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“I’m three-quarters Polish, but I’ve never been to Poland”

“I’m three-quarters Polish, but I’ve never been to Poland”

Photographer:Fotograaf:

Joey Roberts

Maastricht first-year students of 2020/2021

When she was in secondary school and her father became seriously ill, she went to therapy. It helped her so much that she decided to study psychology herself. Maike Prenzyna from Germany doesn’t see herself becoming a clinical psychologist, though. “I would care way too much about everything.” She is interested in going into research, but first she would like to find her feet in Maastricht.

Name: Maike Prenzyna
Study programme: Psychology
Moved out for university: Not yet
Nationality: German
In 5 qualities: curious, open to meeting new people, feminist, friendly and kind
Lowest point in 2020: Not being able to celebrate her secondary school graduation
Highest point in 2020: Beginning her studies in Psychology

In the morning before our Zoom interview, Maike Prenzyna got tested for COVID-19. “I went to a choir meeting on Tuesday and now my throat hurts.” There are no waiting times in Germany (the first-year Psychology student lives with her mother in Eschweiler, near Aachen), so she could get tested immediately. She received the result the next day: negative.

Eschweiler is a small village. “I like that. You’re so anonymous in a big city. There always were a lot of other children to play with here, which was especially nice for me because I’m an only child.” Prenzyna grew up there as the daughter of a Polish father and a Polish-German mother. “So I’m three-quarters Polish, but I’ve never been to Poland. Somehow it just never happened. My mother isn’t very close with that side of her family and she was born in Germany herself. My father moved here when he was two, so he didn’t really have any memories of Poland either. But we used to talk about it a lot with his mother, my grandmother, before she passed away.” 

Her father’s family likes to remind her of her roots. “Especially at Christmas, there’s always traditional Polish food on the table.” Studying in Maastricht might bring her one step closer to the country of her ancestors. “I want to go on exchange to Poland.”

But that’s a bit further down the road. First things first: finding a room in Maastricht. “I postponed moving there because so much of our teaching will be online until Christmas at least. This way, I can work and save money at home.”

Maastricht is a good compromise for her: an international environment, but not too far from home. “My parents got divorced in 2014. My father passed away in 2018, so it’s just me and my mother now. He had cancer. He was diagnosed for the first time in 2012; it came back five years later. I miss him. I can no longer ask him what he would do or what he thinks of the decisions I make. I spent a lot of time with him, after the divorce as well. My mother works in a hospital and works irregular shifts, so I had a new schedule every week, going back and forth between their homes. It was chaotic, but it worked for us. Fortunately, my parents got along well. My father would’ve liked to have had thirty children, but he only had me, so I was his priority.”

It was around the time when her father was ill that Prenzyna went into therapy. “It helped me a lot. You can talk someone who is not one of your friends or family members, but still understands you. Someone who helps you, not based on emotion, but on research. I really like that.” That said, she has absolutely no intention of becoming a clinical psychologist herself. “It’s not for me. I’d take all my clients’ problems home with me.” She’s interested in research, though. “My own experiences made me curious about how traumatic events influence people’s behaviour. I don’t want to commit to it yet, though. I’d first like to learn what else psychology has to offer.”

The fact that she was able to begin her studies is the highlight of her year so far. “I worked very hard for this.” Unlike in the Netherlands, school-leaving exams in Germany took place as planned. “But all the rituals and parties that traditionally come with them didn’t. Everyone usually comes to school dressed up in the last week. Each group of students has its own theme. We were already planning everything. On the day when you get your results, you pick up your list of grades in the morning, then have lunch with your family and go to the school dance in the evening. Most of the girls had already bought their dresses. We postponed it until next summer.”

She still has to find her feet in Maastricht. “I feel welcome there and I really enjoy Problem-Based Learning, but all contact with other students is focused on our studies. Everyone wants to meet new people, but we don’t have time in our tutorials to ask about each other’s hobbies and get to know each other better. Everyone immediately goes home after class. Online meetings are even more serious. I’m also still looking for the best way to study. Sometimes I feel stressed about not having figured it all out yet. I hope to have found a routine and made some friends by the end of this year.”

Who are they, the first years of 2020?

Who are the new first-year students at Maastricht University? What are their dreams, their plans and their expectations? And how are they doing this year? Observant will follow five new students this academic year. We will interview them several times: in autumn, in the winter and, finally, in May/June.

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