GoAbroad Interview

Sophie Kells - Communications Officer 

Sophie Kells - Communications Officer

Sophie is a savvy, social media enthusiast from down under that followed her husband to the Netherlands looking for adventure. Starting her career with Maastricht University in 2015, she enjoys putting in her two cents to continue to improve both international and local student experiences.

You are originally from Australia. How were you introduced to the job opportunity at Maastricht University?

I came to Maastricht with a background in education and entrepreneurship. I had been a high school teacher for six years, whilst running an online business in design. When I saw the job as communications officer at the Center for European Studies (CES), I knew it combined all the skills I had been using within education and marketing my own business. They were looking for someone with a love of education and travel, and someone who is social media savvy and up for writing alumni policy. Check, check, check, and check!

Students holding stroopwafels
CES students celebrating their love of stroopwafels

What inspired you to pick up your life and move abroad?

Many expats have a similar story; why did you move here? For love, of course. My boyfriend in Australia became my fiance in Amsterdam and my husband in Maastricht. We moved over to the Netherlands looking for adventure and following his career path.

What does a typical day of work look like for you?

As communications officer, I look after our social media channels, so in the morning I like to engage with our networks and make sure we have some tips and tricks to share with our students and followers. I also catch up with ambassadors, who are past students of ours who are now representing CES abroad.

Organisation of photo shoots, print media, digital media and merchandise, as well as promotions or study abroad fairs, are always something that are in the works for me throughout the year. I also occasionally get to join students on their study trips to Berlin or Amsterdam, which is a lot of fun and a nice way to really get to know our students. I have also started guest lecturing in marketing skills for the 21st century, so I guess a “typical” day doesn’t come up much in my job.

Woman riding a bike in Maastricht, Netherlands
Typical daily life in Maastricht

You are highly involved in the university’s social media marketing. What characteristics of Maastricht University do you find are most attractive to potential students?

The Central European location is definite plus! The quaint, cobblestone streets of Maastricht and typical Dutch architecture are so photogenic and enticing, and students can travel to so many different countries over a long weekend. 

CES also organises niche courses which are not often on offer at other universities, alongside their open enrollment options. Maastricht University also employs Problem Based Learning (PBL), which means students get smaller class sizes and more one-on-one time with professors.

What is the more frequently asked question you receive and what is your answer?

Students often enquire about courses choices. They want to know if they can enrol in all faculties of Maastricht University and they want to know which courses are direct enrollment and if their credits will work with their home university. Our answer is yes, you can enrol in all faculties and create your own curriculum to match your major back home.

Most of our courses are direct enrolment, which means they will be studying with Dutch and international students; however, we also run CES courses, which are only open to our study abroad students. Our course advisors Skype and follow up with each student to make sure they are in courses which will give them the credit they need from their study abroad experience.

The School of Business and Economics in Maastricht, Netherlands
The School of Business and Economics in Maastricht is highly renowned as it is international accredited in AACSB, EQUIS, and AMBA, known as the "triple crown."

Why is Maastricht a great place for international students to experience the Dutch way of life?

Maastricht is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands, so it has incredible European architecture to admire. Everyone rides bikes, so we definitely recommend that students get a bike and get amongst the locals on their daily commute to and from classes. CES also organises study tours and Dutch weekends for students to experience all the things we love about the Netherlands, like Delft tiles, canals, cheese, and clogs!

Maastricht is small enough to feel at home in your surroundings, but big enough to have plenty of exploring to do whilst you’re here. I know I settled in Maastricht much quicker than I did in Amsterdam and I still haven’t tried all of the restaurants I want to!

How does the university support students before, during, and after their courses?

CES has a great relationship with our partner universities, so we are always in contact with them about pre-departure meetings and ensure they are well resourced with all the information and materials students need before arriving in Maastricht.

Students are picked up from the airport by CES staff and given a practical city tour to show them where they can go for groceries, home goods, to post packages, and where their classes will be. CES staff are also available 24/7 to all of our students, so that even on the other side of the world, they always have someone they can call if they need to. We have a farewell for each group of students, which always comes up so quickly! Then we arrange a shuttle to the airport for their flights home.

I run the ambassadors programme, so I am still in constant contact with those students after they return back home via Facebook and email. Plus, there is always study abroad fair season when we get to catch up with our alumni all around America.

Market square in Maastricht, Netherlands
Market square in Maastricht City

What makes Maastricht different from other universities in the Netherlands?

Maastricht uses PBL (as I’ve mentioned) and also has a city campus, which means our faculties are spread throughout the city and housed in historic buildings. Maastricht is the most international university in the Netherlands, so you will meet students from a range of different countries in all of your classes here.

By the time our study abroad students leave, they should have made enough friends that they have free accommodation all over the globe.

Maastricht University is considered one of the best young universities in the world and constantly performs well in the Times Higher Education World Rankings. UM has been awarded two prestigious quality marks from the Accreditation Organisation of the Netherlands and Flanders (NVAO): the Institutional Quality Assurance Assessment and the Distinctive Quality Feature for Internationalisation.

In 2015, Maastricht University's master's programme in international business was ranked in the top 25 of the best business programmes in the world, according to the Master in Management Programmes published by the Financial Times. In terms of value for money, Maastricht ranked fourth.

Dutch students talking in Maastricht, Netherlands
The Dutch architecture and way of life makes studying abroad in the Netherlands a very unique experience.

Why do you enjoy working for Maastricht University?

I enjoy the variety in my work; very few days are the same and I am able to bring creativity and a range of skills to this position. I love still being involved in teaching and working with students, and I appreciate that I have independence in my role to come up with initiatives that I think will benefit the company.

What is your best piece of advice for incoming students?

Pack half the clothes you think you need! Take up opportunities that arise, it will cost you more money to come back and do it later. Instagram ever-y-thing. Make videos if you can. Become a part of the local community, not just the travel community.