Where’s her guitar? In January, Meghan Callender from the US told Observant about her new hobby: playing guitar and singing. “I’m just going to try,” she said confidently. Shallow by Lady Gaga was the first song she was trying to learn. The Observant editors warned her that they would expect a performance during the next interview. Now, she laughs at the reminder. “The guitar, Lady Gaga, right, I did learn to play that song, as well as a few country songs”, but she admits that her new hobby has been collecting dust as of late.
She still has the guitar, though. It moved with her last winter, from a student house in Brusselsepoort to a two-person flat behind the station. “Living in a student house is a lot of fun, but it’s also very hectic. I was quite done with everyone using the same kitchen and bathroom. I needed more space for myself. I now share a flat with a good friend. I love it.”
B2 level of Dutch
Sitting outdoors at Coffeelovers, talking about the difficult corona year and that many students struggle, with mental problems and loneliness, she confesses, “Sometimes I feel guilty for having a good year.” Her new friends “feel like family” to her. Her grades are good, and, more importantly, she’s enjoying Global Studies. She has reached a B2 level of Dutch proficiency (even though 99 per cent of this interview was conducted in English, “probably because we started in English the first time we met”, suspects Callender).
“My Dutch is going well”, she says in fluent Dutch. “I didn’t speak it much before, but I do now that I work at Noon.” Noon is a restaurant near De Griend. “I also worked in food service in the US. I like the vibe, meeting people.” As a non-EU student, Callender isn’t allowed to work more than 16 hours per week, “but it’s nice to make some money”.
Well, it was nice. Last week, Callender tripped over a curb and fell, injuring her ankle. She’s having difficulty walking. And in a few weeks she is going to her parents in the US. “It’s been so long. I haven’t seen them since Christmas. I’ll stay with them until August.”
Do her parents feel like their daughter is different now? Have they noticed any changes in her, big or small, over the last year? She’s quiet for a moment. “I think they’re mostly just glad that I got a job”, she says, laughing. “They no longer have to pay for everything.” Then, more seriously: “We talk to each other almost every day, exchanging short messages, so they may not notice changes as much.”
Callender herself is quite amazed at the way she learnt to combine and balance so many things in her life (“I even got a planner!”), from studying to working and from being a member of student rowing association Saurus to her love life. She regularly travels to Groningen, where her boyfriend lives. “It’s not ideal, but it is the way it is.”
And there’s one more thing, the highlight of her year: Philia, the sorority she founded with two of her fellow students and friends. “Philia is a sisterhood based on love, friendship and affection.” The founders thought it would be the first international sorority in Maastricht, “but we recently found out about the existence of Odysseus, a fraternity, and Kalypso, a sorority. We’d never heard of either of them.”
As a member of Saurus, Callender quickly noticed that language was a potential issue at the student rowing association. “All emails are in Dutch, for example. It’s understandable, because most of its members are Dutch, and it’s not a problem for me – I can read Dutch – but many other international students see it as an obstacle. It just makes you feel a bit left out.”
It got her thinking, “especially because half of all students in Maastricht are international students”. Philia will be so much more than partying, she says. “We love sports, for example. We want to organise mountain bike rides and a Pietersberg hike.” They’ll also organise city trips and trips to the beach, “with a beach clean-up, so we’ll also be doing something to help the environment”.
But why did they set up a sorority and not a ‘mixed’ club for female and male students? “We considered it for a while, but our program director, who helped us enormously, gave us the advice to keep it for girls only. And this gives us a lot of opportunity for female empowerment.” Callender assumed the role of sorority president. “It happened very naturally. I tend to be the one who organises and divides the work, in group projects as well. Maybe it’s a control issue, me wanting to make sure that everything goes smoothly, but it works out well and it’s accepted by others.”The three friends are still in the process of setting up, but they plan to start recruiting members during the INKOM introduction week.
Callender feels honoured that Rector Rianne Letschert became Philia’s patroness: “She was very enthusiastic about our idea”. It means that Letschert – though not an active member, of course – is one of the first people who are “part of the sisterhood”.