‘I’m happy we were allowed back, and that we’re learning about the impact the virus has on health care’, says Lisa Havinga, who’s doing her internship at the Wilhelmina Ziekenhuis in Assen. ‘It would be weird to completely leave us out of the loop.’
When the corona crisis started, internships for first- and second-year medical students were postponed, but they’ve since been welcomed back into hospitals. What is it like to do your internship during a pandemic, a situation that even experienced health care workers have never dealt with before?
Before she started, Lisa was worried about ending up in a stressful clinical situation, but it wasn’t all that bad: ‘You get used to it. People are a little more on guard, but I’d expected more stress and excitement.’
She has seen the damage that’s been done by curtailing regular health care, she says. ‘I’ve heard stories about patients who were afraid to come in for months, which means they’re doing much worse now.’
Lisa is also impressed by how flexible the hospital, an enormous organisation, can be. ‘There are some issues obviously, like with angry visitors, bad connections, or questions about how long quarantine should last. The situation is really different from that during the first wave, but on the whole, it’s admirable how quickly everyone adapted to this way of working.’
Niels Schipper is doing his internship at Medisch Spectrum Twente. ‘One of the most important things I’ve learned so far is how to properly put on and take off personal protection equipment’, he says. ‘You have to do it in a specific order, to minimise the risk of infection.’
It’s admirable how quickly everyone adapted
Lynn Rozendal, who is doing her internship at the ZGT Almelo, says students getting infected is an acceptable risk. ‘It’s part of our future job. You know there’s a possibility, but I also think students should help wherever they can. Our job starts even before we get our diplomas.’
Lynn was doing her internship on the intensive care unit when the second wave hit. ‘For the first two weeks, there weren’t that many corona patients and I was able to observe the normal state of things at the ICU’, she says. But then half the unit became a corona ward. ‘It was really educational, and I’d go back in a heartbeat. It was really interesting to see how they cared for corona patients who were on ventilators. I learned how to turn someone on a ventilator onto their stomach.’
The students may be learning a lot from the corona crisis, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have its disadvantages. Some internships were cancelled to ensure the wait times for other students were shorter. Niels: ‘This means I won’t be able to do an intensive care or gynaecology internships. Because the programme has been cut short, we’ve been forced to choose, since we also have to do a number of mandatory internships.’
More things are handled over the phone or online, and because of the social distancing rules, interns can’t always sit in on face-to-face appointments. This means the students deal less with patients. ‘Our learning curve depends on the number of patients we’re able to talk to and examine’, explains Niels. ‘It’s also more difficult to follow our patients or discuss them during multidisciplinary meetings.’
Lisa also says the things you can learn in a hospital right now varies per department. ‘Interns at the pulmonary ward are learning the most about covid care. Interns at cardiology mainly experience the backlog resulting from the reduced regular health care during the first wave. Some interns spend a lot of time sitting next to a doctor on the phone, or they’ve noticed that GPs refer fewer people.’
She has a positive attitude, though: ‘On the whole, everyone is pretty busy, and no one’s really “lost” their internship.’
Every time Jorik Huizinga wanted to reserve a study spot at the UB, he had to ask his housemates to do it for him. The registration system uses green and red boxes to indicate whether there are still places available, and Jorik couldn’t see the difference between those two.
The psychology student is colour blind, or as he prefers to call it: colour handicapped. He mainly sees shades and to him, the green and red in the registration system were equally bright. Jorik estimates that hundreds of other students at the UG must have the same problem, so he sent an email to the UB on Monday.
They immediately took action. ‘We want to be as inclusive as possible at the UB’, says Dorine Kieft, information specialist at the library. She consulted with Jorik about which changes would be helpful, and now the red colour is darker and the green colour is lighter. Contrast stripes have also been applied: horizontal stripes in the red box and vertical stripes in the green one. The legend tells you which stripes are which.
Jorik can’t praise the UB’s speedy action highly enough: now he can book a study spot even if his housemates aren’t at home.
‘I moved to the other side of the world and was just building up my life. I was barely here for four weeks and then everything changed’, says Elena Bensi on Skype.
