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Flash interview with alumna and brand new MP Mariëlle Paul

Starting as an MP during the Covid-19 pandemic and after the recent ‘role elsewhere’ debacle during the coalition talks for a new Dutch government, alumna Mariëlle is looking forward to making a real contribution in society.

Why did you choose to study in Leiden? And did it fulfil your expectations?

I started studying International Law in Leiden in 1985. The degree had a good name and the city of Leiden looked nice and wasn’t too big. I grew up in small village near Eindhoven, so Leiden felt moving to the ‘big city’. Reality fit my expectations exactly.

What kind of a student were you?

My motto was (and is) work hard, play hard. I was a serious student. Besides my studies I also took part in many other activities: I was a member on the organising committee of VJSL, praeses of Telders Debating Society (International Law), took part in the Jessup Moot Court Competition and was a member of the editorial staff of the Leiden Journal of International Law. I also had a lot of fun with my student club and housemates and I also worked several days a week in bookshop Kooyker, which gave me a fair bit of income.

Do you have special memories of one specific lecturer/course/student, and why? And is there a special moment from your time as a student you would like to share with us?

Professor Kooijmans, Professor of International Law, was important for me. He was able to link theory and practice in a wonderful way, also using his experience from working at the UN. He was a fascinating man who had a great sense of humour and he was also an excellent storyteller. Professor Kooijmans was my thesis supervisor and he was closely involved in our Jessup Moot Court Competition team.

I do have one very memorable moment: the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. It made a huge impression on me personally. But also as a consequence of this significant event, Professor Kooijmans encouraged and supported me in organising a panel discussion for the Telders Debating Society. We set it up within a matter of days and thanks to his help we managed to get speakers like Max van der Stoel and Otto von der Gablentz, and organise the event in the Grand Auditorium of Leiden University’s Academy Building.

Mariëlle Paul

You didn’t choose a career as a lawyer, and instead worked in all sorts of other sectors. Would you recommend this, and which job did you find most surprising?

During my studies, I was already looking at opportunities in the business sector (summer course at Unilever, business course Procter & Gamble, internship in Stockholm for ABN Bank – just before the merger with the Amro Bank). Every sector and job had its own dynamics and specific challenges. What was good to experience is that my degree in International Law provided me with a good basis for my work in the commercial world – with totally new areas for me (marketing, communication, sales, HR, logistics etc.)

If you could do it all again, would you make the same choices? Or, since you are now a member of parliament, would you perhaps choose a degree in politics or public administration?

I would probably choose the same degree again. Important electives, like political theory and international (economic) relations, are also very helpful in my current work. But if I wasn’t thinking too much in practical and career terms, then I would choose to study classical languages and archaeology. I was fascinated by Latin and Greek at secondary school and I was good at those languages. You have to remember that the Indiana Jones films were really popular then. I imagined myself becoming the female equivalent of Indiana - maybe that’s something for when I’m retired!

You have just started. Can you already say something about your work as a member of parliament?

I was sworn in just a week ago. Because of all the political turmoil at the moment, the first week was quite an experience. I’m still fully emersed in reading up on my portfolio (international trade, development,  growth funds, macroeconomics and European economy). Having worked for 30 years in the business sector focussing on with commercial objectives, at this stage in my life I am now enjoying making a contribution to society as a whole. There is much to learn and much to do. And I’m up for that!

What impact has this period with coronavirus had on you?

Just like most people, for more than a year I have been working mostly online (from home). Though I have now got used to the endless sessions in Teams and Zoom, I do miss the live contact more and more. Starting in a new role is also very difficult. And in my personal life, I miss going out for meals, drinks, concerts and travelling with friends and family. Nothing can beat personal contact!

You probably don’t have much free time, but is there a Netflix series or a film or book that you can definitely recommend to fellow alumni?

A while back, I starting reading Het Bureau by J.J. Voskuil (Dutch author). I had wanted to read the series for a long time, but the magnitude of it put me off a bit. I’m now reading part 2. It’s amazing that a book in which nothing very special happens, can hold your attention and be so hilarious. Luckily I’ve still got five more parts to enjoy. I can definitely recommend it!

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