Day 196 - Femke

Day 196 - Femke (1st person I approached)
July 15, 2014 - Femke was sitting on a bench along the seawall, reading a book. I had met a friend for coffee in the Olympic Village, and we went for a walk. I’m not sure why, but I had noticed Femke sitting there as my friend and I walked past. About 30 minutes after saying good bye to my friend, I walked past that same bench again and Femke was still sitting there, reading. It was another hot day and I liked that she was sitting in a shaded area. I approached her and asked if we could chat. She wanted to know a bit more about what I was doing, and what I'd be asking about before agreeing. Once she had seen the Facebook page, she agreed to chat.


Femke was born in Nijmegen, in south western Holland, near the border with Germany. She tells me her name is a popular one, and that there are many girls named 'Femke' in Holland.

“I have one brother, he is two years older than me. We fought like most kids do. He’s back in Holland. I’d say we get along well, we’re civil with each other now,” she says. When she was about two years old, her family relocated to Eindhoven, which is further south and close to the border with Belgium.

“I grew up there. I went to school, because I had to. I wasn’t really that keen on school, but I made it through. I’d say I was an average student. I did okay. I had a lot of friends.” When Femke was about seven years old, her mother started her in horse riding lessons.

“That started a passion for animals,” said Femke. After completing high school, Femke went to what is called ‘hogescholen’ or HBO, a vocational university focussed on applied sciences.

“The education system in the Netherlands is split into many different paths and the school I went to would be comparable to just below university level here in Canada. I studied animal behaviour. I had an interest in monkeys, well all animals really, but I wanted to do research maybe in a zoo, or a lab for animal welfare,” she said.

“It was a four year program and in my third year, I knew that it wasn’t what I wanted to do. I had worked for three years towards this. I decided to finish the program and get my degree, regardless,” said Femke. 


A classmate from HBO was doing some research work, examining the central nervous system, and offered Femke a job.

“I thought it would be interesting work. They were looking at central nervous systems in general, not exclusively animal or human. It certainly wasn’t work that I had thought about doing,” she said.

“I like to challenge myself and after a while I decided that I wanted to stay in this field and get my PhD. So I went to university, back near Nijmegen, where I was born, and in five years, I became a Doctor of Neuroscience.” Most doctorate programs in the Netherlands can be completed in four years, factoring in the earlier four years in HBO. Femke took an extension that allowed her to take an extra year to get her doctorate degree.


In 2006, the same classmate that had offered Femke a job in her lab, told Femke about an opportunity in Canada.

“She had married a Canadian man and had moved to Toronto. I had mentioned that I wanted to get into a research position and she connected me with someone she knew here in Vancouver. I came over for a vacation and met with the PI (Primary Investigator, a lead scientist). We really clicked and I liked Vancouver. The weather was really nice and so I accepted the position, and relocated to Vancouver. I initially came here with the intention to stay for two years. That was seven and half years ago!” Femke is doing research in spinal cord injuries.

“I’m conducting research into the effects of specialized diets and nutrition.  Looking at the improvement of mobility because of nutritional adjustments. It will take many years before we can determine if it is successful. Even being able to have an improvement in how someone might be able to feed themselves instead of not being able to use their hand at all, is huge. It’s not about having someone be able to walk again.”


Femke told me she enjoys how multicultural Vancouver is.

"I like that everyone seems to be able to live together, in harmony. Certainly with more ease than it is in Holland and many parts of Europe. I find people here to be very friendly as well,” she said smiling.

“And it rains a lot in Holland too, so I’m okay with that.” Femke had moved here in 2007 with her then boyfriend.

“We broke up about five years ago. I’ve spent some time getting to know who I am and finding out what I like. We had been together for fifteen years, so it took some adjusting to, and I wanted to spend some time just being okay by myself. But I’m back on the market, if that’s what you say.  I’m open to dating, that’s all. Nothing too serious. Dating is okay.” #notastranger