Photographer:Fotograaf: Observant/Sibren Fetter
Alumni about their dreams: Psychology alumnus Sibren Fetter
The Bonnefanten Convent was the domain of the Sisters of the Holy Sepulchre until 1789 and of the Bonnefanten Museum from 1952 to 1979. Maastricht University has owned it for almost forty years now. There’s a bookcase in the attic; the top shelf holds books entitled I can do it and I’ll get through this. The shelves below contain brochures on such topics as fear of failure, depression, negative self-perception and – relatable to every student – procrastination. The bookcase and its contents belong to Sibren Fetter (37), career counsellor at UM.
“It’s my absolute dream job,” he says as we walk through the corridors of the former convent, on our way to a quiet place to talk. He immediately admits, however, that he never actually daydreamed about it. “I didn’t even know this job existed until a friend told me about the vacancy.” As a career counsellor, he tries to help students who’ve hit a wall (in their studies or in their lives) to get back on track through a number of personal conversations. It’s no easy task. “Some of the students who come to see me still have no idea what they want out of life after four years of studying.” Students often tell him that their parents made them to go to university, or that they thought they would enjoy studying but don’t. “I once counselled a girl whose parents were so pushy they wouldn’t allowed her to see her little brother until she’d completed her studies.”
Sibren aims to empower students. “I don’t tell them what they want to hear, but what they need to hear to become happier.” The main thing he wants to offer students through his counselling is a realistic view of the future. “It’s fun to dream, but their dreams have to be achievable and – above all – appropriate for them.” That’s where things often go wrong, in his experience. “Running a bed and breakfast in the south of France may seem idyllic, but it’s hard work for little money.” He takes every dream seriously. One student wanted to become an astronaut, so he researched the requirements for her. “When I told her she’d have to be interested in experiments and science or become a jet pilot, she dropped the idea.”
Sibren knows what he’s talking about. In 2003, he told Observant about his burning desire to do a PhD. He fulfilled his dream of studying group processes, but his PhD research on social cohesion in an online learning environment became torture for him. “It turned out I liked neither reading nor writing.” In hindsight, he should’ve quit his PhD after two years. “That’s the point where I would’ve liked to consult myself as a career counsellor.” But he liked his colleagues and the subject of his PhD, so he struggled on. After six years, it became almost too much for him. He sought distraction in two part-time jobs (test engineer and data manager) and tried to complete his thesis in the evenings. “I only made things worse for myself.” He became depressed. “It was the darkest period of my life.” The ensuing therapy was confronting. “I realised I had mild narcissistic tendencies.”
His openness in this regard reminds me of the interview years ago. He told Observant he loved attention and wanted to give lectures to two hundred students, who’d hang on to his every word. “I don’t dream of winning a Nobel Prize, but it’d be nice, of course. Good for my ego,” said a then 22-year-old Sibren.
His partner Nicole helped him through the hard times and kept encouraging him to complete his PhD. He eventually managed to do so when he felt less depressed thanks to his job as a career counsellor. “Nicole is my rock. She didn’t judge me when I was depressed. She let me be. She knew I had to figure it out for myself.” They met at a party seventeen years ago. Sibren fell for her there and then. “It was the first time I met someone who lasted longer on the dance floor than I did.” They have two sons together, Jamie (8) and Ando (5). “I’m looking forward to going on longer trips with them now that they’re a little older.”
At the time of the previous interview, Nicole was his “nice girlfriend”; by now, she’s his wife. It isn’t the most romantic of stories, though. “We mostly got married for practical reasons.” There was no white dress, no grand ceremony. “We went to town hall at nine in the morning on a Monday so it’d be free of charge.” He does wear a wedding band. “It’s a reminder that we belong together.” Rather than their wedding date, the date when they first met is engraved inside the ring. He’s secretly a romantic after all, then. Or is he? When I ask him what date that is: “Shoot, I actually have no idea…”
Niels van der Laan
In 2003 we interviewed UM students about their dreams for the future. Now, in 2019, it’s time to check in with them and see where they’re at. They’re about forty years old now; did their dreams come true? We’re using this special year (Observant is celebrating its 40th birthday!) as an opportunity to find out. Former student journalist Niels van der Laan, who wrote the majority of the interview articles in 2003, is writing a fair share of this year’s articles as well. In addition to the previously interviewed alumni, we’re interviewing former Observant student journalists about their fulfilled and unfulfilled dreams.