meet our alumni

alumnusTo give you an idea of how your professional horizon could look like if you have one of our degrees in your pocket, we respectfully cede the floor to our alumni. If the sum of their testimonials makes one or two things clear, it is probably that our alumni land on their feet on various grounds, defying the very concept of pigeonholing.

We kindly invite each and every one of our former students to submit a brief text (just 100-200 words) elaborating on the development of his or her career, and looking back on his or her studies. You can submit it, together with your photo in color, by email to our webmaster Pieter Boulogne. Most former students of our study programs are female, so we will not consider this webpage constructed until this gender ratio is properly reflected.

Anne Baeten, senior recruitment officer at Deloitte

Anne is an alumna of Slavonic and East European Studies (campus Leuven) of 2011

annab“After obtaining my Master in Slavonic languages and cultures, I realized that I didn’t had enough of the student life. So, I did my research on what to do next and I thought the combination of Russian/Polish with something economical would be ideal to pursuit a career in the economic world – you know: BRIC countries and so on. So, I took an extra Master in Management and another Master in Applied Economic Sciences and well. There I realized that I was more driven by the people behind the economics, that I was intrigued by connecting and communicating with people and helping them in one way or another. And that’s how I became a recruiter. I’m currently working as a senior recruiter for Deloitte, one of the ‘Big 4’ companies, well known all over the world. I’m constantly looking for talented people from all over the globe that are interested in a career in Accounting and IT.

Do I still do something with my Slavonic degree? Except for bragging about it on parties, visiting my beloved Warsaw and reading Polish and Russian newspapers from time to time: not really no… Do I regret this? Maybe a little because the passion for that world hasn’t changed a bit.  But aside from the languages, it gave me so many insights on how to deal with different cultures, how to communicate with people and how to have an open mind. I am convinced to say that it gave me an overall formation and if I would be 18 again, I’m pretty convinced I would make the same choice.”

(Anne submitted her testimonial in October 2016)

Benjamin Demesel, postdoctoral researcher in philosophy

Benjamin is an alumnus of Slavonic Studies (campus Leuven) of 2004

benjamin“I don’t know why exactly I decided to study Russian. I suppose it had something to do with the fall of the Iron Curtain, and the fact that Eastern Europe was in the news every day when I was a child. It certainly had to do with my interest in languages and literature, and with pure curiosity. I finished my studies with a thesis on the earliest Dutch translation of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and started teaching Russian and Dutch. I did this full time for five years and then, quite suddenly, decided to go to university again, where I studied philosophy. I have recently finished a PhD on Wittgenstein and ethics and I am now a postdoctoral researcher at the Higher Institute of Philosophy (KU Leuven).

I have forgotten most of my Russian and all of my Polish, and I would never want to live in Russia. Still, I look back at my Slavic years with gratitude, because I had plenty of time to read some of the best books ever written and met some people there who are still among my best friends.”

(Benjamin submitted his testimonial in September 2016)

David Naert, Radio and TV News Editor at VRT

David is an alumnus of the master program in Russian Interpreting (campus Brussels) of 1991

foto-david“The late eighties were the days of glasnost, perestroika and Mikhail Gorbachev. Exciting times, and being keen on languages, I decided to include Russian as one of the languages I wanted to study. Four years later, in 1991, I graduated proudly as an interpreter Dutch, English, Russian. By then, I had become very interested in linguistics, so I went to England and did an MA in modern English and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield.

By the time I had completed my military service back home, I was already working for the radio sports department of Flemish public broadcaster VRT. And I am still there 23 years later, although I am now a radio and TV news editor. My knowledge of Russian still comes in handy from time to time. When I can’t find my cameraman at a sports event in Tbilisi for instance. And especially the last six months, when Russian athletics became involved in a doping scandal. It definitely was an advantage to be able to monitor what the Russian papers were writing or what was being said on Russian TV news, so that I could provide my audience with the best possible insight in this story, from every angle.”

(David submitted his testimonial in October 2016)

Jeroen Van den Bosch, doctoral researcher in Poland

Jeroen is an alumnus of Slavonic and East European Studies (campus Leuven) of 2008

jeroen_02“I was part of the first generation of Slavists that enrolled in the new bachelor-master system. While keeping my options open by graduating with a specialization in both Polish and Russian, my interests had gravitated to history and political science, in which direction I did a second master: International Relations.

