“The military taught me discipline”

Stan Laaper

“The military taught me discipline”

Students on their future plans

18-03-2024 · Interview

The weekend before this interview, Stan Laaper (22) found himself in a ‘gas chamber’. Beg pardon? A room filled with tear gas, he explains, where soldiers learn to put on their gas masks as quickly as possible “and gain confidence in them”. It’s not your typical Saturday activity, but then again, the second-year Health Sciences student doesn’t have your typical side job. Laaper is a member of the National Reserve Corps, a part of the Royal Netherlands Army.

Stan Laaper first learnt of the National Reserve Corps in early 2022 after googling the Royal Military Academy, the Dutch officer training school in Breda. “One of my half-brothers went there, and I was curious to know more about it. After that, I kept getting online adverts for the National Reserve Corps. I thought, why not? I attended an information evening and signed up there and then. My parents were quite surprised; my father was immediately supportive, but it took my mother a few months to get used to the idea.”

Easy decision

What convinced him to sign up the same evening? “The social value of the work”, he declares. “We mainly perform safety and security duties; during periods of high terrorist threat levels, for example, or when other NATO countries are moving equipment across Dutch territory. And during the flooding a few years ago, reservists assisted in reinforcing the dykes in Limburg.” On top of that, “Tensions in the world have only increased in recent years. I’m also doing this for my family, girlfriend and friends. If push comes to shove, I want to be able to protect them.”

Active combat is not what the National Reserve Corps is about; even in wartime, its focus is on safety and security duties. But, as Laaper points out, “Reporting for service is not obligatory, but conscription still exists in the Netherlands. If we go to war, I could be called up anyway, and I’d prefer not to be conscripted for military service unexpectedly. It was an easy decision for me.”

Kind of like a calling

His desire to have a social impact also influenced his choice of degree. “I first studied biomedical sciences at a university of applied sciences, but the programme was heavily focused on lab work. I would like a job with social interaction, so I began to explore other options.” He ended up in Maastricht, at the Faculty of Health, Medicine and Life Sciences, where he had previously completed an internship. His first choice, Medicine, fell through at the last minute. “I submitted my application sixteen seconds late…”

Laaper can laugh about it now, but the rejection stung at the time. He was determined to do “something in health”. He ended up enrolling in Health Sciences and is currently specialising in healthcare policy and management. “My mother works as a department head at Zuyderland Medical Centre in Sittard, so I grew up hearing a lot about her work. I hope to hold a management position one day. I like to think I could make a positive difference by trying to address the serious shortage of health workers in South Limburg, for example. It kind of feels like a calling, although I’m not ready to commit to a specific goal yet. I might come across something I find even more interesting.”

If commitments clash

For now, though, he’s still just a student. How does he manage to juggle his studies with a part-time job in the military? “That’s often one of the first things my fellow students ask me when I tell them what I do. I typically work two evenings and two Saturdays per month, so it’s not a problem. My grades are good and I’m in the FHML Honours Programme.” And if his commitments clash, as they sometimes do? “Then my studies take precedence. I’m on track to graduate without debt, and I intend to keep it that way.”

He believes his side job has made him a better student. “Being in the military has taught me discipline and the importance of clear and timely communication. Things like promptly informing your fellow students if you haven’t been able to get something done, rather than texting them at five minutes to midnight. Or being on time. [Laughs] I must admit, I sometimes struggle with that myself.”

In this biweekly series, Observant interviews students about their plans for the future – their hopes, fears and uncertainties.

Photo: Ellen Oosterhof

Categories: news_top, People
Tags: Future plans, National Reserve Corps, Students, Health sciences

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