whatsapp image 2022 05 17 at 9.12.40 pm


In this next edition of our 'Where are they now?' alumni series, we're excited to introduce you to alumnus, Sean Hofland (class of 2011). In the 11 years he left ISH, he has moved to Switzerland, received his Bachelor and Master’s degree and very recently defended his PhD titled ‘New Approaches to Modelling Individual Decision Under Uncertaintyat the University of Zurich’s department of Banking and Finance. In this article we find out a little more about his life post-ISH and what he is up to these days.


Tell us a bit about yourself: where are you from, where did you go to get your degree after you left ISH?

I grew up in the small town of Vreeland. I graduated from the ISH in 2011 and decided to attempt to study in Zurich, Switzerland for multiple reasons. I was impressed by the country's nature, wanted to become a ski instructor and was intrigued to learn German. Moreover, I was not very keen on participating in Dutch student life, which, to me seemed to be primarily about getting drunk. I was attracted by the serious, peaceful Swiss way of life.

Switzerland sounds beautiful! What did you study there? Was it is in English?

The first time I thought about studying in Switzerland was when I overlooked the Vierwaldstättersee south of Luzern. I studied Economics, which was mainly in German in the Bacherlor's. Because I had learned English on-the-go at the ISH I was confident that I could learn German this way at university. It was not easy! Luckily, all first-year exams were multiple-choice based questions and not essay-based tests. Moreover, Mr. Odegard, who had taught my higher-level mathematics class at the ISH, had prepared me very well for the level of mathematics at the university!

The first three weeks in Switzerland were the toughest I have ever experienced, because I found myself in a place where I knew absolutely no one. I have a strong bond with my family, so it was not easy to not leave them. I told myself that if I could pull this through, I could face any situation that I would face in life, motivating me to go on. I failed quite some exams the first year, but managed to succeed at the retakes a year later. Eventually I understood how to study effectively and finished my Bachelor's in the planned three years.

whatsapp image 2022 05 17 at 9.12.40 pm


Very well done on mastering an additional language so quickly! How is your German now that you have spent quite some time in Switzerland?

Someone once joked: "you speak three languages, but none of them perfectly". Many people I speak to here are impressed by my German. A lot of credit goes to my former ISH German teacher Mrs. Nelissen! Without her lessons, I would never have been able to survive the first year in Switzerland.

Did you become a Ski Instructor in the end?

Yes, during the first October break I did a ten day course to obtain my licence on an Austrian Glacier. Five hours after my last exam in the first semester I arrived in Lech am Arlberg, and started as a ski instructor the next day. In the end, I was a ski instructor for four seasons during university winter breaks.

Was a Masters and PhD always your plan?

When applying for money at the DUO, I instantly applied for a 5 year loan programme, because I already had the idea that I might be doing a Master's Degree after the Bachelor’s. At the end of the Bachelor's I was confident that this would be the best moment in my life to do a Master's, as I was adapted to university life. I was afraid that if I were to have a break from university, it would not be as easy to slip back into "study-mode" later.

At the end of my Master's, I reflected that I had studied many different fields within Economics, but that I had not acquired any particular skills that would make me stand out. In particular, I wanted to learn programming languages that would allow me to obtain insights from big amounts of data. I therefore asked Prof. Dr. Helga Fehr, who had guided my Master’s Thesis, whether I could do my PhD with her. She needed an assistant, which sealed the deal. Now, almost six years later, I have managed to finish the PhD. It was a long journey but very rewarding. Many skills that one learns at ISH are required for doing a successful PhD. Scientific thinking, which I learned from Mr (Dr!) Duddles, is important of course, but communication and writing skills are important, too.

Congratulations on recently finishing your PhD titled ‘New Approaches to Modelling Individual Decision Under Uncertainty’. It is great to hear how your ISH life helped to prepare you. Where to now for you? Will you stay in Switzerland?

I work at a small company which is part of the big financial industry of Zurich. I am responsible for collecting and analyzing big data sets and for improving recurring processes through digitization. My colleagues are great and I enjoy the challenges that await me every day, which is why I will stick around for a bit!

sean hofland

If you are not at your desk, would we find you in the mountains?

Definitely! I have always enjoyed the mountains in the winter, but recently I have also made sure to visit them in the summer. I even once stayed in a cowshed. We were unable to sleep because the cows were right below us and wore their enormous bells throughout the night! There are many mountains and valleys that are lesser known, which make them all the more interesting to explore. 

Does your family still live in Vreeland? If so, you must love coming home for visits. What do you miss about Dutch life?

My parents actually live in Aruba at the moment, as my mother found her dream job in the local hospital. She works in cytology, identifying whether or what type of cancer people have by looking at cell samples. My brothers and sister and grandparents still live in the Netherlands. I visit them occasionally. I miss the way Dutch people approach people they do not know.

I believe you attended ISH through the Internationaal Tweetalig (IT) stream, what drew you to the programme?

When visiting schools to decide where to go after primary school, two things about the ISH stood out for me: I got the sense that students and teachers had a friendship-like relationship. This turned out to be true for me. Another reason, which may well be related to the first, is that the school was not too big compared to others. I have always enjoyed smaller communities in which I know the people around me. Being able to learn English was really just a bonus that I did not give much consideration.

When you think back of your time at ISH, what comes to mind?

The great diversity of students and teachers. You might not realise it as a student at ISH, but it is very special to be in an environment that represents the diversity of the whole world. I am not sure I would have considered studying abroad had I not interacted with people from all sorts of places at the ISH!

If you could give your high school self any advice what would that be?

I am happy where I am today so I do not think I would advise my past self to do anything differently 


Thank you very much for your time and honest answers Sean, it is much appreciated! We hope to see you at the Anniversary Gala on 1 July 2023, where we will be celebrating the 40-year existence of ISH with alumni students and staff!


To read more on the esteemed company Sean is in, please check out previously featured ISH alumni, in our 'Where are they now?' series ... 

Where are they now? Lena Grobusch (working on climate change and environment);

Where are they now? Defne Gencler (Entrepreneur, Comedian, TikTok sensation);

Where are they now? Marieke Bigg (Writer);

Where are they now? Abbie Wiggins (Author).


Are you an alumni who would like to be featured? Do you know an alumni with a story we should get in contact with? Email: community.ish@atscholen.nl