The UG medical student is currently on the Dutch Caribbean island Curacao to complete an internship that is part of her medical education. The coronavirus has put her training on hold, because the hospital staff wants to prevent interns from catching the disease. ‘Officially, I’m off work’, she says. ‘They asked us to assist as volunteers at the public health agency and most of us interns do that. Being a medical student, I feel like it’s sort of my duty to help out in any way that I can.’
I feel like it’s my duty to help out in any way that I can
So that’s what she’s doing now. It’s her task to have a chat on the phone with people that came in from abroad, asking them whether they have developed any symptoms of the virus and answering their questions, for example about going into quarantine.
‘There is a lot of confusion among them about how to behave. We need to inform them about preventative measures they can take and emphasize why it is so important to stay home. People suffer from dealing with this high degree of uncertainty. It’s very important to stay calm to keep them from panicking.’
It’s another sudden change in her working life. One that came at a time when she was still adapting to the cultural differences she encountered in a hospital on the other side of the world. ‘There was a man who came into the emergency department because he was completely out of breath. He looked like a skeleton’, Elena says.
‘We found out that he suffers from a severe case of lung cancer. He was so weak and pretty much about to die, but his daughters, who were there with him, insisted that they don’t want him to know about the diagnosis. I was shocked, but you have to be a professional and accept their wish.’
Lots of islanders have diabetes or other underlying health conditions, she says. ‘One day at work I had to cry, because it’s so sad to see how people have been neglected for such a long time and aren’t getting the care that they need.’
Also, the resources at the hospital are very limited. ‘In total we have ten intensive care beds. Ten! What if there is an explosion of corona cases? That thought really scares me.’
She realizes she herself is in a comfortable position, as she still gets her internship compensation. But for many islanders, the problems are already huge. Not everyone can afford to stick to the recommendation of going into quarantine, due to poverty and the fact that there is no social health system in place. ‘People sometimes ask me whether I can do something to help them keep their job. It breaks my heart, because unfortunately this is beyond my power.’
Lots of islanders have underlying health conditions
At this point, Curacao is still calm. However, the coronavirus did reach Curacao and even though only eight people got infected, the island chose to close its borders and go on lockdown. ‘The thing that worries me most about getting infected myself is that my parents couldn’t even visit me if I’d get seriously ill. Still, I’m not going to quit what I do because I’m scared to get infected myself. I feel like it’s my responsibility to help out.’
Elena is trying to push negative thoughts aside. Luckily, she has a close relationship with the other medical students, which helps her to get through this difficult time. ‘We’re all worried, all of our families are far away and we’re trying to support each other.’
The uncertainty that comes with corona is what unnerves her most. ‘No one knows how fast it’s going to spread here, and I’m worried about what happens once the number of infected people explodes.’
Picture this: you are an international student trying to make ends meet with a part-time job. But even with the extra income, you’re still a couple hundred euros short at the end of every month. So you turn to DUO for help.
You’re sure you qualify for the supplementary grant: you work 56 hours a month and you’re an EU student, which are the only requirements. Happily, your application is accepted and you start receiving the grant. Everything is going smoothly – until one day you receive a fine from DUO for more than 2500 euros.
That sounds like something straight out of a student’s worst nightmare, but it actually happened to Alexandru Vasilachi, a Hanze Game Design and Development student from Romania. He worked for a restaurant between 30 and 100 hours a month. But when the restaurant stopped providing him with some of his payslips, official records showed that he was working fewer than 56 hours month.
As a result, he was asked to pay back the entire sum he had received for the previous three months. On top of that, he was fined 500 euros for using the student travel product.
Alexandru appealed the fine, but DUO rejected his appeal. Life seemed bleak for a while, he says. ‘I had to conjure up more than 2000 euros out of thin air.’
Then he saw an ad on Facebook about the possibility of suing DUO. VYAS Consulting, an agency from Amsterdam, was taking cases similar to his. Alexandru reached out and was put in touch with a legal team. With nothing to lose, he decided to take DUO to court. That meant he could at least put off paying the fine.
Now 6 months into the legal proceedings, he hasn’t heard anything further from DUO regarding the money he owes. ‘They don’t really give you a deadline for the payment; they just tell you that you need to pay’, he says.
