(Wo)man at work: UM student ambassador
Gwynne Janssen/ 19/ second-year bachelor’s student at University College Maastricht/ works a varying number of hours per month/ earning about 9.50 euros net per hour
Gwynne Janssen is standing by the door of the history classroom in the Vossius Gymnasium, a secondary school in Amsterdam. The information session on Maastricht University’s three university colleges – UCM, UC Venlo and the Science Programme – will start in two minutes, but students are walking past the classroom. They seem more interested in spending a year abroad (people are crowding into the Germany room) or attending one of the other university colleges that are present here today. “Everyone thinks Maastricht is far away, even farther away than Germany. They don’t decide to go to Maastricht without prompting, they need a little push”, one of the student ambassadors says later, at the Maastricht information stand in a large room in the school. It’s Saturday afternoon, mid-October. This is where students get that extra push: the four people in the UM team are talking their heads off. “Are you Dutch?” a father asks Janssen. Yes, she’s Dutch, but the language of instruction and communication at UCM is English, even in the common room. UCM has a very international student population. His daughter is a bit shy; her father listens with interest and asks: “Is UCM in the city?” Janssen: “Yes, right in the centre of Maastricht.” And what about the arts in liberal arts and sciences, he wants to know. What does that mean? It really doesn’t have much to do with an art school education, she explains patiently, although there are fine arts courses for students to choose from.
“I have a Dutch passport, but I grew up in Switzerland with my parents and my little brother. They still live and work (my mum works in the pharmaceutical industry) there. I completed an International Baccalaureate there, so I didn’t go to a Dutch secondary school and had no idea what some of the subject names referred to at first. Now I do, thanks to my Dutch friends.” Today is her first time as a student ambassador at a secondary school, which is “quite exciting”, she says beforehand. And there’s another thing that will take some getting used to, she suspects, laughing. “I speak English at UCM and now I have to present in Dutch.” But she was trained well, and besides, she enjoys giving presentations. “It definitely shouldn’t be boring, so I’m adding some personal anecdotes and photos. I vividly remember having to choose what to study myself. I was interested in so many things: law, politics, business. I visited many different universities, in Denmark, in Switzerland. I also signed up for UM’s experience day. The atmosphere immediately felt right, very open and international.” She ended up choosing Maastricht, the city where – coincidentally? – her parents also obtained their degrees.
Her Dutch is fine, as it turns out when two students and two parents show up for the first information session. Like before, at the stand, a student’s father asks the questions: are all study programmes in Maastricht structured the same way? There’s the university and the university colleges, how does that work exactly? “We’re part of the university”, says Janssen, who, together with her fellow student ambassador, is explaining what an average week at UCM and the Science Programme looks like, how many contact hours there are, and that a large amount of self-study is required. “What’s the main difference between secondary school and university?” Janssen asks the two students in the room. “You have more free time and there are other methods of teaching, such as lectures and tutorials,” they reply.
When Janssen somewhat awkwardly tells her audience that the Maastricht colleges are the best university colleges in the Netherlands, the father says, “If that’s the case, I don’t understand why there aren’t more people here.” Janssen easily replies, “Many people don’t know it yet, which is why we’re happy to explain it again.” She immediately does so: “Our university is small, informal and welcoming. Teachers also come into the common rooms. We address everyone by their first names and receive a lot of personal attention and support from our academic advisors.” Do the students live on campus, the father would like to know. “No, we don’t. I live in the city centre. If you start looking for accommodation on time, you’ll be able to find a good room.”
There’s a knock on the door; the first two participants of the second session walk in. “I’ll just finish my talk, if you don’t mind”, Janssen professionally tells the newcomers.