I come from a village in the coal region of Belgium, just below Eindhoven. That was not exactly an area where things were going well. The mines were closing, other companies closed. There was a lot of unemployment. So, when I was 11 years old, I started to realize that I wanted to leave. I saw no future prospects there.
There was no internet yet, so I locked myself up in the local library to read books about world cultures. For some reason, China stuck with me. I wanted to do something with that! During secondary school I already taught myself Chinese characters. Just for fun! Later I enrolled in Chinese studies at the University of Leuven. Later, after a year in Beijing, there was still no job for me. I had the knowledge, but not the right network.
I resorted to teaching Chinese language classes. One of my students was a professor at Maastricht University. At one point he offered me a track for a PhD. This was the moment that I found my passion and my calling. I obtained my PhD on intellectual property in China in the context of international trade.
I now work for Leiden University, but also do jobs for governments, the European Union and sometimes companies. I am also involved in several diplomatic processes in which the Chinese government is also represented. My core task is to provide and translate specialized knowledge. In some international negotiations, for example, I sit at the table to explain to one party what the other one means. Few people in Europe know something about Chinese digital policy and that's where I can help.
I am skeptical about the future. China has allowed us to live beyond our standards for years because we could get everything cheaply. That has now ended. Our standard of living will have to go down. That's not bad, but it might be difficult. We will have to buy fewer things that are of better quality.
I got divorced several years ago. Ever since then I sometimes think that we should really have two lives. First a draft and then the real one. I learned a lot from that divorce, also in relation to my work. Many negotiations are not about money or trade at all, but about emotions. This is the case with countries, but also between people.