There is some precedent for taking DUO to court and succeeding. The VYAS Consulting web page lists a case similar to Alexandru’s. In this instance, the court stressed that the state, through DUO, is required to investigate the specific circumstances of students who work but do not meet the 56 hour minimum. Students who do meet the minimum are automatically considered migrant workers and are eligible for the grant. But that does not mean that students who work fewer than 56 hours automatically default to non-migrant worker status.
‘I have a solid chance of winning – or at least, my lawyer says so’, says Alexandru. ‘But that’s exactly the sort of thing your lawyer would say’, he laughs.
Spanish RUG student Mayte had a similar experience with the supplementary grant. The Arts, Media and Literary Studies student worked for an average of at least 56 hours per month. Her daily hours varied, but they added up to the required minimum each month. Except for one month, when her hours fell just short of 56.
European law makes a distinction between economically active and inactive students. Member states are allowed to restrict access to government funds on the basis of economic (in)activity, which is why only economically active students can get the supplementary grant. The status of ‘migrant worker’ denotes economic activity.
DUO requires a student to work the minimum 56 hours in order to qualify as ‘economically active’. But EU law defines ‘economic activity’ in terms of performing ‘real and actual work’ and does not require any hourly minimum to qualify as economically active.
She had to pay back the grant for that month by receiving less money for subsequent months. She tried to appeal the decision, but did not succeed. She then went on to sue DUO through the same legal team that represented Alexandru.
For Mayte, the supplementary grant was indispensable. She couldn’t count on her parents to help her financially, because only one of them is employed. ‘My part-time job barely covered my rent and a maximum of two weeks of food. I even tried working two jobs at once, but ended up overwhelmed and burnt out. I couldn’t afford losing the grant, because it was what gave me financial independence and security.’
Mayte also wants to avoid ending up in debt, which is why she has decided not to take out the tuition fees loan. She thinks that, as an international student, her employment prospects here in the Netherlands are too uncertain to borrow that kind of money. ‘I don’t want to end up with a lot of debt and no way of repaying it. It’s too big a risk.’
Alexandru and Mayte both think that the student finance system is overcomplicated. ‘It’s hard to keep track of all the rules and small conditions, but the stakes are really high’, says Alexandru. ‘You don’t want to end up with 2500 euros in debt, because this can seriously impact your chances of becoming a Dutch citizen’, he adds.
For many students, hitting that 56 hours a month can take superhuman effort. RUG international student Stephanie Weninger is currently in her last year of the Clinical Forensic Psychology and Victimology master. She said at one point she was juggling a 27-hours-per-week internship, her studies, and a part-time job which amounted to 54 hours per month. At the same time, she was in and out of the hospital with debilitating pain from her carpal tunnel syndrome.
She was just two hours short of being eligible for the supplementary grant, and her application was denied. ‘When I needed the support of DUO the most, I didn’t get it’, she says.
After the Esdoornflat, the Metaallaan is the second emergency accommodation for international students to close its doors. On Monday, twelve students were still staying there. Five of these have moved to The Village at the Peizerweg, where a total of forty students are currently sleeping.
The school building at the Metaallaan was originally scheduled to close on October 1, but after some discussion it was decided to keep it open for two more weeks. At the time, a little over one hundred students didn’t yet have a room and were staying at emergency accommodation.
The forty students at The Village will have two weeks to find permanent housing. The dormitory will close on October 26, and the RUG will start using it as an extra exam hall.
The access-for-all system currently in place is being terminated because the number of prospective master students has rapidly increased over the past few years. The psychology department wants to keep groups small for optimal teaching, so a limit to the number of students for each track might be an option.
Some tracks are more in demand than others, which means that for some tracks, all students will be admitted, while for others only some will get a place in the programme. Each track will have its own selection procedure. Students starting the master next year or in February 2021 will still be guaranteed admission.
Second-year psychology student Emily O’Shea is not worried. ‘The selection criteria for the psychology bachelor are low, which gives people the opportunity to prove themselves. But I do believe that a place in the master programme should not just be handed out.’
Fellow student Raili Engler, who’s in the same year, also considers a selection procedure to be the fairest option. ‘I think it will push students to work harder for a spot.’
It is not yet clear what the procedure will entail. Students can expect more information in the first half of 2020, so they can prepare accordingly if they plan to apply for the master programme.
