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Traveling Soul

Margreet Bos

Written by April Johnston
Photographed by Ronny Rozenberg

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The bus was supposed to arrive at 10 on the morning of June 5, 1995. No one was surprised when it didn’t. Netherlands native Margreet Bos, BS ’94, Human Nutrition and Food, and her American traveling companion Grant Koppelman, had quickly learned that, in Ethiopia, time is fluid and bus schedules merely suggestions.

They decided to hitchhike instead. It wasn’t long before a large pickup hauling cattle pulled alongside them, and the driver invited them to hop aboard. They didn’t hesitate. They felt  lucky to ride in the cab instead of in the back with the cows. 

But the ride and their relief was short-lived. Before they could understand just   what was happening, one man appeared on the left side of the truck, then another on the right. A branch blocked the road. The driver of the pickup was forced to stop. And when he did, a grenade cut through the air, landed in the truck and exploded. 

Koppelman died. Bos didn't. 


The Dutch embassy quickly arranged for a plane to fly Bos back to the Netherlands. Her parents, Marian and Ies, were relieved to find she could walk and talk. The worst injury appeared to be in her hand, which doctors warned would take time and surgery to repair. 

But that night, Bos experienced a massive brain hemorrhage and fell into a coma that would last for three weeks. When she awoke, her left side was paralyzed and her vision and speech impaired.


“What can I do?” she cried. “Am I supposed to stay in bed the rest of my life?” 
It came as no surprise to anyone who knew Bos before June 5, 1995, that the answer to that question was a resounding, “No.” 


This was the woman who practiced gymnastics on horseback as a child, who left her country to study at West Virginia University as a teenager, who traveled alone to Africa via Europe and the Middle East. 

She was not going to be defeated by her physical limitations.
 
Bos was born in 1972 and spent her childhood in constant motion. 

“Margreet knew how to fill her days,” her father once said. Her adventurous spirit eventually led her to the Netherlands America Committee for Educational Exchange, which offers scholarships to Dutch students who want to study in the U.S. 


She chose WVU because West Virginia seemed so different than her familiar, flat homeland, and she soon found that the state lived up to its promise of being both wild and wonderful. 

She came face-to-face with her new surroundings on camping trips to Coopers Rock and Blackwater Falls. Typically she set out on such trips alone, but inevitably met other campers and celebrated newfound friendship with a hike or impromptu barbecue. 


This was Bos’ way. While other international students preferred the safety of campus and the company of fellow internationals, Bos couldn’t be contained. Her warmth and curiosity endeared her to everyone she met, and she insisted on meeting everyone. 

“She stood apart because she’s such a beautiful person inside and out,” said Tom Sloane, the retired executive director of international student life and global services for WVU. “And she’s just effusive, bubbling over with energy and enthusiasm.” 


Bos joined the International Student Organization and the Honors program. She became a resident assistant and a member of the equestrian and ski clubs. She attended each party to which she was invited. 

"They were the best four years of my life," she said. 

At the time of the attack, Bos had graduated and was living in California with her boyfriend. The extended international excursion was meant as much-needed adventure before beginning a graduate program at the University of California, Davis.  


It ended up altering the trajectory of her life. The hemorrhage caused brain damage that made graduate school impossible. The paralysis left Bos in a wheelchair and in need of the kind of care her boyfriend couldn’t provide in California. They reluctantly separated. 


Though the circumstances of her life changed rapidly and profoundly, Bos promised herself that she wouldn’t change – the independent and adventurous spirit that had marked her life up to that point would remain intact. 


And it has. 

“I call myself the world champion of enjoying myself,” Bos said. “I really enjoy every second I am alive.” 


For nearly 20 years, Bos has lived in Het Dorp, a village in Arnhem, Netherlands, that allows her to live independently but call upon aides or nurses when she needs them. 

Her days are packed with friends, card games, swimming and volunteering. And, of course, travel. She tries to go abroad at least once a year with friends or family. She’s written a book about her life called “I Love to Live.” 

And though she’s felt the Saharan sun on her face and the Mediterranean breeze in her hair, Morgantown remains her favorite place to visit. She’s been back several times, organizing several ISO reunions and donning her “Dutch Mountaineer” T-shirt. And each time, it feels like coming home. 


“I still call it my home,” Bos said. “It’s such a beautiful place.”