Stephanie and Derck met during a night out with a group of PhD students from RSM. Stephanie was about to leave for Colombia to do a consultancy project and was keen to learn salsa dancing. “I just thought it would be fun if you could do a bit of salsa dancing there,” she says. Derck had done salsa classes at Erasmus Sport and offered to help Stephanie learn how to salsa. “On a salsa evening, the spark was ignited,” he says. “But we never danced salsa again after that,” Stephanie laughs.

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They fell in love during their PhD at RSM. Image credit: Amber Leijen

Unobtrusive

It didn’t take long before the two knew that they were meant for each other. “We definitely had the feeling of ‘this is it’ pretty quickly,” says Stephanie. It was exactly around that time that Derck embarked on his plan to ask Stephanie to marry him.

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On each card, there’s one letter marked with hearts.

For their work, they often travel abroad separately for a conference, research project or to teach. Derck decided that every time he went away, he would send Stephanie a secret message on a postcard. “I sent the first card from Berkeley,” he says. On each subsequent card, there would be one or sometimes two letters marked with hearts. “The hearts were so unobtrusive,” says Stephanie. “It’s always nice to receive a lovely card, so you don’t look for anything behind little things like that.”

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Derck’s postcards. Image credit: Amber Leijen

PostSecret

Derck came up with the idea because Stephanie is mad about PostSecret, a website that publishes anonymous postcards with secrets. At the end of the series of postcards, Derck also sent a card – with his secret – to the PostSecret website.

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The postcard that Derck sent to PostSecret. Image credit: Amber Leijen

He sent the last card to Stephanie while they were on holiday together in South Africa. To be on the safe side, he also went down on his knee. Of course, Stephanie immediately said ‘yes’. “It was such a lovely proposal,” says Stephanie. Derck had also done his best for the engagement ring. “The previous year, we were in London and we saw a really lovely ring,” says Stephanie. Derck tracked down the shop and ordered the ring. “It’s brilliant that he managed to find the ring a year later.”

After the proposal in South Africa, Stephanie found Derck’s card in the mailbox, with a final instruction. “It said that I had to visit the PostSecret website.” Over the course of two years, Derck had sent fourteen postcards. “When you put the cards in sequence, the letters with the hearts spell out: “will you marry me?

No arguments

The couple radiate romance. They only talk about each other in terms of praise. “Stephanie is sweet, smart and beautiful,” says Derck. “I’ve never met anyone more wonderful than she is, so I quickly decided: I must have her.” And Derck is a real man, Stephanie feels. “But at the same time, he’s very caring, sweet and protective. He’s also the sexiest man at RSM.”

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Love is in the air. Image credit: Amber Leijen

They have more similarities than differences, say the couple. “We both love exploring the world, travelling, trying out things,” says Stephanie. Do they argue? “Never,” she says. “We’re not the most difficult people, so we never get upset about little things.” Derck agrees. “We occasionally have a difference of opinion, but we both always think ‘is this worth arguing about?’ But perhaps it’s because we’ve only been together for three years? Things might change after thirty years,” he laughs.

The couple haven’t got a wedding date yet, but it will probably be some time in October next year. That will give them the time and space to prepare. “I’ve just got my PhD. I’m leaving the academic world and going to work in the energy industry,” says Derck. “Early next year, Stephanie will finish her PhD, and then we’ll have more time to plan the wedding.” They don’t have a particular idea of their dream wedding, but it will be green, because Stephanie loves plants. “Before I met Stephanie, I only had two plants,” says Derck. “Now we have around fifty at home.”

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