This story has been changed after publication. No definitive decision has yet been made about whether or not to introduce a selection procedure. ‘In a careful process, we are currently investigating the way in which we can guarantee the quality of the masters on the one hand and on the other hand offer the space to as many students as possible’, says the faculty.
‘Drive safe in your new car’, her mother wrote on a piece of paper the morning that Kim Hartjes went to attend the shoot for game show Postcode Loterij Miljoenenjacht. Her mother had been making jokes like that for days, because there was no way Kim was going to win anyway.
Except she did. The twenty-year-old pharmaceutical student became the youngest winner ever on the game show, taking home 100,000 euros. After a week, the money was deposited into her account. After gambling tax had been deducted, she’s left with a nice 69,000 thousand euros. ‘It feels a bit more real now’, says Kim.
Kim attended the Miljoenenjacht shoot with her boyfriend Arno and other Winschoten inhabitants with the same zip code. Of the five hundred competitors, she got the closest answer to the question of the shortest distance between the towns of Delfzijl and Terneuzen. ‘When Linda de Mol said it was 370 kilometres, I knew she would be coming to me, because I’d written down 372.’
Her prize was exactly that which her mother had been joking about: a brand new car. She decided to decline it, however, and move on to the next round on the show. She easily defeated her competitors, although it didn’t feel like that to her. ‘They were all grown-ups, I had no faith in myself at all.’
Once she’d made it to the final round and was standing next to presenter Linda de Mol, Kim selected suitcase 21. It was an easy choice: it’s her birthday as well as the anniversary of her father’s death, who died on October 21, ten years ago. Her mouth dry with nerves, Kim opened the remaining suitcases, which held sums ranging from one cent to five million euros. Finally, she received an offer of 100,000 euros on suitcase 21, and she took it.
In the car on the way back, Kim was constantly on the phone with her mother and two sisters. She and Arno made a pit stop in Joure to get some food, but Kim had trouble finishing her chicken nuggets.
On top of that, she couldn’t tell her friends, who were extremely curious, what had happened for another three weeks. ‘I told them to just watch the show when it aired. But everyone knew something had happened, at least. When the show aired, I told my cousin to just watch, that everything would be fine.’
The first thing she did with her winnings was pay her mother back for the tuition fees. She also bought her mother a laptop. ‘She didn’t want me to, but what’s a thousand euros compared to the money I have?’ says Kim.
She bought herself a brand new, dark blue Mazda 2. ‘Everyone’s going to think I’m driving my mum’s car, but it’s mine. Isn’t it brilliant?’ So where’s the rest of her money? ‘In my savings account, where it’s going to stay.’
Winning all that money did throw Kim’s life into disarray. In the weeks after the shoot she had trouble focusing on her studies. ‘I just wasn’t motivated to go to class at all. It was so exciting to have won all that money when no one knew.’After the show aired, RTV Noord asked her for a live interview, and someone even recognised her when she took the bus. She’s still having trouble focusing on her pharmaceutical studies. ‘I promised myself I’d do well in school this year, but that Tuesday messed it all up.’
If bathroom graffiti is a bellwether for the issues that matter most to RUG students, the writing on the wall is pretty clear: don’t ‘lady’ my bin.
A gendered bin might seem like a minuscule issue, but since many people are passionate about the topic of gender, we posted a picture of the ladybin graffiti to Instagram and asked you for your own hot takes, academic research abstracts, and politically incorrect opinions.
One follower captured the issue nicely: Why would anyone gender an inanimate object? Well, RUG scholars remain divided. Gendering is instructive, some feel. Calling it a ladybin makes it clear that it’s to be used for sanitary products only. Or as one commenter puts it: ‘It’s a ladybin because people with penises don’t use it.’
And it’s true, menstruation is exclusive to the female reproductive tract. But as another Insta-follower was quick to point out: women are not the only people who have periods or use sanitary products. The lady prefix gets in the way of acknowledging trans people.
Some think that, if not exclusionary, it’s at least unnecessary to gender a bin. ‘It’s just a bin for sanitary products’, as one follower puts it. Another suggests keeping things simple and just calling it a bin.
Readers also proposed an alternative name: hygiene bin. Yay? Finding the right name for a bin is hard, as it turns out. Get it wrong and you’ll only confuse people. For example, one follower associated the word ladybin with a special waste category.
