Hans breathes politics. For his day job, he works as a parliamentary assistant to a federal member of parliament. He is president of the youth wing of the Flemish Liberals, and is also a politician in his own right. The U.S. Embassy saw his potential as a future leader and sent him on an IVLP to learn more about U.S. elections. “I could only encourage young people in Belgium to experience the same. It`s very enriching.”
Every year nearly 5,000 aspiring leaders participate in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) to experience the United States firsthand. These exchanges allow participants to cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts in a wide variety of fields.
In 2018, Hans Maes went on a program to learn more about the midterm elections of 2018. “They took us all across the country, had us speak with people from all walks of life, both within politics and outside, to learn more about the way elections are conducted in the United States, the way people view politics, the way people experience politics. Then obviously also just to watch the election, to see it happening on the spot and see the aftermath and the consequences of those people who were elected. It was really very interesting, a very informative experience,” he tells us.
His main takeaway is the difference between the political systems in the U.S. and in Belgium: “The comparison between Belgian federalism and U.S. federalism is really interesting, because the U.S. is slowly moving from a confederacy towards a more unitary state, whereas Belgium is sort of moving in the opposite direction. It’s interesting to see what results from these trends, their consequences on society in general, and on the way the elections are conducted, and how people elect their officials.”
Hans puts his heart and soul into politics: “Politics is definitely my main passion. That’s without any doubt.” He is part of the Flemish Liberals and wants to make a difference on both a local and European level. Through politics, he wants to build a better future: “Well, my hopes and dreams are obviously a better society in Belgium, in Europe, in the world in general where individuals can be who they want to be and can become who they want to become and can love whomever they want to love and basically be free. That for me, as a liberal, that goes to the very core of what I believe in and I want to actively build to that.”
And he`s hopeful for this better future if we actively work to get there. “I’m an optimist, I’m a very hopeful person and when it comes to diversity and living together with people from different religions or ethnicities. I think that it will take time and it will take work, but eventually I think we’ll live together in harmony. I live in one of the most diverse places in Belgium, in Borgerhout. My own district is incredibly diverse; I think we are home to 130 nationalities. Antwerp in general has about 180 nationalities living together and it’s not always easy and it tends to give some problems, but those problems can be overcome if you actively build your community, if you actively encourage citizens to live together and that’s the way I see the future,” Hans points out.
“I perceive my identity as a fluid thing.”
Identity is a flexible thing for Hans: “Well, what I call home is everything. The way I perceive my identity, it is a fluid thing. If I’m here in Brussels I will present myself as being from Antwerp. If I’m abroad, say I’m in Berlin, then I’ll be a Belgian. If I’m in the United States I’ll probably present myself as a European. So it basically depends on the context,” he explains.
But it is important to acknowledge all parts of his identity. “I feel all of those things and, on top of that, my identity is layered,” he clarifies. “It consists of so many different aspects that make me a unique individual. There is no pinpointing this one item within that complex identity. I don’t want to be pinned down on any aspect. I mean, I’m all of those. So that for me is an important part of the way I see identity in general.”
Hans’ personal motto is a German quote from Alexander von Humboldt, which translates to ‘the most dangerous worldview is the world view of those who haven’t viewed the world.’
This is something very important for him: “I consider myself to be a global citizen. I really like to travel, I really like speaking with people from abroad, hearing different opinions and different perspectives, and because I think I can learn from that. Every time I speak with somebody who has a different perspective, I learn. Seeing the world that way, experiencing the world, makes me a better person. I think we should make sure that as many people as possible get to experience that world and improve themselves that way, because those who have not viewed that world will tend to have a very limited perspective on things, on opportunities in general. So it’s enriching to look abroad and to broaden your horizon.”
It comes as no surprise that Hans took full advantage of his exchange program to the United States. “I’m incredibly grateful to have been invited by the U.S. Embassy to the IVLP program. I could only encourage many young people in Belgium to experience the same. It’s a very enriching experience.”“The most dangerous worldviews are the worldviews of those who have never viewed the world.”