“I found the house more quickly than I thought,” says Mien Segers, professor of Corporate Learning, as she enters Inge Tielen's apartment. “The address was a white stain on Google Maps. And Belgians always lose their way in the Netherlands.” Another fact about the Belgians: they never come empty-handed. Segers hands a basket of Belgian beer and chocolate to the girls of Circumflex sorority MDD Cumbonadea. Not the easiest of names. “It means something like ‘with the good goddess',” says Tielen. “In ancient times, a feast was held in her honour once a year. Women offered up hens and drank wine from honey jars –referring to it as milk.” The sorority members keep up the tradition, but in a modern form. “The hens have become half chickens from the market and the honey jars are ordinary glasses, although you have to refer to the wine as milk and the glass as a honey jar the entire evening.”
During the asparagus soup, the conversation turns to how everybody ended up in Maastricht. “I came for the Problem-Based Learning system. I have ADHD and I thought it would help,” says Sophie Hermans. Segers is surprised. “I would rather think that it would provide more stimuli.” “It provides a lot of structure: you have to plan. That helps,” says Hermans. Segers herself was offered a job after a talk with PBL guru Wynand Wijnen. “I worked as an education official for an organisation in Brussels. Through my husband, who already worked at the UM, I learned about a research project that caught my eye. I thought I had just had a friendly talk, but as we walked out, Wijnen said: you have a job. The day after, I did a pregnancy test and it was positive. I phoned up and the only thing Wynand said was: congratulations, when are you coming?” Years later, she was approached by Leiden University for a professorship. Despite the fact that her husband and children (five by now) wanted to stay here, she took the job and commuted for eight years. “I love hearing that, that you chose your own career,” says Hermans. “My mother always followed my father. It doesn't have to be that way.” “It does take some arranging,” says Segers. “And a lot of discussions. When do you really need to be there?”
Tielen gets up to finish the main course: chicken with bacon and pesto, and grilled vegetables. “Shouldn't we give you a hand?” Segers asks. It isn't necessary. “It is such a luxury not to have to cook,” Segers sighs. She admires the apartment, which Tielen shares with a fellow sorority member who is not present this evening. “Is it easy to find a room in Maastricht?” Opinions are divided. Hermans found a cheap room in the centre within one day; Pauline Hanckmann could only find something on the edge of town. Puck Rouvroye is from Maastricht, but nevertheless lives in digs. “A really small room.” The latter would not be possible in Belgium, says Segers. Too expensive. “For 300 euro, you get a dirty rabbit hole. Even then your parents have to pay for everything, there is very limited student financing and very few student jobs.”
The Cumbonadea girls all work. Hanckmann is about to start a very special job, just like the guys from Sunergos who were in this column two weeks ago, she will be a pall-bearer. “Although as a woman you are given a cart. But we do have to lower the coffin into the grave. I am a bit nervous about that: what if the rope slips through my hands?” “That they are able to find people to do that,” Segers remarks. “What if it is a very young person?” “All sorority members of my year do the same,” says Hanckmann. “But that is an important point. I am normally quite sentimental, and I cry during every film. I think you have to switch over, you are there to work.” “My greatest fear is that a sound would come from the coffin,” says Segers. Tielen laughs: “That is why I want to be cremated, if I wasn't quite dead yet, I would definitely be then.”
“Do you also have fac bars?” Segers inquires. “Do we have what?,” the students ask, briefly having understood something completely different. “A faculty bar,” Segers explains. We don't have them, but we do have pubs that are run by associations. “In Leuven, there are student parties 4 to 5 times a year and academic staff man the bar. That is really good fun, because you see students in a different light.” “Normally, you just see the damage on the day after,” Hermans grins. Segers nods affirmatively. “I once had a guy in a tutorial group who kept dozing off. And the smell that surrounded him! I said: ‘I feel so sorry for you, go home’.”
How do you determine who fits into your sorority, Segers wonders during the forest fruits parfait. “First, you become a member of Circumflex and then all sororities present themselves,” says Tielen. “You talk a lot with the new girls, to get to know them. Drinks are organised for that purpose, and then we make a selection. It is largely a matter of how it feels. It has to click.“ Segers: “Has there ever been anyone who was not asked to join by any sorority? That would be terrible.” Rouvroye: “Some don't want to become members, they usually make that known quite early on. If they did want to, that would of course be a pity, but it is not a disaster.” “There are also commissions and year clubs, you are not doomed to oblivion,” Tielen adds.
Finally, the conversation turns to the various pets. Segers tells about her dog that hides his head under his paws when he knows it's time to go outside to his hut. “He thinks that I can't see him.” Hanckmann recently tried the cucumber trick (place a cucumber beside a cat and it gets a fright) on her fat red tomcat Bert, but he was not impressed. “He looked at the cucumber and then at me as if to say ‘what did you think?” Rouvroye tells that her sister sometimes looks after someone's dog for the weekend and gets paid for it, which gives Tielen an idea. “Could the sorority not start a business? We could take dogs for walks and look after pets.” Yes, Hermans shouts enthusiastically. “We could also make an app for animals from the animal shelter. Tinder for cats! Would that exist yet?” Segers: “I'll check that out as soon as I get at home.”