Eating with Eccentric Econometricians - Rhianne: Phalaborwa Calling! December 23rd, 2017

In this edition of Eating with Eccentric Econometricians, Laura and her PerVectum teammates Gagah and Fred were invited to the cozy Maastricht home of fellow student Rhianne van Heese, a friendly twenty-three year old Dutch girl from Zeeland in her second year of the bachelor’s programme. This evening, Rhianne had the PerVectum team over for dinner to share some stories about her adventures ranging from the wilderness of South Africa to the quaint Maastricht, wherein she learned a lot about life’s most important matters, such as love, freedom, and econometrics.  

We arrived shortly before dinner at Rhianne’s home, a brick house nestled among other family and student residencies close to the Belgian border – so far, nothing unusual for a Maastricht student house. We were greeted by our host and a teasing smell of meat on a grill. Upon entering, it was clear that her home had what many student flats lacked, such as furniture, and an overall aura of feeling at home among mature adults. From the framed photos on the walls, shelves full of (non-course-related) books, and other memorabilia from different corners of the world, we could already sense that our hosts felt at home around the world before our conversation even began. In the kitchen, we were introduced to Rhianne’s husband Eugene, a twenty-seven year old South African gentleman who was preparing our burgers. Rhianne joked that when it comes to grilling, we should leave it to the South African, yet she herself had worked at the McDonald’s at the Vrijthof (maybe some of you have even seen her there). So both our hosts knew what they were talking about, and we went straight ahead into hearing their story.

Rhianne’s father is a chemical engineer and worked on projects in different countries throughout his career. While growing up, Rhianne’s family had moved around between Italy, Germany,  the Netherlands, Belgium, and Spain, picking up on the languages along the way. She attended high school in Madrid, and when she and her two brothers, one now at Hogeschool Zuyd and one at University College Maastricht, that they all wanted to study in Maastricht, they found the house to share. Rhianne first completed a year at Hogeschool Zuyd in International Business to obtain her Propedeuse, and began her studies in Econometrics & Operations Research in the fall of 2016.

When most of us decided where and what to study, this is oftentimes the first big decision we make in our young adult lives, but not in Rhianne’s case. Before starting her studies in Maastricht, Rhianne’s parents decided that they wanted to buy property in South Africa, and found what they were looking for in Phalaborwa, a countryside town in the north east of the country, east of the Kruger National Park and the border to Mozambique. Rhianne’s mother became good friends with her real estate agent, whose son Eugene showed Rhianne’s family around their picturesque hometown. The two would eventually spend some quality time on their own, and fell in love. The couple got married there in South Africa, where Rhianne decided to stay with her new family for a year and postponed her studies.

When we asked Rhianne what her favourite place was so far, she did not hesitated to tell us more about South Africa. If there’s one word that describes the people and culture, the two tell us: it’s very chilled, which we would agree with after having met Eugene. Rhianne and Eugene got to know each other better by travelling together, road tripping throughout the country and also later throughout Europe. Yet back home in Phalaborwa is where they feel best. Their house is at a game reserve far from the city life, where the majority of their neighbours are subjects of the animal kingdom. Certain amenities such as a store or hospital are spread many kilometres away, so driving a car is necessary. On their way around, it would not be unusual to come across lions or elephants – sometimes even popping by their backyard to say hello. The nosiest neighbours seem to be the monkeys, who have a knack of finding their ways indoors together with the spiders, scorpions, or snakes you may find hanging out in your shoes. Having grown up around them, Eugene knows exactly which spots are best to see animals on a safari and also how to behave accordingly. Although Rhianne had to get used to them, he remains calm, and would only back away if he can see that the animal is clearly aggressive.

So coming from such a lifestyle in touch with nature and the outdoors, what is life like now for Rhianne back in the Netherlands, considering that Eugene is still based all the way back in South Africa? The two have gotten used to being spread out over the world, as Eugene had to travel to Saudi Arabia frequently while they still lived in Phalaborwa, and now he is currently in Maastricht for only a visit due to visa restrictions. When she came to Maastricht, the courses started so soon after their wedding, that they had to postpone their honeymoon, which they spent in Paris. Rhianne is enjoying the studies and will be going to Taiwan on her exchange, where she and Eugene may add an Asian chapter to their life together.

On behalf of the PerVectum team, I would like to thank Rhianne and Eugene for their delicious cooking, great company, and wish them all the best in their studies and careers, as well as more travelling to come! If you may come across Rhianne at the SBE, do take a minute to hear one of her many African anecdotes that will get you rushing to the next airport, especially now in winter.