Monday 17 May 2021
Brigitte: 'You’re quite an active student, I noticed. You were a student assistant, worked with Pre-U and were member of your association's Kick-In committee. And now you are on the board of the Student Union...'
Maartje: 'Yes! This year, I'll be working full time for the Student Union. In February, I started as portfolio holder for Personal Development and Education. I want to show other students all the advantages of going for 'More Than a Degree' during your studies. For anyone who’s keen to get involved, there are lots of extracurricular activities. A board year, for example, but you can also build your own sustainable car with a team or start a business.'
Brigitte: 'How do you reach students with that message?'
Maartje: 'We do a lot through the umbrella organisations of student associations at UT. They connect all associations with shared features. This enables us to easily reach a lot of people, without having to send thousands of e-mails. We also organise events and workshops for all students, to promote student activism. With our More Than A Degree Awards, for example, we put the spotlight on the most active students every year. And we organise a market where members of student boards might find their successors, as well as training sessions for full-time board members given by experienced trainers from a professional agency. Incidentally, we also organise training for part-time board members.'
Brigitte: 'In the description of your Technical Medicine Bachelor’s programme, it says you work together with others most of the time, and that you learn to reflect on your own competencies. Was that why you chose to do this programme?'
Maartje: 'That reflection did play an important role in my personal development, but it was not the reason I chose the study. At high school, I was interested in biology and the human body. Medicine was on my list too, but I felt it might be a bit stuffy. Technical Medicine combines healthcare and technology. I enjoy seeing what you can really do, with an eye to the future. What possibilities and applications can we invent to help people even better? Choosing UT was easy, by the way: at the open day, I immediately felt welcome.'
Brigitte: 'I'm glad you say that. That's how I experience it too. Which is why I've been here for 25 years. The UT is always moving. Knowledge, culture, sport; you can find everything you need on campus. At the same time, that can make it hard to choose. I can see that with you too: you want to get the most out of your time as a student, but you probably also have family, friends and sport. How do you manage to balance everything?'
Maartje: 'Finding balance can be a struggle. Take my normal weekday evenings: on Monday, it’s our house evening, Tuesday evening is year club, on Wednesday I often do sports. Then on Thursday it’s my student association evening and on Friday and at the weekend I often have plans too – before lockdown, at any rate. And then I might want to go to my parents’ place, or spend time with my boyfriend... So yes, life is busy. That means you need to plan well. Ultimately, you come to university to get a degree. You can go out every night, but you also have to pass your exams.'
Brigitte: 'The pressure on students is higher today than it was in my time. In those days, you could take ten years to graduate, but now you need to finish within four or five years. Does that make it harder to persuade people to choose activities besides their study?'
Maartje: 'Well, in fact, students are becoming increasingly active, despite being under more pressure. This has been shown by our annual Student Union surveys, conducted in associations. In fact, students in Enschede tend to join an association more easily because the student community here is smaller than in Utrecht or Leiden. However, many students are still unaware of all extracurricular activities you can do – while they would be interested in joining. I consider it my mission to reach them.'
Brigitte: ‘That really shows – it's great to see your enthusiasm. Your LinkedIn profile says you were also an ambassador for an ideal organisation. I read something about 'cycling for a house'; what exactly did that involve?'
Maartje: 'Yes, that's an initiative of the World Foundation! It was a theme throughout my time at high school. In my second year, our school launched a campaign to help people in Bangladesh, whose homes had been destroyed in the floods. I started raising money with a group of friends: we participated in sponsored walks, sold stuff on King's Day. You had to raise a thousand euros for one house – quite a lot for a thirteen-year-old. To get that money, we cycled up the Galibier, a mountain in France. You can compare it with the Alpe d'HuZes. I raised money for four years, around four thousand euros in total. Because I was so active, I was eventually allowed to travel to Bangladesh and visit the houses that had been built. That experience opened my eyes. Suddenly, I realised how small our problems are compared with what people in Bangladesh are facing.'
Brigitte: 'What an amazing story! That's something you can be really proud of. Which brings me to my final question: what are you most proud of in your life?'
Maartje: 'Oh, let me think... If I look at the bigger picture, I'm glad that I haven't just been concerned about my own development, but also about other people. Whether they are people in Bangladesh or my fellow students: it's about helping others, so that they can get the most out of their own lives. I mean, that's just great!'