The story of Elena's multicultural curiosity is a story of Brechje's sustainable technology

Elena Tsigki studied literature. She enjoys exploring different cultures. Through books, but mostly via her own experiences. As the project leader for the CuriousU summer school, she brings many international students to Enschede. Elena would like CuriousU to be not only multicultural but also as green as possible. An excellent reason to talk to Brechje Maréchal, the UT’s Environment & Sustainability policy officer. ‘My drive is my limit. Sometimes, it is a pity that not everything fits into a working week.’

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Friday 18 December 2020

Brechje Maréchal is the UT’s Environment & Sustainability policy officer. But she is never afraid to stray beyond the boundaries of her role at Campus & Facility Management to highlight sustainability wherever possible. Today, Elena Tsigki, project leader for CuriousU, meets with Brechje, to talk about living and working abroad, making sustainability visible, and motivating people to join in. ‘Today, students have so much energy to work on sustainability. You need that because sustainability requires a lot of perseverance and patience.’

International encounter on campus

Elena: ‘Hi Brechje. Do you mind if we speak English?’

Brechje: ‘Not at all. I speak English at home with my husband, who is from the UK, and I have always worked in international environments.’

Elena: ‘Yes, I looked you up on LinkedIn. You’ve had a very international career so far.’

Brechje: ‘That’s right. It started with an internship in Colombia. Then, we moved to the United States, the United Kingdom, Italy and the Philippines. When my husband became a professor at the UT, I came back to the Netherlands. A coincidence, really. You’re not from The Netherlands, are you?’

Elena: ‘No, I’m from Cyprus. I came to the Netherlands to do my Master’s in Literary Studies. After graduation, I’ve lived and worked in different Dutch cities. I’ve been at the UT as the Project Leader of CuriousU for the last one and a half years. Funnily, I’ve only worked here in the Netherlands, never in Cyprus.’

Brechje: ‘You’re right, that is funny. For me, it was the other way around. I kind of experienced a reverse culture shock. In my first job back in the Netherlands, people expected me to know all sorts of things. But there were occasions when I just didn’t. And although I obviously speak good Dutch, I sometimes struggled to find words. A good thing for my parents: my mother always told me I spoke too fast.’

“When I came back to the Netherlands, I experienced a reverse
culture shock.”

Making sustainability visible

Elena: ‘Haha… I’m glad I get to work in English. It makes me feel like I belong at the UT, with its many different cultures. I’m proud to be part of it, like most people here are proud of what they do. What are you proud of?’

Brechje: ‘I take pride in making green choices on campus more visible. Like in the virtual sustainability walk of the campus. But I am most proud of the fact that I managed to get the policy document for sustainability approved. Writing policy documents sometimes takes forever. Not this one: two years after I started at UT the policy got through. Of course, the document itself doesn’t change much, but we can now take the next steps. Still, we need to see things in perspective: what can we do now? What is for the long term? And what is most important? My drive is my limit, but I do need to focus: there is so much to do.’

Elena: ‘Where did your drive to work on sustainability come from?’

Brechje: ‘It was a very specific moment in high school. I was about sixteen years old. Some popular kids were joking about doing something that was bad for the environment, and my Dutch teacher joined in and laughed with them. I was like: come on, you can’t do that, you should set an example! So I said something. Not many people heard it, but then the teacher asked me to repeat it. The whole class looked at me. And I said it again. Then I knew: I feel very strongly about this.’

“I remember the moment in high school when I realised that I care deeply
about the environment.”

Elena: ‘And why did you choose to come to the UT?

Brechje: ‘That’s a different story. In fact, someone in my running group sent me the vacancy. Before that, I hadn’t considered the UT as an option. I had no idea that this job existed at the UT. As I said, we moved around quite a bit. So workwise, I’d had to adapt to the circumstances. That wasn’t always easy, but I am grateful for all my experiences. I believe that we should see where life takes us, soak up everything it has to offer and take that with us for our future.’

Co-creating green initiatives

Elena: ‘I see. And it has all come together now.’

Brechje: ‘Yes, I think this is the perfect job for me. I can pick from very different experiences. I’ve been a researcher. I’ve done community development, so I know how to get colleagues and students involved. Getting things done in sustainability is all about support. You need to motivate people to get projects started and keep them going.’

Elena: ‘You also work with students, you say. How so?’

Brechje: ‘Yes, do you know the Green Hub?’

Elena: ‘Yes.’

Brechje: ‘It originated from an honours course. The best project in the course was going to be implemented at the UT. Students interviewed me and took the idea for a Green Hub to the next level. Today, it is a student-led organisation, focused on sustainability and raising awareness through initiatives on education, research and operations.’

Elena: ‘Nice. A good example of challenge-based learning. And importantly, partly because of this, sustainability has found its way into Shaping 2030, right?’

Brechje: ‘That’s right. I did help the students with all the formal decision-making processes, but the fact that it was student-initiated convinced the management. The time was right for this initiative. These students have so much energy to work on sustainability and time. You need that because sustainability requires a lot of perseverance and patience.’

“The fact that the Green Hub was a student initiative made a
big impression.”

Keeping in touch

Elena: ‘Yes, you’re right. Well, you certainly seem to have a lot of both. If I have any questions on sustainability, I now know where to find you!’

Brechje: ‘Or the Green Hub! They will know where to direct you. I’ll put you in touch with them.’

Elena: ‘That would be great, thank you.’

Brechje: ‘You’re very welcome. And it was very nice to meet you. It’s so important to make time to meet new people and make connections.’

ELENA TSIGKI (1988)

studied literature at the Universities of Cyprus and Amsterdam. She then worked as a project leader for various NGOs. At University College Groningen, she was secretary of the faculty board and coordinator of the Shelter City Groningen project. In the spring of 2019, she came to the UT, where she is currently project leader for CuriousU and the Autumn Challenge programme. She is also part of the ECIU University cluster.

Brechje Maréchal MSc (1975)

is the UT’s Environment & Sustainability policy officer. After working in Italy, the Philippines and at Twente Milieu in Enschede, she came to the UT in 2018. She works on sustainability in operational management, where she puts all her experience into practice. From her background in environmental science to her work in community development and from her teaching experience to her research in sustainable agriculture and soil conservation.