Alumni Profiles

Elise van den Hoek

Campus: Duke
Hometown: Sevenoaks, Kent, United Kingdom
High School: Sevenoaks School

My earliest memories are of being on stage. As a six-year-old, I had an unusual desire to command the attention of full audiences, stand as tall as I could and belt my little voice. Nothing has changed. I continue to pursue my passion for theatre and public speaking. This has challenged me, transformed me, and driven me to use my skills in order to harness the intoxicating power of this medium in order to promote positive and necessary socio-political change.

In 2016, I founded Theatre for Action, a charity that strives to use theatre as a form of activism and the stage as a battleground. As part of my work for this, I wrote, devised and staged “Elements”, a play that uses the life and legacy of Marie Curie to address the gross gender-based discrimination women face within education and careers, particularly in STEM fields. Impassioned to reach out to young women who suffer from such gender stereotypes, I devised a series of theatre workshops to follow up my performance of “Elements”. I toured these workshops to local youth groups and schools, as well as internationally to Germany and Russia.

I started learning Russian when I was 13. Ever since, I have developed an extraordinary passion for Russia’s rich history, enigmatic culture and values, which experts and professionals worldwide still struggle to grapple with. I was brought face to face with its culture when I travelled to Russia at 15 and 17 years of age. In Moscow and St Petersburg, I saw my deepest interests for history, culture, language, theatre and people combine. In Orion, a foster village in the depths of the Russian wilderness, I had the opportunity to introduce children from ages 9-17 to the concept of theatre: a whole new medium of self-expression and creativity. I rooted out and demonstrated their innate theatrical instincts to them by using pan-cultural concepts: status, objectives, Lord of the Rings. Most importantly, I illustrated that this was entirely accessible to them, regardless of their background and lack of resources; in under two hours with only gentle guidance, they had unlocked the power of theatre.

These various experiences have ignited my passions for social justice, Russian culture, education, history, public policy, theatre and language. I know that they will continue to morph, combine and grow throughout my college experience. Regardless of where this multitude of interests leads me, I hope to create the kind of impact that will span cultural barriers, and perhaps even bridge them.

What drew you to the Robertson Program? 

The Robertson program provides access and exposure to an unparalleled community of scholars, which, when combined with extensive support from program staff, creates an extraordinary sense of comfort. The Robertson program is, however, also designed to challenge and push you to do things and go places you never would have thought to. This collectively creates immense potential for self-development, whilst providing the facilities for a wide array of specific and personal passions to be pursued to remarkable extents. I am thoroughly looking forward to taking advantage of the huge and impressive array of opportunities the Robertson provides to give back to the local community, as well as society at large.

Robertson Scholars, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021, at Duke UniversityÕs Smith Warehouse in Durham, N.C.  

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