Every day, twice a day, we walk through the doors of one of the brightest rooms provided to us and within minutes, we satisfy our hunger. In between food, laughter and conversation, we recuperate on quality time with friends. The reality of it however, is that this fast pace lifestyle has us constantly on the go. So we grab our trays, eat, and ultimately, proceed to our next commitment or responsibility. What ends up happening is that in this place where we spend a considerable amount of time, a place that reenergizes us – not only physically – we often forget to take a breath. We forget to look around us, and to recognize the meticulous “behind the scenes” work that happens daily.
Today, it’s quiet. I’m sitting here long before any shadow lurks around to queue for lunch. We agree to chat over a large, rectangular table and as we take a seat, he seems keen to be interviewed. In addition, courtesy of the Polish-Ukrainian national week, balloons fill up the canteen, making it a particularly colorful setting to talk in.
“How did you get here?”
“Ah, it’s a story that goes way back! I graduated from Oostende and heard about a possible opportunity at the College from a friend of a friend.” Hans Bastiaenssens, Chef of the canteen at the College of Europe (Bruges campus) tells me it was a very spontaneous choice he made. He started from an entry-level position and over the past 26 years built his way to where he is today.
I think about the incredible potential that can come from an opportunity grasped with ease. The naturalness needed to take it as it comes, without fear of what the results may be. It often seems that things work out in your favor when you remain serene about the future.
“What does it feel like to work here?”
“Ah, it’s something special!” He is so genuine in answering it provokes a smile on my end. “When you work with food, you can’t possible find another environment like the College. Every year the place fills up with different students, nationalities, and new encounters. It’s amazing! You always end up making friends – knowing people around the world, from Brazil to South Africa. With some, I’ve really gotten a chance to build a connection. I keep in touch with the Minister of Tourism from Canada, for instance. Every summer he comes by, and when he does, we see each other!”
We share the same feeling over the uniqueness and the warmth of a place like the College. It feels like no matter what angle you experience it from, it’s still a special time of your life.
As he gets up to return to his office, he exchanges his seat with Maxime Gnimassou. Maxime tells me that previous to his work here, he had a background in administration. After a stage in the field, he learned about a vacancy at the College. He applied, got hired, and began working diligently. Within five years that he was settled in, the Food and Beverage post opened. He took the chance full-heartedly!
He tells me he is originally from Burkina Faso. And with that, it doesn’t take long for the two of us to get lost in a beautiful conversation about Africa’s charm and resilience (being born and partially raised in the Continent, it’s a part of the world I hold close to my heart). Certainly we agree that when a piece of home is so far away, there’s a sense of nostalgia that comes with the memory. It’s also true however, that a part of his home is in Belgium, a place he initially came to for work. He came with hopes, dreams, and talents. He was a passionate soccer player, he confines. Although life’s unexpected turns guided him towards another type of team activity…
“What’s it like to work here for you?”
“J’adore – it’s what makes me live!”
He shares that, similarly to Hans, the most important part is the multicultural aspect. “The contact with the students and the very unique experience you get from all of this. It’s enriching – every day, every month you interact and you learn about the people around you. My work is very varied, and I am deeply appreciative of that.”
This man’s esprit is moving. He is lively and positive in a way you don’t often come across. Hans and him alike show an enthusiasm and an appreciation for their job, and the environment they work in, which leave me hoping for the same. Listening to them talk about it with such passion and delight after many years hard at work makes me cross my fingers: may we all find a path in our lives that leaves us feeling as excited and motivated.