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"My grandfather was a great writer, I'm proud to be related to him"

"My grandfather was a great writer, I'm proud to be related to him"


Joey Roberts

The UM first years of 2020/2021

“I can tell that you’re Dutch from the way you say ‘yes’,” says first-year student Alina Timosenco (19) from Moldova. Although new to Maastricht, she is already becoming quite adept at identifying both international students and Dutch people. “At first, I thought, ‘How will I know whether or not someone is from the Netherlands?’” She doesn’t generally come across many Dutch people. She’s enrolled in Global Studies, an extremely popular programme among international students, and lives in an international house. But she does love this Dutch city. “Maastricht feels like my home.”

Name: Alina Timosenco

Study programme: Global Studies

Moved out for university: Yes

In 5 qualities: Disciplined, thoughtful, curious, independent, caring

Nationality: Moldovan

Lowest point in 2020: ‘The end of my secondary school years – or rather, the lack of a proper ending.’

Highest point in 2020: ‘Moving to Maastricht and taking on various challenges, like studying and living abroad on my own.’


Secondary school

This isn’t her first time going abroad for educational purposes. “In secondary school, we could go on exchange for a week. I went to Poland and Germany, where I worked on local projects on the degrowth of the economy and sustainability.” Timosenco found out about this opportunity herself. “My school didn’t organise it, but we were allowed to do it during school time. My parents and I were convinced that you learn more on exchange than during the week of school you miss because of it.”

Climate change

After going to Poland and Germany, Timosenco also participated in a local project in a Moldovan village. She worked with a team to reduce food waste. That’s how it all started for her. “I began to learn more and more about climate change. In Moldova, people still know relatively little about sustainability.” She became a member of an NGO focusing on ecology and organised events and protests with her local department of international climate movement Fridays for Future. And even though she moved to Maastricht only recently, she hasn’t been sitting on her hands here, either. “Some of my fellow students and I are thinking about sustainable technology, in collaboration with [Landbouwbelang project] Demotech. Doing research and being actively involved in these issues helps me live much more consciously.”


You could say that environmental awareness is something that runs in Timosenco’s family. “My mother wrote her dissertation on climate resilience development in adolescents. My father wants to know more about environmental topics as well.” Her mother works as an international consultant and project manager in the field of education in Asia and the Middle East. Her father is a doctor. “Some parents in Moldova move abroad to make money there. Fortunately, that didn’t happen to me. The children are left behind to live with their grandparents.”

That said, Timosenco’s maternal grandmother feels like a second mother to her. “She quit her job when I was born. She took care of me and my little sister while my parents were at work. She cooked or took me to nursery school. And she did typical parent things, like tell me to finish my homework,” she laughs. Her parents separated seven years ago. She lived mostly with her mother. Although she was old enough to stay home alone, her grandmother continued to come over often, “sometimes so often that it felt like she lived with us. And sometimes I just went to stay with her for a whole week. It was never a problem.” She looks up to her grandmother. “After eighteen years, she went back to work as a nurse in the same region as where she worked before. A different local hospital actually asked her to come back. She knows a lot.”


Her maternal grandfather is also very important to her, even though he passed away more than thirty years ago. “My grandfather was secretary of the Moldovan Writers’ Union back when the country was still part of the Soviet Union. As I got older, I learnt that he had written about controversial topics. For example, he openly criticised the suppression of freedom of speech, but the books he wrote about it were censored. He also wrote poems, for example about poverty in the country, and citizens who were sent to forced labour camps in Siberia and often didn’t survive. You couldn’t just publish criticism of Soviet policy. He always had to use metaphors.” Timosenco has often read his poems. “They’re inspiring, he was a great writer. I’m proud to be related to him.”


Although her home country is known as one of the poorest countries in Europe, Timosenco can list many positive things about it. “It’s a stunning country with a lot of natural beauty, as the majority of the population lives in the countryside. But what’s much more important is that Moldovans are lovely people. They will always welcome you. They’re never in a hurry like Western Europeans are and they live a simple life. And they appreciate you for who you are, not for what you do.” She looks back on growing up in Moldova with fondness, but she is less pleased with the conservative and restrictive attitude that many of its people have. “We are making progress, but they know nothing about movements like Black Lives Matter or feminism, even though domestic violence is a serious problem. Women are not encouraged to say anything about it.”

Why did she decide to go to university in Maastricht? The Netherlands, she explains, was high on her list for several reasons. “Many Moldovans go abroad to study, if they can afford it, because the quality of education is better there. Some people I knew from secondary school had moved to Maastricht. They were very enthusiastic. And the university is highly regarded. In February, I learnt about its new bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. The programme seemed perfect to me.” She’s dreaming of a career in consultancy, politics or another socially relevant area. But she is still open to anything, both in Maastricht and in Moldova. “Maybe I’ll take a law course and think, ‘This is it.’ I love Maastricht, and I might want to work here, but I would also love to go back to Moldova and help the country using the knowledge I gained here.”

In Maastricht, she is surrounded by friends who are enrolled in the same study programme as well as her six housemates. “We’ve grown very close. I also talk to a lot of other friends.” Did she make those friends during the introduction week? “No, I didn’t have any social interaction with other students at all. I joined two of the sports activities, but that was it. I actually kind of regretted signing up for them.”

She did meet a lot of people at The InnBetween, a student organisation that organises various spiritual events. “The InnBetween offered meditation classes. It’s my favourite thing to do and it helps reduce stress. You could also do yoga in the evenings.” But the coronavirus has affected this, too: physical events are no longer allowed. “Fortunately, you can still participate in online activities. But I prefer to meditate on my own now, as I no longer need an instructor. I’ve reached the next level of meditation.”


Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she hasn’t got the full experience of student life in Maastricht yet. “But everyone who has been here longer has assured me, ‘It’s so much fun in Maastricht! It’s never this quiet!’” The situation doesn’t seem to bother her too much. Moldova was in full lockdown for several months. “You weren’t allowed to do anything, really. At some point, the restrictions were so severe that people were no longer allowed to go for a run in the woods. If you did, you were fined. It was a very heavy fine; most Moldovans would have to work several months to cover it.” But she doesn’t look back on this period with a negative feeling. “I had a good time during quarantine. My little sister was home as well. I have a good relationship with her and we still talk very often. She kind of replaced me in Moldova,” she jokes. “She took my place in public speaking club, for example.”


As the rest of the world is focused on Trump and Biden, Timosenco is preoccupied with the elections in Moldova. “I was very pessimistic about them a few weeks ago.” She was afraid that people would not vote because of the long queues. Some had to wait for five hours during the first round of voting. She also thought a new lockdown would hit Moldova and people would stay home. “And many people didn’t vote because they were convinced that the elections are rigged. But after the first round, unexpectedly, the pro-EU candidate was ahead in the polls!” She couldn’t vote herself, as she would have had to travel to The Hague or Brussels. “You have to be there physically for your vote to count. The Hague is too far for me and, with the coronavirus, I’m worried about putting other people in danger. And Brussels was already in lockdown.” Instead, she tried to encourage her friends, relatives and acquaintances in Moldova to vote. With success. Salvation came on the 15th of November: the pro-European candidate Maia Sandu has won the presidency.

Lieve Smeets





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