And then there were those who are just fed up with all the drama. ‘I wonder which “real” problems the critic tackles while they’re peeing’, sneers one commenter, while another wants the ‘nagging’ to stop. It’s an academic city after all, and we should be doing something more important with our time when we are sitting on the toilet!
There are more than thirty thousand students at the RUG, and seven thousand of these are international students. But internationals aren’t represented on the student associations’ boards and councils, says Lijst Calimero’s faction chair Floor Buigel. More than eighty percent of students doing board work is Dutch.
This needs to change, Calimero says, because Dutch students don’t act in internationals’ interests as well as internationals do. ‘We can’t put ourselves in their shoes and understand what internationals go through in Groningen’, says Buigel.
Calimero says doing board work for a year should be made more appealing to international students. During the university council meeting last week, they proposed offering them the same arrangements that Dutch students get. Dutch students are given a committee grant for their board work, and they don’t have to go to classes or – in some cases – pay tuition fees for the year. In the meantime, internationals students have to earn at least thirty ECTS a year to keep their visa.
Alternatively, they propose that both Dutch and international students are awarded ECTS in exchange for doing board work. Students are currently given a certificate of participation for their work, ‘but international companies, for instance, have a hard time understanding what these mean, so we’d like to provide some context’, says Buigel.
Finally, Calimero wants to properly inform internationals about board work. They want to engage study advisers who can point out the extracurricular activities to the internationals. ‘They’ll be able to tell them where to find their community and how to join.’
The board of directors only adopted this last proposal and made a promise to inform the study advisers. Board president Jouke de Vries said during the council meeting that the other proposals need to worked out further.
The board also said they’d consider subsidies for international students. However, they felt that awarding ECTS in exchange for board work was too much.
Slaughterhouse-Five is an anti-war book about Billy Pilgrim, a prisoner of war who’s stuck in an underground slaughterhouse in Dresden performing forced labour. Because he’s down there, he survives the firebombing of Dresden that kills many its inhabitants and destroys most of the historical city.
‘Kurt Vonnegut went through the bombing of Dresden himself when he was a prisoner of war’, says RUG poet Sofia Manouki. ‘I think that this is why he understands human nature so well. It’s not the kind of war memoir that leaves you shell-shocked and dazed.
In a weird way, it’s kind of a comforting book. The protagonist goes through some horrible things, but the writer uses a lot of humour to describe it all. He doesn’t waste time endlessly describing the horrors of war; he doesn’t have to. The title alone tells you how insane war is. Surviving that war because you were locked up in an underground slaughterhouse as a prisoner of war is an immensely powerful metaphor.’
The book also features aliens who look like upside down toilet plungers. They live in all four dimensions at once, experiencing the present, past, and future simultaneously. Cause and effect don’t exist because everything happens concurrently. They know how the world is going to end. They can’t influence it: it will happen, it is happening, and it’s already happened. ‘They just focus on the good things in life’, Sofia explains. ‘If I had to be any of the characters in the book, I’d be one of those aliens.’
‘The lesson I took from the book is that it’s okay to be half-crazed, as long as you keep going. Just survive. There will always be traumatic events, things you don’t understand. You can’t help making mistakes, but you just have to keep going. You might be traumatised, you might be half crazy, but that doesn’t mean you can’t write amazing books.’
Students clearly need extra help, says Berend Roorda. ‘We could no longer ignore the news about stressed out, lonely students.’
Roorda is the vice chair of SKLO (Studentenkoepel voor Levensbeschouwelijke Organisaties). A few years ago, he was shocked to find out that a former roommate had killed himself. ‘I hadn’t realised that he was struggling, even though the things that led to his suicide had been bothering him as a student as well. But we all just tend to put up a front.’
‘Associations have people their students can talk to’, says Roorda. ‘All Ears wants to be there for all the other students, like internationals. We have study advisers and student psychologists for specific issues, of course, but the waiting lists for those are usually long.’ The ‘ears’ in All Ears aren’t psychologists or advisers. They are professional student workers who all belong to organisations that fall under SKLO’s umbrella.
It doesn’t matter what the students want to talk about; they can confess anything. ‘It’s completely anonymous and we don’t judge anyone for what they tell us. We’re not here to propagate our own ideas. We’re here to listen.’
