I have always been fascinated by the Chinese characters, I think they are so beautiful. When I was fifteen years old I had a friendship with a chef from a Chinese restaurant, who did his best to teach me some Chinese. Of course I didn't understand any of it but the Chinese language and culture kept intriguing me. Because of all the books I read about China, I had a very romanticized idea of the country which made me think of myself wandering through that beautiful country some day, like a kind of Indiana Jones. Well, that didn't go as planned…’

Countryside, plastic bags and a lot of sweating

‘My first time in Beijing caused a huge culture shock. This was in the third year of my studies. On arrival everything around me was completely flat, just like in the Netherlands. Plastic bags hung in trees and it was extremely hot. Quite a disappointment, because I expected those beautiful big mountains and preferably the Chinese wall that ran through them.

Once I arrived at the campus, I spoke my first sentences in Chinese. That went completely wrong, because I spoke with wrong intonation, which changed the total meaning of the sentence. The fact that I couldn't even get my first sentence right after two years of hard studying, frustrated me enormously. Pretty soon I thought to myself: ‘No, this is not for me. I am going back to the Netherlands.’ But the study programme convinced me to stay and try a little longer. Eventually in summer I didn't want to go home again.

‘I think our students are very brave’

‘My own experience abroad has, in a way, caused me to do this job. After my studies I worked for the (now abolished) Sinological Institute for a while, a kind of knowledge center about China. Since 2006 I have been working at the forerunner of the Humanities International Office. I think the students we send away are very brave. They have to arrange a lot in advance, some often go to a place they have never been before all by themselves and are sometimes are the only Dutch person there. That seems quite thrilling to me. 

Together with my colleagues I coordinate two exchange programmes; the International Studies exchange programme and the faculty Erasmus+ programme. In addition, we coordinate three major grant programmes. We provide students with information, for example on how to register for an exchange. And if a student has been selected, we guide him or her through that process and keep in touch with the partners that are involved. Even when the student is abroad and runs into a problem or has questions, we are ready to help. It is very satisfying to help students on their way.

Glued to the news

‘My colleagues and I sometimes experience many exciting things. For example, we must keep a close eye on the security situation in certain countries. For this we follow the news intensively. Negative travel advice currently applies to a part of Australia due to the forest fires, and to Iran due to the situation surrounding the anti-nuclear weapons treaty. In December we advised students in Hong Kong to return home because of the fierce protests. The university has a clear policy with regard to travel advice and together with the central departments and if relevant, the study programmes, we ensure that the students are and remain safe. In case of a negative travel advice, this means that the students cannot travel to these areas. 

We only are a small team, but together we do a lot of work. Nevertheless, we keep up a good atmosphere and we have each other's back when work  is overloading. I have a fantastic relationship with my colleagues, a good working atmosphere is so important. We all really enjoy the messages from students about their stay abroad. We are currently reading a weekly blog that is written by a student in Germany. The writing style is just great.’

When the kids are grown...

‘I once wanted to be a nurse or an archeologist. I still find medical matters very interesting and once thought about switching careers. But my husband is a pilot and works irregularly, so I don't see myself doing the same on top of that. As for becoming an archeologist, well - she has to laugh out loud - I was just always a big fan of all those Tomb Raider movies..!

In addition to my work, I am the mother of two childern aged ten and eight years old and I am the accountant of a sports club. I enjoy running, doing fitness and gardening in my little garden. When my children are grown I have a bucket list of things I still want to do, such as: skiing and  ice skating - which has become increasingly more difficult with climate change - learning to sail and doing an Arabic language course.’

In the Humans of Humanities series, we will do a portrait of one of our researchers, staff members of students, every other week. What are they, and what do they do? You can find more portraits and information on this page.

Lieselotte van de Ven
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