During my studies I maximized the opportunities for travel and exchanges, which led me to Odessa, Irkutsk, Krakow and Moscow. Soon I felt the travel bug again. I finished my master’s thesis in political science after doing research at Adam Mickiewicz University in the Polish city Poznan.

This time I didn’t come back to Belgium, and I’ve been in Poznan since 2010. Working at AMU, forced me to re-orientate myself a bit. It’s hard to be ‘an expert’ on Polish foreign policy or EU-Russian relations if your are to compete with Polish scholars. In the end I started working on something authentically Belgian, the political history of Congo, and a less researched area of the post Soviet space, Central Asia.

My background in Slavonic studies opened some interesting doors. Currently I work as a PhD student. I write on dictatorships in Sub Saharan Africa after the Cold War. I’ve been teaching on Congo, Central Asia, African politics, and dictatorships for about 5 years now. I co-founded an open-access, political science journal in 2012: R/evolutions: Global Trends & Regional Issues. And since 2013 I also work as an Erasmus Mundus Mobility Manager at AMU, which has provided fantastic travel opportunities. At this point, I can no longer credibly imagine how deeply Slavonic studies have affected my life trajectory.”

(Jeroen submitted his testomial in September 2016)

Joël Cachet, Honorary Consul of Belgium in Mongolia

Joël is an alumnus of the master program in translating Russian-French-Dutch (campus Brussels) of 1988

joel_mongolia.png“After serving in the army as a Paracommando officer, I graduated as a translator Dutch, French, Russian. My civil career started in Antwerp in a company which imported coal from South-Africa and the Soviet Union. After the perestroika, I was given the opportunity to work as a trade commissioner for the Belgian Foreign Trade Board, first in Moscow, then in Petersburg. In 1996, I left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and started to work in the banking sector, where I became the head of the KBC Office in Moscow. The bank was active in the export of raw materials from Russia, the new Russian-speaking republics and Mongolia.

In 2003 some Mongolian partners invited me for a three-week trip. Those three weeks became twelve years. And I hope there will be many more years to come. I started to work in the Mongolian banking sector. We traded with Russia and China. We were active in the meat industry, the oil industry, the construction industry, the railway industry and many others. The sky was the limit! After a few years, I became honorary consul of Belgium in Mongolia. But the financial crisis of 2012 made a quite abrupt end to this exciting period. No problem! I decided to leave the banking sector and opened my own business: I sell now mountain bikes in Mongolia. And it works!

My knowledge of the Russian language has functioned as a guideline for my whole career. Without it, I would never have seen the end of the Soviet Union from close by, I would never have met Gorbachev face-to-face, I would never have shaken hands with Yeltsin during a visit of our King in Moscow, I would never have worked surrounded by Sobchak, Kudrin and Putin, I would never have had the opportunity to work with Norilsk Nickel, Tatneff, Russkii Aluminium, Gazprom, Rosneff, Aeroflot,…

Learning Russian has opened a lot of doors for me and has laid the foundation for a very exciting life. Non, je ne regrette rien!

(Joël submitted his testimonial in October 2016)

Joke Bossens, research assistant at the University of Wrocław

Joke is an alumna of Slavonic and East European Studies of 2014 (campus Leuven)

jokeb“Some decisions in life have a bigger impact than others. When I look back at the past six years, I know for sure that the decision to throw myself into a cold bath of Slavic languages, history, culture and geography was the best I could ever make. Now, exactly two years after finishing my master’s degree, I live in Poland where I am teaching conversation and translation classes in the department of Dutch Studies at the University of Wrocław. Although I’ve never considered teaching as being something for me, I was pleasantly surprised after my first months in Wrocław. The daily interaction with Polish students and the challenge of living abroad gives me lots of energy and satisfaction. In addition to my didactical work, I am doing academic research in the field of Polish-Dutch audio visual translation and I work as a freelance translator.

What I really liked about my studies was the fact that our year only consisted of twenty students (in the master there were about ten), which made our classes very personal and interactive. The majority of them didn’t choose Slavic studies because they simply didn’t know what to study. Being surrounded by students and professors with a specific passion, an uncommon story or foreign background, was very inspiring.”

(Joke submitted her testimonial in October 2016.)

