Our Alumni: Mathijs '05
Meet Mathijs '05, who recently came back to ASH to speak to our Grade 11 students about his journey after ASH. His reflection helped give our students valuable insights and inspiration for how they can envision their own future.
What is your background at ASH?
I was at ASH for the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade in elementary school and then again for the last two years of high school, including graduation. In between I was at various schools in various countries but in the end I transferred from the American International School of Vienna where I had spent more years studying and to be honest, I wasn't really happy to move in my final high school years. Back then, I would have called myself the typical alternative kid - punk hair, leather jacket, and kind of kept to myself when I first came to ASH. Then I got into the arts department and on the track team and realized, hey this is a cool place, I really like some of these people and this school offers massive potential to someone like me.
What is one of the most valuable things that you took from your time at ASH?
Definitely my adaptability. I disliked moving around as a kid but it wasn’t until later in life that I realized that having done so has resulted in me being able to adapt to different situations really fast, whether it’s something small at work or big like moving countries. ASH has played a big role in that as well; I grew up with different cultures, not only in the sense of various nationalities but also social cultures and personality traits that come with it, and that has been such an advantage in life. Both professionally and personally the 19 years since graduation would have looked very different if I didn’t develop that sense of adaptability.
How did ASH help shape your path in life?
ASH is a type of school that has so many possibilities and opportunities and encourages you to discover your own skills, interests, strengths and weaknesses. Whether it’s my love for music, recent history, the classic must-reads or sports, ASH helped me develop and explore them all. Even at the times that I didn’t notice that I was exploring them.
Are there any standout moments or people from your time at ASH?
Looking back I think it would be the teachers that saw the potential in me, even when I didn't see it in myself. Teachers who stayed interested and invested in me during my years at ASH and even afterwards keeping in touch or running into each other socially. The ones who would ask “hey, how are you really doing?” -the teachers who saw and treated me as more than just a student, but as an independent person. That is something that was really special about ASH.
What are you doing today?
I was really happy to come back to ASH this year and speak to the Grade 11 students about study, life and work experiences. I wanted to show to them that it's ok not to have your entire life mapped out after graduation, as I certainly didn't. I wanted to tell them what I had wished to hear when I was in their position.
After graduation I wasn't sure what to do and took a gap year to figure out what I wanted in life. That year I tried lots of things and my path that resulted from it was far from straightforward. I worked in different parts of hospitality, from catering to selling cars at car shows and even ended up working for state banquets for the royal family with (now) King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima. This led me to my first study in hotel management in Maastricht. I quickly realized that it wasn't exactly what I was looking for, rather it was the theme of service that attracted me. I became a full-time firefighter in The Hague and volunteered in Wassenaar for the next 8 years. I really loved the fast-paced nature, sense of duty and feeling of helping people I got from that job. I also went back to university and got my degree in Safety and Security Sciences at the same time.
However, I still felt that there were things in my pathway to explore, so I decided to make another change and moved to Hamburg, Germany. I applied for a job at a top Fortune 500 engineering company and became an advisor for oil and gas projects in the Baltic Sea. Within two years I was promoted a few times and became operations manager at that company. It was a big change going from the fire department to the offshore to being at a desk job in a suit and tie, but one that really shot my career to a new high. In that role, I managed some prominent projects and of course learned a lot. It was a job that many people were impressed with, which was weird because I felt myself being less fulfilled. I realized I was missing the greater goal of that work. I felt that I wasn't driven by big titles or working at impressive companies, but I wanted to go back to the core of helping people and a focus on duty and service. That is when I made my final change and found the job that I work in today - I am currently responsible for a UN disaster search and rescue team USAR.NL. We are a rapid response team that fly out to anywhere in the world within 12 hours after an earthquake, explosion, flood or other disaster happens and where people are trapped. It is a job that mixes planning and preparation, organizing people and supplies, and serving people who are in their moment of need. It combines all of the skills that I have accumulated over the years.
I summarized to the Grade 11 students what I learned in my journey of these past decades years since ASH. I felt success wasn’t measurable by my job title, salary, the number of people I rescued or experiences on my resumé: the most important thing is that you have to do what you love, and love what you do, and I'm happy (and lucky) right now to be in that place myself.


ASH is proud to celebrate the achievements of our alumni, where we are committed to build a better world as we become better human beings.