She had two containers of peanut butter in her suitcase when she flew back to the Netherlands at the end of December, after a stay with her parents in Washington State. It only just fit. “My luggage weighed exactly 23 kilos”, says Meghan Callender. American peanut butter is a hit with her friends in Maastricht. “It’s not as healthy as Dutch peanut butter, though.”
Sunday morning brunch
Like most students, Callender celebrated Christmas with her mum and dad. They were finally able to hold each other, chat while being in the same room, and head out together – although she rarely went anywhere, she laughs. “I didn’t feel like it. I just went with my mum to walk the dog a couple of times.” She did spend a lot of time in the kitchen. “I’m kind of a control freak when it comes to cooking. At least that way I know what we’re eating and that it will be tasty.”
Now, back in Maastricht, she still prefers to eat dinner together with other people. “I think it’s the most important thing for me to make sure I’m feeling good. It just feels wrong and sad when I have to eat dinner by myself in my room, because I always eat dinner together with my family in the US.” It’s a good thing that one of her best friends lives next door, especially now that the Dutch government has imposed a night curfew and no one is allowed to be outside after 9 PM. “We basically just spend most of our day together, studying and working out and eating together. We also have movie nights on Sundays every weekend.” Their latest idea: a Sunday morning brunch.
Her boyfriend lives and studies in Groningen, on the other side of the country. They see each other a few times per month at most, but they regularly FaceTime each other. “Sometimes we eat dinner together over the call. It helps keep the social feeling there.” It’s far from ideal – him with a plate of spaghetti in Groningen, her with a plate of rice and vegetables in Maastricht – but they knew what they were getting into when they got together last summer. They’ve found their way in it.
“I always make sure to go outside during the day as much as I can.” Sure, sometimes it’s “way too cold, but staying inside all the time makes me feel trapped. It affects my mood.” She has discovered a beautiful, flat running route along the water in Smeermaas, just across the border in Belgium. She combines running with walking and fitness training, and playing basketball with friends on the court in front of her house. If it had been up to her, she would still be rowing three to four times per week; she joined student rowing association Saurus in September. But everything is closed due to the lockdown. Now, she doesn’t spend any time on the water.
On 6 January, Callender’s mother contacted her when the US Capitol – the seat of the legislative branch of the federal government – was stormed by Trump supporters. “I was watching a film in my room in Maastricht. When she sent me that message, I immediately switched to an American news channel. It looked so silly, but I wasn’t surprised. The US has been in a state of unrest for quite some time now.”
She says she’s happy that Joe Biden won, but in her first Observant interview, Callender was hesitant to say whether she would vote for Trump or Biden in the presidential election. “Politics is a sensitive issue in the US”, she said at the time. Now, coming back to that: “I’m trying to be more careful about the things I share on the internet. I often feel political discussions are better held in person, especially during such times in the US. I mostly wanted to leave politics out of the article so I could instead speak for myself on that matter.”
Callender was only sixteen years old when she went abroad on exchange and ended up in Groningen. She later went back there to study International Communication at Hanze University of Applied Sciences Groningen, but she already knew that she wanted to transfer to a university after her first year. She decided to enrol in Global Studies, a new study programme at Maastricht University.
She still doesn’t regret that decision. By now, she has passed her first exams. “They weren’t real exams where you have to answer questions. We had to write an essay at the end of the first block, which was about study and discussion skills. At the end of the second period, we had a role-play assessment. One student represented the Nike company, another student represented the factory on the other side of the world where the shoes are made, and another student represented the consumer.” According to her lecturer, she was “excellent”.
She’s not very busy with school right now – a nice change of pace from the past months, when she would spend hours studying. “We’re doing a project in the third period. I’m working together with a few other students. We’re actually almost done with our project.”
She had to get used to UM’s Problem-Based Learning approach. “At first, only two or three students would speak up in tutorial discussions, while everyone else kept silent. So would I, and it wasn’t because I didn’t understand what we were talking about. I just didn’t really feel comfortable. It can be quite intimidating when others keep speaking up, so you just don’t say anything anymore.”
It took a while for that to change. “At some point my mentor, Mark Kawakami, said that everyone feels that way, and a lot of students have to get used to the approach. That made me feel better about it. I’ve grown since then, just like the others. Tutorial discussions now feel much more balanced.”
Callender recently started learning guitar by herself. She’s using an app to teach herself Shallow by Lady Gaga. “I love the soundtrack. One of my classmates, a friend, plays the guitar beautifully and also sings. I’d like to do that, too. I’m just going to try.”
Excellent. We’ll be expecting a performance during our next interview, in May.