Joris Poschet, member of the Flemish parliament

Joris is an alumnus of Slavonic Studies (campus Leuven) of 2005

jp“Between 2001 and 2005, I studied Eastern European Studies at the KU Leuven. I chose to do so, because of the nice blend of languages, history, politics and literature. Moreover, with the 2004 EU Enlargement towards Central and Eastern Europe, it felt right to get to know our future co-member states better. After my graduation I got another MA in History at the University of Warsaw. It helped me to find an interesting job. I went straight from university to KBC, which was expanding eastwards. After a couple of years I decided to make a career change and work in the political world. At the Brussels-Capital level I worked four years for a MP and then two years for a minister. In 2014 I had the honour to become MP myself, representing Brussels and CD&V in the Flemish Parliament. My studies helped me to keep a broad and global view. Besides my main job, I taught Polish and Russian at KBC in the evening. Last year I visited Warsaw with an official delegation of the Flemish Parliament and I was privileged to welcome the Polish ambassador in his own language.”

(Joris submitted his testimonial in November 2016)

Laurens Soenen, Communication Officer at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Laurens is an alumnus of the bachelor program in Applied Linguistics: Russian (campus Antwerp) of 2014

laurenss“Whenever I tell people that I studied Russian, they ask me: ‘Why for God’s sake?’ Interestingly, this allows me to see how the perception of Russian has changed over only a short period of time. In 2011, the first year of my BA Applied Linguistics, nobody really cared about Russian. Back then I could just say that I wanted to study something different. Today, a lot of people suspect some hidden political motives. Not only in Belgium, but also in Eastern Europe, where the question of language has become even more sensitive.

After obtaining my Bachelor’s degree at KU Leuven, campus Antwerpen, I followed a MA in Multilingual Communication. During my studies, I had already been working as a freelance journalist, writing about international politics in Russian-speaking countries. That helped me in getting selected to do a Master in European Interdisciplinary Studies at the College of Europe in Natolin (Poland). In that ‘golden cage’, I specialized in the European Neighborhood Policy, focused on EU-Russia relations and wrote my thesis about the discourse of the EU in Ukraine. It was the perfect opportunity to discover Ukraine. I volunteered in an English language summer camp and was completely swept away by Ukraine’s rich culture and beautiful nature. I got to see the country from the inside and I made friends for life.

While I am still improving my Ukrainian and Russian, I am currently working for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Belgium. I am responsible for the social media strategy, the online public diplomacy and am a little bit the jack-of-all-trades at the communications service. Where my future lies is still unclear, but it looks like that it will be at the crossroads of (Slavic) languages, communications and politics.”

(Laurens submitted his testimonial in December 2016)

Maartje Swillen, independent bookseller at Boekarest

Maartje is an alumna of Slavonic and East European Studies (campus Leuven) of 2008

maartje“After graduating in Slavonic and East European Studies, I quickly found a job in a company selling filters in Eastern Europe. I had no use whatsoever from the wonderful education I thought my education had been – except maybe the realization that there were things even more boring than the novel Doktor Zhivago by Pasternak. I was fired after three weeks and became a journalist – also a dead end career street for me, although Slavonic Studies did teach me how to produce a decent text.

Once I became a bookseller, I realized I had found my dream job. This makes sense – the subjects I remember most about almost a decade after graduating in Slavonic Studies are the literary ones – European and Russian Literature. They struck me as the most important ones. After all, you can tell a lot about a country by visiting its literary history. Every oppressive government starts by burning the books of the previous regime.

People always tell me I had to find a job to suit my diploma. I say to these people I’m probably the only bookseller around in Leuven who can pronounce the original title of Crime and Punishment quickly and correctly – and, on top of that, explain why the book has two Dutch titles (Schuld en boete and Misdaad en straf). Of course, what Slavonic Studies really has taught me is how to keep a clear head and think straight. A useful skill in any job, and it certainly comes in handy on a busy day of selling books.”

(Maartje submitted her testimonial in October 2016. Here you can read an entertaining interview with Maartje and another Slavist, Muriel Hulpiau, in Dutch.)

Niels Smeets, research and teaching fellow at the Faculty of Social Sciences at KU Leuven

Niels an alumnus of the master program in Slavic studies (campus Leuven) of 2011

nielssmWhile studying political sciences, a language curtain veiled the seemingly unexplainable Russian contemporary policies, hence my decision to study Russian in parallel.

The limited distance between students and professors, compared to Social Sciences, allowed for a natural learning environment with immediate feedback whilst practicing language skills. Immersing students in the historical, socio-economic, political and cultural specificity of the region prepared me to better grasp policies full of historical associations and cultural sensitivities. This area study approach convinced me to take up the full Slavic studies program, including Polish.

