“When I first saw him, I immediately knew that I wanted to get to know him”

The UM first years of 2020/2021, part 3: first-year Psychology student Maike Prenzyna


She’s back in Eschweiler, the small village near Aachen, Germany, where she grew up. In January, first-year student Maike Prenzyna developed severe abdominal pain. Four months, eight doctors and three surgeries later, its cause is still unclear. She had to give up her room in Maastricht, but she still regularly crosses the border to visit her boyfriend and her best friend. “It always feels like a holiday.”

Prenzyna has been in pain every day since January. “They thought it was my appendix at first. It turned out to be inflamed, so they removed it.” But the pain didn’t stop. “Something keeps getting inflamed, causing my stomach to fill with fluid. I’ve already had two surgeries to remove the build-up, but the doctors don’t know what’s causing the inflammation. They think it might help if I start taking birth control, because it helps with the pain, but I don’t think that’s a good solution. We’d just be treating the symptoms instead of the cause.”

She had to give up her room in Maastricht because she was spending so much time recovering at home. “I’m very sad about it, because I was really looking forward to being independent. But it just wasn’t worth it from a financial point of view. And I really appreciate spending this time with my mother. You just want to be around your mum when you’re ill.”


Prenzyna has been spending a lot of time reading to distract herself from the pain. “I always procrastinate on my reading for class, but I can spend hours on the couch with a novel. My friend Noa recommended the Göttlich trilogy to me.” She laughs. “I think it was written for 12-year-old girls, but I love how predictable it is. I always know exactly what will happen in the next chapter.”

Visiting Noa and her new boyfriend Joshua in Maastricht is another welcome distraction. “They live in the same building, that’s how we met. He’s half Dutch and half American. He decided to move to the Netherlands last year. He ended up in Maastricht by sheer coincidence; this was the first flat he was able to get. We met at Noa’s neighbours. I don’t believe in love at first sight, but the first time I saw him, I immediately knew that I wanted to get to know him better. He felt the same way. We’ve been talking every day since.”

First shot

Regularly crossing the border also means regular COVID tests. Germany requires travellers from high-risk areas, like the Netherlands, to have proof of a negative test result. “Fortunately, there’s a test site just down the street. It’s not a problem for me.”

Prenzyna doesn’t have to be too worried about getting infected with COVID-19 herself: she received her first vaccine dose last week. “I feel a bit guilty about it. I got it because I work at a chemist, so I’m considered an essential worker. But I’m 19 years old and healthy, apart from my stomach issues. It feels odd to have already had my first shot when so many people are still waiting for theirs. Then again, every shot counts towards herd immunity. And I do see a lot of different people at work.”

In real life

She was forced to slow down her studies. “I’m allowed more absences from tutorials because of my illness. I’ve decided to focus on one course and take the other one next year. It isn’t ideal, but it is the way it is.”

In the coming academic year, she will probably attend a regular in-person tutorial for the very first time. “It still feels so weird to me. I’ve been at university for almost a year now, and I’ve met maybe five of my classmates in real life. I’ve only ever seen the others through a screen. I always feel like you can learn a lot about people from their body language. It’s different through Zoom. Maybe the pictures I’ve formed of them in my mind are completely different from what they would be like if we had met under normal circumstances. I’m looking forward to hearing everyone’s stories when we will finally be able to meet in real life. This may seem like a boring time, but I’m sure everyone will have a story to tell.”

She wonders what the world will be like after COVID-19. “Will people continue to keep their distance from each other? Or will they actually get closer together? I’ve personally been talking to my friends more, even if it is through texting and video calls. People are looking out for each other more. This also happens in our tutorial groups; if one of us hasn’t done the reading, we say, ‘Come on, we’ll do it together’. We’re more mindful of other people’s realities and the fact that you just can’t do everything. It’s OK to say no sometimes, to need time to yourself. I hope we’ll be able to hold onto that.”

Who are they, 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, checked in with them in January/February, and are now interviewing them one last time in May/June.

“When I first saw him, I immediately knew that I wanted to get to know him”
Maike Prenzyna
Author: Cleo Freriks

Photo: archive Maike Prenzyna

Categories: news_top, People
Tags: first-years

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