As an Observant journalist, you are allowed to pull up a chair in this series. But please note that the idea is not to join in the meal – something that the students always find very awkward; they feel inhospitable and insist that we at least try the dessert. And this time, it is no trial at all: first-year student Lenah Kampmeijer retrieved a heavenly ristretto cheesecake à la Coffeelovers from the refrigerator.
Pulling up a chair at the table means that you can unashamedly observe the conversation and the surroundings, like a fly on the wall. What is hanging on the wall? What does the bed look like? Are there any funny photos, souvenirs, or other peculiarities to discover? Sometimes there are, such as a poster of a female nude (in a man's room) and three lavishly coloured plaster cast phalluses on top of a cupboard (in a woman's home). To be clear: not in this student house. At Wieke van der Linden’s, on the corner of the Volksplein, the greenish-yellow retro-flower staircase coverings catch the eye. “Almost everyone comments on it, it really is quite conspicuous,” Van der Linden laughs. “It is from the days when the previous owner lived here.” Just like the two gas heaters with slate mantelpiece. “My mother did want me to hang up carbon monoxide detectors.”
Professor Wendy Smits is looking straight at a painting in the make. Underneath, a basket with paint and paintbrushes. The outline of two female bodies has been completed. Unfortunately, the art is not discussed. Maybe Smits didn't notice it. But neither the artist nor her fellow sorority members bring up the topic. Observant feels that it is special, because how unusual can it get: a Dutch student of International Business who paints in her spare time.
The starter is served on a 'Boerenbont' (typically Dutch design) plate; it is tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. Who is Smits (professor occupying the endowed chair of Labour Market Flexibility) and what does she do at the university (one day, research). “Labour Market Flexibility is very topical,” says Smits. “Why are businesses offering more and more flexible contracts? Which businesses are doing so? What does that mean for their employees? My chair is funded by Statistics Netherlands, my regular employer. We want more in depth research, and the university is eminently suited to that purpose.”
As a child, Smits wanted to become a chef. And later on, a foreign aid worker. “I used to have a rather idealistic view of the world, but I thought it would be good to help people.” The study of Cultural Anthropology was considered, but when her father warned her that she would end up in a museum, she chose Econometrics in Amsterdam.
That gives the girls an idea. “Why don't we, as sorority members, make a short video in which each of us says where we think we will be in five or ten years’ time? Then, in 2030, we see if we were in any way close,” medical student Noël van de Kerkhof laughs. That will be a difficult one for Lenah Kampmeijer. Last year, she started European Law School, stopped halfway through the year, is now doing a course in Arabic and will start Biotechnical Sciences in September, hoping to be selected for a place at Medicine the year after. Kampmeijer’s whole family studied in Maastricht. “We are a KoKo family,” she laughs. “My mother and father met each other at the association, my brother and sister were also members.” When she was fourteen, she moved with her parents to Nevers in the south of Burgundy. “My father taught himself French. It is not perfect, sometimes he says things and I think: ‘Dad, that doesn't make much sense,’ but he gets away with it and he isn't bothered.” It took some getting used to for daughter Kampmeijer, both the French language and the long days she spent in secondary school. “I often didn't get back home until six o'clock.”
Smits’ son, who is eighteen, has just finished his final exams. “He is already in the holiday mood, sleeping in a lot, you know how that goes.” Certainly, and the day that you receive the phone call with a go or no go is stamped in everybody's memory. Van de Kerkhof, grins: “I was sitting there all alone. Dad was a baker, so he wasn't there, and mom refused to take a whole day off work.”
The filet of Pangas catfish is carefully removed from the aluminium foil; alongside it is a courgette, filled with pieces of mushroom and bell peppers. “This is more luxurious than what we normally eat. I can never be bothered to wait that long on the oven,” says Van de Kerkhof. “We are regarded as a miserly sorority, but we aren’t,” Van der Linden laughs. Two girls cook every Wednesday evening, for the whole group (of the twenty members, thirteen are active because of traineeships or internships). They are not allowed to spend more than 2.25 euro per person on food and 1.25 euro for the activity that follows. Van der Linden: “Some people wonder what you can cook for that amount, but if you are creative and buy your shopping in the right place, then you can eat really well on such a budget.”
The students inquire whether Smits’ son, who will embark on the Maastricht Science Programme in September, will take up digs and if he plans on joining an association. “He will stay at home for the moment. We live in Kanne. He may become a member of the sailing club. I myself was never a member of a student association. I was rather serious.”
The Maastricht Syndrome is mentioned. “The what?” Smits asks. “It is in the online Urban Dictionary,” says Van der Linden. In short: sexual frustration among women because there are fewer men studying in Maastricht. Van de Kerkhof, laughing: “Quite a few girls are unwantedly single.” The handsome guys are taken and “there is nothing left for us,” Kampmeijer reacts. “Prepare your son for that.” There will not be a lack of bed partners. But mother Smits probably doesn't want to hear that.