Suriname : Jo-Ann Monsels

VUB Alumna, Cliff jumper by nature

How on earth does a girl from Paramaribo choose for a degree in sociology in grey, rainy and dull Brussels? Yet it is what happened to Jo-Ann, who finished her degree in sociology at our university in 2016 and is currently working as a lecturer and consultant back in her hometown, Paramaribo, Suriname. Her story reads like a novel. Not always a happy one, but she is the first to draw a smile on everyone’s face when she starts telling it.

‘My first day in Brussels, I walked through the city without my shoes’. I had dropped them, slightly confused, together with my luggage in a car that was supposed to bring everything to the hostel where we stayed. The car left without me, so I had no other option than to walk barefoot to the hostel’. From the first day in Brussels my down to earth nature was put to an European test.

Dreams and reality

It is something that will remain intact for the remainder of the conversation. Lucidity and casualness in handling the things. ‘Of course, I had and I still have my dreams. When I was a little girl, I wanted to become a doctor. My teachers back in Paramaribo supported me, but apart from the money issue, there were other more pragmatic reasons, which had to do with limiting your possibilities from the start. It is what it is. I could spend a lifetime regretting that I did not enter the medical profession, or I can move on. I choose to do the latter.’ 

‘Of course, there is the question of language that plays and the fact that we had family in the region. But apart from that, I never really regretted the choice for VUB as a university to get my master’s degree. I am a firm believer in taking responsibility in your own hands. You climb the cliff, and then you jump, or it remains a useless exercise. Stepping out of your comfort zone is a part of my life choices. Don’t settle for the status quo, take the road less travelled, because you never know what will happen, not in the least to yourself, as a person.’ 

Critical thinking

‘The much acclaimed and discussed critical attitude at VUB, is a reality to me. And it helps you, to figure out what you want to do in life, how you handle situations.’ 

The sober, almost matter-of-factly observations are countered with humor and deeper insights. ‘Of course we are victims of racism, in a city like Brussels. It’s difficult to rent apartments, by the nature of your skin colour! And I can count myself lucky, because of my name, and my command of the languages, but not speaking French in Brussels proved to be a real handicap.  You deal with it, you get angry and frustrated, and the only thing that remains is your resolve to make the world a slightly better place. I do that in my work, through my engagement in society and by constantly questioning situations, and trying to improve them.’

Social responsibility

‘There’s a lot of things we tend to take for granted. Take for instance the feeling of freedom, of doing more or less what you want, (within the legal framework) in a country like Belgium. I was in Belgium when the terrorist attacks happened in Brussels. Then those things and the limitations that are imposed upon you by society at large are all of a sudden very tangible.

I honestly don’t know what was harder: Losing my student job due to company closings and the insecurities of a terrorist attack or trying to find a new student job in a society with insecurities and instabilities due to a terrorist attack. Challenging situations make you think about your position in life.’

That’s also what I want to achieve by my participation in the alumni initiatives of the VUB. I see this as an opportunity to meet other people, not only in Suriname, but all over the world. And that’s only the start. 

VUB Alumni 

I  sincerely think that we have a responsibility in this world.  To share our experiences, to grow our knowledge and develop initiatives and ideas to develop sustainable growth. We didn’t go to university just to earn more money (and trust me, I’m serious about earning money and have a decent life!), but also to put our whole personality and what we know in the balance. That is a recurring theme in my blog, that I gladly share with all of you (  I hope my writings can inspire you to take a good look at this world we all live in…and make the BEST of it.

So, reach out, contact me, and let’s connect, we’ll only benefit from all this. (