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"Everyone listens to my dad, not because we're afraid of him, but out of respect"

"Everyone listens to my dad, not because we're afraid of him, but out of respect"

The UM first years of 2020/2021, part 2: first-year Health Sciences student Hadeel Khawatmy

Towards the end of the interview, first-year student of Health Sciences Hadeel (pronounced
“Adele”) Khawatmy casually reveals that she studies seven (!) days per week. “I get eight hours of sleep, I see my family when we eat, and I spend the rest of the time studying.” This includes evenings and weekends. She doesn’t have time to play sports, play games or watch television.

Is Health Sciences such a demanding study programme? Well, no – but in addition to being a first-year student at Maastricht University, she is currently preparing to take a Dutch state exam in four secondary-school subjects (Mathematics, Physics, Biology and Chemistry), the theory test for her driving licence, and the admission test for Medicine at Utrecht University.

Our Zoom conversation stops for a brief moment. There is surprise on Observant’s side of the call. “Didn’t you want to get a bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences in order to enrol in the master’s programme in Medicine and Clinical Research at UM? Wasn’t that how you were going to realise your dream of becoming a doctor?” From the bedroom she shares with her younger sister in Schijndel, Brabant ­– she has been staying with her parents since the most recent lockdown – Hadeel calmly looks into the camera: yes, her plans have changed.

No access

Hadeel, who came to the Netherlands from Syria as a refugee under the Dutch family reunification programme in 2017, already applied to study Medicine at VU Amsterdam in 2019. To be able to do so, she had learnt Dutch in eight months and obtained all the necessary certificates within one year, as her Syrian secondary-school diploma would not give her access to a Dutch university.

But she didn’t make it through the first round of the selection process. VU Amsterdam told her that her CV did not meet their standards. It didn’t matter that she had done a nursing internship at a hospital in Aleppo (where her mother worked as a nurse) when she was in secondary school, or that she had already started studying Medicine in Syria.

Plan B

“I came up with a plan B. I would do volunteer work at a nursing home and get first aid certified.” And she did. But in early 2020, VU Amsterdam rejected her application again – for the same reason. Hadeel eventually decided to study Health Sciences in Maastricht instead, bringing her one step closer to realising the dream she’d had ever since she was a little girl. “I won’t give up. Even if it takes me fifteen years to become a doctor. It’s my lifelong dream”, she told Observant last September.

Now, in early January, about four months later, she smiles. Yes, that was her plan back in September, says Hadeel, but she’d rather not wait another 2.5 years to start studying Medicine.

One of the reasons for this is that she doesn’t much enjoy the policy side of the Health Sciences programme, which the second block focused on. “The first block was a general introduction. It wasn’t very difficult, but I had to get used to everything. I’m going to take one resit. I passed the course the first time, but I now have a better idea of how to study. I have to take more notes, summarise books, and ask my tutorial group for more information. I don’t always understand my fellow students very well. Everyone is from a different part of the Netherlands and speaks a different dialect. And I now know what the exam process is like. All of this matters a lot. If you get a second chance that will allow you to improve your mark, you have to take it.”

So boring

The second block was mainly about policy. “It was so boring. And everything was online. In the first block, we came together as a group on campus three times. We could get to know each other and talk for a bit while staying 1.5 metres apart. It was really nice. But during the second block, we used Zoom for everything. I did go to campus, to the library, to feel like I was actually in university. But making friends is impossible. There’s one other student I studied with until the lockdown. We could become friends if we see each other more often. And I also have my housemates. I talk to them almost every day, even now that we’re at home.”

She has not yet received the results of the second block, but she thinks she has passed it. If the mark is too low for her liking, though, she will take a resit for this course as well.

Utrecht

And then she talked to a friend she knows from Syria. “She’s studying Medicine in Utrecht. She told me that if I pass their admission test with a nine [out of ten] or higher, I’ll immediately get into the programme. It’s all stuff I learnt in Syria, including anatomy. The books are in English, so I’m already familiar with all the terms.” She will take the test on 20 February.

So what are the secondary-school subjects for? “I already passed them in 2019, but I didn’t have much time back then and I would like to improve my marks.” Those marks are three eights and one seven, for Chemistry. “They also count towards my application. I think I can easily improve them.” But what if most of the spots in the programme are filled randomly? “I don’t want to leave it to fate. If I get that nine, I will be assured of a spot.”

Maastricht

Why not try to get into the Medicine programme at UM? “I have less of a chance here, as my Health Sciences marks will be considered as part of my application. And Utrecht is closer to home, so it’s also easier financially. I’ll be able to live at home.” In Schijndel, she lives with her parents, her little sister and two little brothers. It’s a full house, she laughs, but she can study effectively there regardless. “When I tell my dad that I have to study, he tells my siblings to be quiet. Everyone listens to him, not because we’re afraid of him, but out of respect. It’s very normal for us.” 

The goal

No, life isn’t much fun when you have to work this hard, concludes Hadeel. “But” – she smiles broadly – “it will be fun if I achieve my goal and get admitted to the programme. Then I will know for sure that I will become a doctor.”

What if she doesn’t manage to get into the programme at Utrecht? “I’ll continue studying Health Sciences. It won’t be much fun at all, but I won’t quit. I can’t.”

First-years UM

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 six new students this academic year. We will interview them several times: the first was time in autumn, now in the winter and, finally, in May/June.

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