Being stimulated to spend at least one semester abroad, I gained the opportunity to study at the Saint-Petersburg State University. Taking the advice of Professor Waegemans to heart, admittedly overly orthodox, I stubbornly refused to speak a single word of English with fellow students. I might have missed some conversations with interesting English-speakers, yet I fine-tuned my language skills. The most challenging part, were the classes of Polish morphology, taught in Russian.

The consequences of this ‘Russification’ surfaced when Professor Van Heuckelom offered me the chance to study Polish in Wroclaw soon after returning from Saint-Petersburg. Initially, I made similar language mistakes as ethnic Russians, and therefore ended up in a group of Belarussian, Ukrainian and Czech speakers. We made a pact to exclusively use Polish and by the end of the summer program, we were fluent in Polish. This wouldn’t have been possible without the strong linguistic basis I brought with me from Leuven.

Hooked up with Slavic languages, I ran into Ukrainian as a logical ‘next step’. I started collecting Ukrainian grammars in Poland and Russia, since I couldn’t find a Ukrainian textbook in Dutch. It wasn’t until 2014, in the heat of the Ukraine crisis, when I decided to fill up the gap by writing a Ukrainian grammar for Dutch speakers (here you can download it for free). Again, I could count on the expertise of Slavic studies, as Professor Soldatjenkova took the time to voluntarily read my first draft and provide invaluable feedback.

As a research fellow at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Russian became my working language. As you might understand, I cannot imagine a better life decision than to study Slavic languages and cultures at KU Leuven. As the old Slavic saying goes: “‘Discover yourself. Start with the worldEastern Europe.'”

(Niels submitted his testimonial in December 2016)

Maia Van Langendonck, independent translator

Maia is an alumna of Slavonic Studies (campus Leuven) of 1997

maia“The first Russian words I learned as a budding philologist were glasnost and perestroika. From that day on, even through not very romantic news broadcasts etc., the language of Pushkin and Dostoevsky unerringly sang its way into my teenage heart (or should I say душа?). A short visit to Moscow and Leningrad when I was fifteen, my first trip abroad without my parents and very first airplane ride, sealed the deal: Russian was my thing. At KU Leuven I got to know it and all things Slavonic (not to mention my sweetest and funniest fellow student and life partner) up close, I added a dollop of Jewish Studies at Oxford and ended my studying spree delving into Gombrowicz, Tolstoy and PD James in Kraków. After that I spent a few years searching in the most unlikely places, from Kafkaesque ministries to electricity grid operators, until I was reunited with my first love: playing with languages. I translated and edited marketing and other business-related prose in a translation agency for ten years and recently started out as a freelancer, giving me the chance to make forays into literary translation and broaden my offer with translations from Polish and Russian, which brings me full circle!”

(Maia submitted her testimonial in November 2016)

Nele Sterkendries, sales consultant for the Polish market

Nele is an alumna of Slavonic and East European Studies (campus Leuven) of 2013

nele“Traveling has always been a passion of mine, and I am happy today to say that I was able to turn it eventually into my profession thanks to my studies of Slavonic Languages at KU Leuven. After obtaining my Master degree in 2013, I enrolled for one year in a post-master program of Management at KU Leuven, where I got a broader insight into corporations, economics, general management and marketing skills.

I was (and still am) very interested in the vibe of start-up companies at the time, and so I decided to move to Berlin to work as an online marketing specialist for an online bike and outdoor shop. I returned to Belgium in the spring of 2015 and worked then for a couple of months for an online marketing company in Brussels. Soon enough I decided for myself that I would like to do something with my ‘old’ passion, Slavonic languages, again, and I applied for a function as Business Development Assistant at a company specialized in accessories for light commercial vehicles. I became the sales consultant for the Polish market and travel now on a regular base to Poland, driving around over there throughout the whole country while visiting customers, organizing trade shows and various other marketing activities.

Studying Polish and Russian was definitely one of the best choices I made so far, I would definitely do it all over again if I would have to choose once more.”

(Nele submitted her testimonial in September 2016)

Pavle Trkulja, master student in European Studies at University of Amsterdam

Pavle was a student of the Bachelor program in Slavonic and East European Studies (campus Leuven) in 2012-16

pavlecarre“When people ask me how many languages I speak, I reply: “Serbo-Croatian, Dutch, English, Polish and Russian.” The next question usually comes down to: “Where did you learn Polish and Russian?” Well, for three years I studied Slavonic and Eastern European Studies at the KU Leuven in Belgium. The major focal points within the curriculum were these specific two languages. They have even given me a greater insight in both Serbo-Croatian as well as Dutch.

