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“As the rest of the country took to jigsaw puzzles, I was puzzling with concrete blocks”

“As the rest of the country took to jigsaw puzzles, I was puzzling with concrete blocks” “As the rest of the country took to jigsaw puzzles, I was puzzling with concrete blocks”

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Illustration: Simone Golob

Photo: archive Chantal Mingels

The second wave: Chantal Mingels

The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is here. How are staff members at Maastricht University doing? A barking dog, a squawking lovebird: Chantal Mingels, who works in the Education Office of the Faculty of Law, has exchanged her office on Kapoenstraat for her own living room. She is working remotely, “which is going well”, but she misses “the hustle and bustle” of the faculty building. She’s very happy that she is still allowed to come into work four hours per week. In the meantime, Mingels has discovered hidden talents: building an outdoor pool.

“It might be fun to mention it”, Chantal Mingels (49) writes in an email sent soon after our interview. She had forgotten to say that she and her eighteen-year-old son have started building a “pool in the garden. It’s a small pool, measuring three by two metres and one metre deep.” Over the past few months, the two of them have done it all, from pouring concrete to applying stucco. “We are currently working on tiling and painting.”

And yes, Mingels did hard work herself (rather than letting her son do everything), as evidenced by the photos attached to the email. In one of them, she is installing blue mosaic tiles. “We did everything with the help of a YouTube video. As the rest of the country took to jigsaw puzzles, I was puzzling with concrete blocks.” She hopes the pool will be ready for use next year.

Company
For now, though, Mingels spends most of her time inside: in the living room, sitting “in a desk chair from work” at the dining table with her laptop, the dog beside her. She walks the dog every afternoon. “I start work at 7:45 a.m., thirty minutes earlier than I do when I’m at the office, so that I can take a longer break. It's lovely to be outside in the afternoon. I also try to stay active just by walking up and down the stairs or wandering into the garden.”

The dog isn’t her only company in the house. During our Zoom interview, a lovebird can be heard in the background. Her twenty-year-old daughter – who studies at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences – still lives at home, as does her son. “He completed secondary school last year and is now taking a gap year. He wants to go to the Academy of Dramatic Arts. Unfortunately, it’s a highly selective school. He didn't make it through the process this year. He’ll try again next year. He is also taking a course in biology for his back-up plan: veterinary medicine.”
Her partner works at a care agency for children with disabilities. He is still allowed to go into work, alone.

Routine
From day one of the lockdown, Mingels has made sure to stick to her usual routine. “Get up on time, get dressed, open my laptop. The children had their own work to do, so that went well. It's nice to have people around you. Some of my colleagues live alone; they sometimes feel trapped and alone.”

She enjoys the less hectic mornings. “I don’t have to hurry as much. I don’t have to make breakfast and then hop on my bike.” The work she does for the Education Office lends itself to remote working, but she wouldn't want to spend 32 hours per week working from home after the lockdown is over. “No. Two half-days per week, maybe. I’d rather be at the faculty.” She is happy with the four hours per week she currently spends working in the front office. “It’s nice to see colleagues and students.”

Mingels has also clearly separated her work time from her personal time from the start. Working hours are working hours. “After the UM buildings closed, we had to find a new way of communicating. I received messages on WhatsApp, emails, all at different times. I felt like I had to be available 24 hours per day. That’s when I said, ‘I’m always available for urgent matters, but please respect my working hours as much as possible.’ Some colleagues like to log in for a few more hours in the evenings; I consciously try to avoid doing that.” 

Degree
When the Faculty of Law made the move to online exams, some of her job duties – facilitating students in inspecting their written exams – fell away. And, with it, her contact with the people from outside the university, often older people, who usually invigilate exams at MECC Maastricht and help facilitate the inspections. “It always made a nice change.”

She certainly won’t get bored anytime soon, though. Exams are still being held and the results of written examinations, essays and internships are still being processed by Mingels and her colleagues. She also helps the Board of Examiners. “Students are sent their degrees by post, which involves a lot of administrative work. It’s nice to be able to help.”

Appendicitis
She isn’t afraid of getting infected with the coronavirus. “I’m careful. We have two friends we see for dinner every other week, but apart from that, our social lives are on hold.” Her parents (75 and 80) were infected with the virus a month ago. “First my father tested positive and then my mother did. They had visited us just a few days before that, still feeling healthy and unaware of the fact that they had been infected. My son had undergone surgery for acute appendicitis.” They went into self-quarantine. Fortunately, none of them fell ill. Mingels’s father and mother have recovered by now. “It was like a bad, lingering flu. The first time I saw them again was yesterday.”

Series: The second wave

Researchers, lecturers, receptionists, those who draw up rosters, staff members at the University Library, HRM, UM Sports and Facility Services: how are they managing during this second wave? Have they become accustomed to working at home, Zooming and preparing hybrid education after the first ups and downs in spring? Do they miss colleagues and students more than ever? Has the kitchen table finally been swapped for a proper desk? Has work pressure risen even further, or have they instead found space? In short: how are they doing? Observant asks them.

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