One of the ears in the organisation is Hendrik Timmer (32), a student social worker with International Fellowship of Evangalical Students (IFES). He’s noticed how international students are overwhelmed by the stress of being in a new culture. ‘But they’ve got no one to talk to about that in their programme’, says Timmer. ‘Of course, it’s not necessarily directly related to studying. But if they can’t talk about small things like this, they can blow up and become big things.’
Timmer says listening to people’s secrets – and keeping them – can be ‘intense, but not that difficult’. ‘I’m just glad to help people unburden themselves.’
‘We always try to help people figure out their next step. If they’ve lost someone close to them, we might refer them to the grieving and loss classes at the GSp. If Muslim students come to us looking for like-minded people we tell them to check out ISV Deen. If they’re having trouble reconciling their religion and their sexuality, Jonge Vlinders might be a place of solace for them.’
All Ears does not aim to replace psychologists and proper treatment plans, though. They refer the students struggling with bigger issues to the student psychologist’s office. At the same time, study advisers and the Student Service Centre might tell students about All Ears.
‘So far, the project is only a pilot, but we’ve been getting positive feedback from the study advisers and the SSC’, says Roorda. The pilot phase will last at least until after the summer holidays. ‘Especially first-year students tend to really struggle during the first few months of the academic year’, says Roorda, speaking from his own experience as a lecturer in law.
What would it take for Roorda to consider the pilot a success? ‘That’s difficult to say. If we can help even a handful of students, I’m happy. Or if we can prevent something like what happened to my former roommate even just once – I’d feel like we succeeded.’
You can visit All Ears every Wednesday between 2 and 4 pm Onder de Bogen at the Harmonie building. If you can’t make it then, you can schedule an appointment through their website.
Abandoned as an infant high in the mountains of Colorado, James was taken in and raised by a family of marmots. They trained him in the art of satire, but warned him: ‘With great power comes great responsibility.’ He didn’t understand the truth of their words until his adopted rodent brother, Donald Trump’s hair, turned to the dark side.
James could only sit by and watch, helpless and appalled, as his evil brother meme’d his way to the White House. Forever changed by what he had seen, James fled to The Netherlands and vowed to always use his powers for good.
An epidemic of mild confusion has swept the Netherlands over the course of the past two weeks. Anyone who has an American friend has most likely heard them talk about ‘the superb owl’, and come away feeling a little perplexed.
‘As far as I understand it, the owl’s some sort of real estate mogul,’ said Jan Dutchman, a local. ‘It has all these yards? And Maroon 5 is performing for it? I think it’s something like that turkey thing they do in November.’
So, what’s so great about this owl? We at the UKrant polled our American staff to find
Q: So tell us about this ‘superb owl.’
A: Uh, well I don’t really watch it, but I hear the Rams are playing.
Q: There are Rams too? Rams are quite large, wouldn’t the superb owl get hurt?
A: Like, wouldn’t the people playing get hurt? Yeah, there’s kind of a controversy about concussions at the moment. The league was suppressing studies about it.
Q: I see. Will the owls be there with the Rams and the people?
A: Maybe? Like I said, I don’t really watch, so I don’t know all the teams. Are they like the Ravens? I’d imagine they’d be there, and if they’re not there they’ll definitely be watching.
Q: Ok, so the owls, which are superb, watch the people play with the rams-
A: You mean the Patriots and the Rams.
Q: The patriots? Well, I suppose they might be patriotic. Isn’t that kind of weird though?
A: The Patriots? Not really, the Rams getting there is the real wonder.
Hopefully this will straighten everything out.
In other owl related news, an owl was found in the cockpit of an Indian Boeing 777. Authorities removed it after it was discovered that it had failed its flight exams earlier that year.
‘Reflection room?’ the person behind the service desk looks uncertain. That’s fair; the new space in UB 1.01 has only been open since last Friday.
Peering in, it looks dark and desolate. But when you switch on the lights there are comfortable pillows and several sofas to welcome you.
A sign on the table explains what the room is for. You can bring your own prayer rugs, sacred texts, whatever – but leave the room the way you found it when you’re done.
