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“When I’m on the phone with a friend, we talk about anything but COVID”

“When I’m on the phone with a friend, we talk about anything but COVID”

Photographer:Fotograaf:

Joey Roberts

The UM first years of 2020/2021, part 2: first-year Psychology student Maike Prenzyna

“When was the last time you went outside?” When her mother asked her this, first-year student of Psychology Maike Prenzyna was surprised to realise it had been two weeks. “Weekdays, weekend days, mornings, afternoons, evenings – everything feels the same. I go to sleep when it’s dark outside, but that’s about it.” But it’s not all doom and gloom: she has found a room and a new best friend in Maastricht.

She immediately fell in love with the room when she first saw it. “I couldn’t believe I was accepted to rent it”, says Maike Prenzyna happily. “It’s a spacious room, in a house with six other girls. We share the kitchen and the bathroom. It’s a quiet neighbourhood, mostly families with children. There’s a childcare centre across the street from us. It has a lot of green space and the faculty is a three-minute walk away.”

Despite all that, she is currently staying with her mother in Eschweiler, the small village near Aachen, Germany, where she grew up. “A negative COVID test is required to enter the Netherlands or Germany by public transport, which is difficult as you can’t get tested unless you have symptoms here. I could travel by car, but I don’t know if they’re checking for tests at the border. You can’t easily travel back and forth. But I’m going back to Maastricht today. I must have received my citizen service number by now, so I’ll be able to prove that I live there. It shouldn’t be a problem anymore.”

Independent

Prenzyna is very much looking forward to moving out. “Independent at last! I think I’ll finally feel like I’m actually in university now.” And she has another reason to look forward to living in Maastricht: she’ll be reunited with her new best friend, Noa. “We met during the first block, back when it was still possible to get to know people. There was an introduction week and I was taking two courses with the same group of people, so we saw each other three times per week. We hit it off right away, which was very cool. We continued to hang out after that, but it’s been a while since we last saw each other because of the lockdown. She has also been staying with her parents.”

The lack of social contact is difficult for Prenzyna. “I feel lonely sometimes. My mother still has to go to work, she’s an OR nurse. My friends from here have moved to the cities where they are studying, my choir isn’t allowed to get together. I do talk to people on the phone every day, to Noa or another friend. We talk about anything but COVID. It’s really nice to be able to tune it out for a while.”

Third group

She still works at a chemist on Saturdays. “It’s not a lot of fun at the moment, though. People are very self-centred. When we’re running low on a product, for example, they’ll try to grab the last few items for themselves. Before COVID, they’d say, ‘Oh, you take it.’ People in Germany are quite good about wearing face masks, but some people wear a face shield instead of a mask. They’re not allowed to – the virus can move around the sides of the visor – but when I tell them they will have to wear a face mask in the shop, they react very aggressively.”

She doesn’t want to quit her side job, though. “Like I said last time, it’s just the two of us, my mum and I [Prenzyna’s father passed away in 2018]. I want to be able to visit her regularly, so I’ll be coming back here anyway.” And besides, she laughs, “I’m a key worker because of this job, which means I’m part of the third group of people who will be vaccinated in Germany. I don’t know yet when that will be.”

Disciplined

Her studies are going well. She’s enjoying the programme. “There’s more biology and anatomy involved than there would be in a psychology programme in Germany, but I don’t mind that. And it’s less work than I thought it would be, although maybe that’s just because I have nothing else to do but study.” Problem-Based Learning is also working for her. “It’s helping me, especially now that we have to come up with a problem to discuss for this block. I’m currently taking Meet Your Brain, about the brain.”

She does feel like class discussions are a little more difficult now that all teaching is online. “I think it’s because we don’t know each other; people are quieter. And online education is exhausting. I know it’s the only option, but I’m struggling to stay focused in meetings. And sometimes it’s difficult to stay disciplined. When you’re among other students, you can motivate each other.”

What will the rest of the year be like? Prenzyna doesn’t want to look too far ahead. “I hope the vaccines will work well, and perhaps hybrid tutorials will be possible again. But I don’t want to get my hopes up too high.”

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 is following six new students this academic year. We spoke to them for the first time in autumn, are checking in with them now and will interview them one last time in May/June.

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