Seventeen hundred meetups have already taken place since UM Walks was launched at the end of February. The idea is simple: you register and every Monday you are matched with either a student or an employee from Maastricht University who is also a participant. Together, you agree on a time that week to either walk or chat together.
A relief, says Liyang Wu. He arrived in Maastricht three weeks ago from China for his PhD track at the Faculty of Psychology and Neurosciences. “I don’t know anybody at all here and at the moment it is difficult to meet people. It is a little lonely. I saw this in the UM news and decided to register. It is ideal for international students and employees.”
They are exactly the people that Han Aarts, director of the Maastricht University centre for international cooperation in academic development (Mundo), is hoping to meet. “I am used to meeting a lot of people through my work. Now that I mainly work from home, I hardly speak or see anybody. This seemed like fun.” He has already been on his first walk. “With a Brazilian woman who lived in Italy for a time. Great fun, the conversation just happened all by itself. Of course, you already have a common interest, because you work for the same employer.” This week, he will take to the roads with a man from India.
The matches are completely random, says Jermain Kaminski, assistant professor at the School of Business and Economics, who brought the idea – which is also running at other universities – to Maastricht. “The algorithm on the website ensures that students are coupled with students and employees with employees, and that you don’t get the same match twice. I did most of the coding myself. If we have an uneven number of participants in a week, I link myself to the person who is left.”
Sometimes he receives requests. “A particular faculty wanted its students to walk with each other and some employees actually want to walk with students. Other than that, I like to keep it as simple as possible. It is not a dating site.”
Kaminski hopes that UM Walks will also maintain its value after COVID-19. “I wanted to do something now for the students who are isolated, those who are sitting in their tiny rooms all day long. But it is also a good way to meet people outside your own circle. Then we could do it a couple of times a year, instead of every week.”