Aside from the languages, I attended courses such as ‘History of the Balkans’, ‘Polish History’ and ‘History of Russia’. In doing so, I have aspired to acquire comprehensive knowledge on a key region in Europe; its different cultures, history and multifaceted political development.

Due to the fact that our faculty is not a very large one, the interaction between students and staff is also very friendly. It would, for instance, never occur that a professor did not remember someone’s name and if we had any questions, they were more than eager to help.

I will never regret choosing Leuven as my alma mater, not just because of the aforementioned academic career, but also because of the great people I have met along the years.”

(Pavle submitted his testomial in September 2016)

Stefanie Bogaerts, independent translator and co-founder of the training foundation FreeLING

Stefanie is an alumna of Slavonic Studies (campus Leuven) of 1999

stefanieb“In 1995 I started my studies in Eastern European Languages and Cultures at KU Leuven. I had always loved languages and traveling, so studying Russian seemed an exciting opportunity to explore a new part of the world. But in the end, it was not Russian that stole my heart, it was Polish.

In 1999, after finishing my master degree, I left for Poznań with a scholarship of the Flemish government to study Public Relations at the Academy of Economics.  And in addition to my love for the language and culture, I also fell in love … with my future husband Radek. After another year of studies (multicultural business communication in Gent) and then a year of intensive searching I got a job as executive assistant at BDO Poland, a consulting and accounting firm. In the beginning I answered phone calls at the reception desk, but after two years I ended up organizing conferences and managing the company’s intranet.

At a certain point Radek and I had to choose: Warsaw or Eastern Poland, where my husband manages a family company. We chose Eastern Poland and I decided to start as a freelance translator. I had little experience, but happily, I fell in love again, this time with translating, and I have been in love with it for the last 12 years. This passion has also been the driving force for me and three colleagues to found Fundacja FreeLING, a non-profit organization that provides training for translators.”

(Stefanie submitted her testimonial in October 2016)

Тrees Vandamme, intern at the European Union Delegation to the United Nations in New York City

Trees is an alumna of Slavonic and East European Studies (campus Leuven) of 2015

treesineu“After my exchange year in the Russian city Voronezh, I went back to Leuven to complete my master’s degree in September 2014. At that time, I had no idea yet what my last academic year in Leuven was going to look like. I knew that a first job experience would ‘pimp’ my CV, though, and I was fascinated by the world of journalism.

I decided to spend my first semester with looking for an interesting internship opportunity while gathering literature sources for my thesis. It took me dozens of emails and a handful of interviews to find the perfect match: a traineeship at the foreign news redaction of the VRT. In the good hands of journalists like Jan Balliauw and Siel Van der Donckt, I was able to further develop my Russian language skills through translating interviews and reporting on Russian media – in the midst of the Ukraine crisis! Thanks to this ‘field of research’, I was selected for a three month internship at the European Union Delegation of the United Nations in New York City afterwards.

Sitting in the Security Council next to people like Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin, you realize that enrolling for Slavic Studies, anno 2010, was a good and unique choice.”

(Trees submitted her testimonial in September 2016)

Vincent Vandeput, translator for the Council of the European Union

Vincent is an alumnus of Slavonic Studies (campus Leuven) of 2004

vinnicarre“When I chose to study East European languages and cultures, I did not have a particular future profession in mind. I just thought it would be nice to learn an uncommon language like Russian – my brother had done it before, and it sounded cool. One great asset of learning languages, is that it opens up new worlds. Taal is toegang (I’ll leave that phrase in Dutch in order not to lose any effect in translation – which actually proves a point). Today, I still feel privileged to be able to read a story in Cyrillic.

After graduating I did all kinds of jobs. Only a few of them had a connection with Slavonic studies. Currently I’m working as a translator for the Council of the European Union. I translate from English into Dutch. People sometimes say it’s a pity I don’t use my Russian, but I don’t see it that way. I enjoyed my studies (and especially my stay in Saint Petersburg with two brothers in arms), and I’m grateful for my job. That’s not too bad, is it? Also, I’m looking forward to take my son on a trip to Eastern Europe when he’s older.”

(Vincent submitted his testimonial in September 2016)