The room in the UB is meant to be as neutral and inclusive as possible; it is not specifically a ‘religious’ room, unlike the prayer room in the Linnaeusborg which is decorated with prayer rugs and Qurans.
Dutch law pre-master student Saloua is happy with the room. She uses it to pray. ‘I often spend entire days in the Harmonie building to study. I live in Emmen, so it’s impossible for me to go home in between classes to pray.’
She plans to keep using the room after the exam period. ‘By praying at the right time, I can focus on my studies for the rest of the day.’
She understands why the décor in the room is neutral. ‘It’s a room for everyone, not just one specific religious group, so that’s fine. It’s good for all students to have a space where they can withdraw and be silent when they’re feeling stressed. I do think it’s a shame you can’t leave anything in the room, like a prayer rug that other people can then use as well.’
Henrieke Polinder, who represents Lijst Calimero in the university council, is happy the room has finally opened. She was involved in the initiative by various student parties for the room. ‘I’m certainly satisfied. It’s great that we got together to make this happen. Now we just have to wait and see what the people who use the room think, and then we can evaluate whether it serves its purpose in July.’
Because the RUG is interested in how the room is used, people can sign in on a sheet of paper attached to the door. They can also indicate how long they’re using the room, and what for.
The reflection room will be open for at least a year, after which the RUG will decide whether to keep it definitively. So if you’re completely stressed out during your next exam period, you now have a quiet space to escape to.
If you have any remarks or suggestions about the reflection room, you can tell the RUG by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Every year, as the sun sets earlier and earlier, the police carry out bike light checks. But this year they are working extra hard, says Siemon Luimstra of the Northern Netherlands police force. He was behind the large-scale check on bike lights carried out on Wednesday 28 November.
‘There are too many people who bike without lights’, says Luimstra. ‘Because of that, there are many fatal accidents. Last year, for the first time ever, we had more cyclists die because of traffic accidents than drivers. Cyclists tend to think they’re safer than drivers because they can see 360 degrees around them.’
‘But in bad weather, cyclists wear hats or hoods, which limits their vision’, says Petra Koops van ‘t Jagt, police contact for the light checks.
Anouk, a twenty-year-old student of chemistry, is looking for batteries. ‘I usually have another light, but it’s in another bag.’ Just when she resigns herself to a fine, she realises her headlight is working. What has she learned? ‘Bring more batteries, and pay attention next time. I think it’s good that the police are doing this.’
Jonas is twenty-three and studies computer science. He’s just received a fine because his headlight wasn’t working properly. ‘The dynamo wasn’t working properly anymore.’ The fine was 55 euros. ‘It’s a shame, but that’s what DUO is for’, he jokes. He’s not bummed? ‘Of course I am. But I did it to myself. I should’ve bought lights.’
Contrary to what you might think, the police actually encourage people to warn their friends about the light checks. It’s not their goal to hand out as many fines as possible: they want people to be safe in traffic. ‘We could hide in the bushes, but we’d rather be visible’, Luimstra explains.
Josef (28), a graduate of small business and retail management, cycles with an extra bicycle he holds in his hand. Neither of the bikes have light. ‘I saw the police, but it was too late’, he says. ‘But I’m glad they’re doing it. When you’re in the car, you can barely see cyclists who don’t have lights.’ He’s lucky: he is only fined for one bike.
The question is whether the checks actually change behaviour. Luimstra thinks they do. Information and ad campaigns mean people are more aware of the need for proper bike lights. ‘A good set will cost you less than five bucks’, he says. Research published by Rijkswaterstaat has shown that the percentage of cyclists with both a head- and a tail light has increased to 70 percent in Groningen.
Bidong-Zhang is a thirty-year-old pharmaceutical student. It took some time for him to get used to biking, but he was aware of the rules. ‘I knew I needed lights. Unfortunately my built-in light broke. I’m buying new lights first thing tomorrow.’
Hanna (24), a student of film and contemporary audiovisual media, disagrees with her fine. ‘My tail light broke a few days ago because someone hit my bike. If that had happened five minutes ago I wouldn’t have been able to get a new light. My head light works just fine.’ She plans to complain to the police. Needing both a head- and a tail light is news to her. ‘I think they should change the rules.’
