What are these corona-days like for students in Maastricht? How is the coronavirus affecting their studies and other aspects of their lives? Maastricht University’s independent newspaper Observant is running a series of interviews with current students to find out how they are coping with the shift to online education. Two of our Master’s students in Public Policy and Human Development, Thierry Bleijswijk and Maren Slangen, shared their experience.
Cleaning ambulances as a Red Cross volunteer
Thierry Bleijswijk has been a volunteer with the Netherlands Red Cross for four years. He usually works at music festival Pinkpop or André Rieu concerts, but he’s currently doing volunteer work at the hospital. “We support health care professionals in their work”, says Bleijswijk. “We’re not directly involved with patient care yet. We don’t yet know whether we’ll be helping out at the temporary emergency hospital in MECC Maastricht.”
Last weekend, he helped out at the ambulance service. “I cleaned and restocked the ambulances while the paramedics dropped off their patients at the hospital. Paramedics usually do this work themselves. Having someone else do it reduces the turnover time [the interval of time between ambulance arrival and the moment the ambulance becomes available for another call] by twenty minutes.”
Does he still have time for his studies? “Yes. People may think that Red Cross volunteers are helping out full-time now, but that’s not the case. I think I spend about ten to fifteen hours per week volunteering. The Dutch health care system is very professional. Health care activities are preferably performed by professionals rather than untrained people like me.”
All his courses are being taught through Zoom at the moment. “There’s less interaction than in the classroom, but it’s going well.” He’s worried about his thesis, though. “I want to find out how to improve the cooperation between the Netherlands Ministry of Defence and humanitarian aid organizations like the Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders and [Dutch Oxfam affiliate] Oxfam Novib. I’ll have to carry out a lot of interviews. I could use Skype or Zoom to do so, but I prefer to talk to people face-to-face. It makes it easier to see their reactions and to ask follow-up questions.”
Many students have left Maastricht in the past few weeks, but Bleijswijk still lives in his student room. “My parents live in Lombardy. We moved there for my dad’s job when I was about twelve years old. Fortunately, the virus hasn’t affected them personally, but it’s chaos where they live. My dad’s work has come to a halt and sometimes they have to queue for the supermarket for as long as two hours.”
Our flat is too small for two people to live in 24/7
Maren Slangen took her final written exam without even knowing it. “I was supposed to take two more, but the programme directors decided to assign us an online oral exam and a take-home assignment instead because of the corona crisis. I prefer written exams – they give you more time to think – but I understand why they had to come up with something else. I feel like they’re working very hard to find the best solution for everyone.”
The coronavirus has freed up about 28 to 32 hours per week for Slangen. In addition to being a student, she’s also a member of the municipal council in Maastricht. “Almost all activity has ceased. We’re holding party group meetings online, but it’s hard to have council sessions or debates on serious topics online. I’m not sure very practical to hold a debate with 39 people on Microsoft Teams. This also means I have a lot less preparatory reading to do. Most appointments with organisations and citizens have been cancelled as well.”
One of the things she has been doing with her newfound spare time is helping her father in Berg en Dal, close to Nijmegen, put old photos into albums. “Those pictures had been lying around for years. It’s a fun thing to do together. These kinds of things are the silver linings in times of crisis.”
Rather than living in her flat in Maastricht, she’s currently staying with either her father in Nijmegen or her in-laws in Ulvenhout, a small village near Breda. “I prefer to be with my family at a time like this.” Another advantage is that there’s more space there. She laughs. “My boyfriend is great, but I think we’d lose our minds if we had to stay in our tiny flat together 24/7.”
These articles originally appeared on The Observant.
The opinions expressed here are the authors’ own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
Observant; Pexels / A.Shvets