The rules are:
‘Reflection room?’ The woman working at the reception desk at the Linnaeusborg seems unfamiliar with the term. ‘The quiet room’, Henrieke Polinder clarifies.
The receptionist brightens as she recognises the term and directs Polinder to the end of the hall, seventh floor. ‘But that’s for prayer and stuff’, the receptionist warns. ‘Not for studying.’
But Polinder isn‘t looking for a study room. She is on the university council as part of Lijst Calimero this year. Together with the student union GSb and the various faculties’ student assessors, she has been working on an idea for a new reflection room. ‘Somewhere people can take a break from studying.’
These kinds of rooms are already available at the UMCG, the Duisenberg building, and the Linnaeusborg, but not in the city centre, where the majority of students actually study for their exams. But soon – thanks to the proposal by Calimero, the GSb, and the assessors, the RUG board will make a quiet room available on the first floor of the University Library. After a year, the university will decide whether to make the pilot project a permanent fixture.
Polinder is happy with the pilot. ‘There was so much support for this idea. No one’s pretending this is the ultimate solution to stress, but it might help.’ The reflection room is meant for people who need a moment’s reprieve from the pressure of deadlines and studying. ‘That moment of peace can help prevent normal, healthy stress from turning into chronic stress’, Polinder says.
And if students want to use that moment of peace to pray, that’s totally fine. But Polinder didn’t necessarily intend the reflection room as a prayer room. When she sees the room on the seventh floor at the Linnaeusborg, Polinder finally understands why the receptionist added the clarification to her directions: one corner of the floor is covered in prayer rugs. A low table holds scarves and Qurans in various languages. ‘Wow’, says Polinder, looking over the decorative covers, ‘they’re really beautiful.’
But this was not what she had in mind, at least not for ‘her’ future reflection room. ‘It should be neutral, accessible to everyone’, she explains. ‘We don’t want to decorate it according to any specific religion, and the users shouldn’t do that themselves either.’
She’s had to keep emphasising this point, as some people have responded to her proposal with concern. John Hoeks, part of the personnel faction of the university council, expressed his concerns during a council meeting: ‘I don’t think the university should encourage religious activities.’
‘It should be clear that the room is meant for silence and reflection’, says Lawrence Gormley with the science faction. ‘It shouldn’t be used to organise services of any faith. This is not a denominational university.’
‘It would be a shame if the discussion was only about this issue of secularism’, says Polinder. ‘The university has a diverse community and they deal with stress and pressure in different ways. For some people, religion is an important part of relaxation. Why wouldn’t that be allowed? And since when is offering people a quiet room the same as ‘encouraging’ religion?’
Polinder, who’s a Christian herself, doesn’t think she’ll be praying at the UB. ‘I do that somewhere else. My association, NSG, has its own prayer room.’
‘Okay, I always get lost here’, Polinder admits when she enter the Duisenberg building. ‘Let’s see if we can find the quiet room around here.’
The quiet room is down in the basement, in a wing with the study associations. Here too, there are prayer rugs, and there’s a sink with a bottle of soap. Other than that, it’s not a very impressive room. ‘It’s pretty musty’, says Polinder. ‘And small.’
It certainly pales in comparison to the UMCG facilities: they have an entire quiet centre on the first floor. ‘This is more like it’, Polinder whispers as she enters. There are furnished space is freshened up with vases of flowers and the ceiling is dotted with tiny lights that glitter like stars. She peers in from outside the glass doors; inside is a woman in a head scarf.
‘It’s no problem for more than one person at a time to use a quiet room’, she explains on the way to the last stop at the UB, ‘but we were there for something else, so I didn’t want to disturb her.’ There are no statistics on how much the existing quiet rooms are being used, although apparently approximately fifteen students go into the quiet room at the Linnaeusborg.
The room that the UB will make available as a quiet space is currently a study space. Student party SOG in particular worries that if the quiet room is underutilised, it will be a waste of space. ‘So we’ll have to monitor that during the pilot phase.’
But that’s a problem for later. First, the first-floor studio has to be transformed from a study room into a quiet room. So what are the current ideas for the design? Polinder isn’t really sure. ‘It’s mainly up to the UB itself, but we love contributing ideas.’ But she thinks a bunch of comfy chairs, as suggested by RUG president Jouke de Vries, would certainly be a good start.