Ik Student
Universiteit Amsterdam

‘I find it harder to concentrate than other students do.’


‘When you’re dancing all evening, the world around you ceases to exist. You create an open space. Somehow I’m always the most extreme. I always feel like having an after party.’

Staring out the window

‘I read a paragraph and then I stare out the window. I don’t realise I’m doing it until ten minutes later. It frustrates me so much, I give up studying. The next day I start again and then the same thing happens.’

Happy medium

‘Getting into a routine is very hard. I really miss it. But I don’t like a very strict regime either. There must be a happy medium to have a routine and to do fun things.

Marla (24) has discovered she needs structure and routine. And however much she likes to party, that doesn’t always end well. ‘I have to find a happy medium and still do fun things.’

Marla already suffered from headaches and poor concentration back in second grade of secondary school. ‘I often gave up, because I couldn’t manage to read through all the subject matter. Then one day, I lost interest and stopped doing anything at all.’
After secondary school she took a job for a year and then went to art academy. ‘My grades were fine, but it wasn’t the right place for me. Art academy offers little structure, it’s up to you to provide that for yourself. You’re autonomous and free, which means you’re all over the place. Back then I went out a lot: I spent nights wandering through the woods with hot wine and sandwiches. It was fun, but it’s something you shouldn’t do too often. You lose all routine. I was the same in secondary school, but there the school imposed structure.’

Taking it slow
Because she felt she wasn’t using her full potential at the art academy, Marla switched to communication sciences at the UvA. ‘My father had just died and so I decided to stay living at home that year. There had been enough changes as it was. I took it slow. Every day after lectures I started reading for the next time, so I didn’t fall behind with anything. I usually went home early. I hardly drank at all during that period.
In my second year I moved to Amsterdam. I didn’t feel like participating in student life, drinking beer and such. It went well for a while, but then it slowly crept back in. Every now and then I would have a drink again and at times I would really drink hard. And that kept happening more and more often. It’s like a tear that becomes bigger all the time, until you feel footloose and fancy free again.’

Nightly routine
But partying, drinking and studying don’t go well together for Marla. ‘When I go out, I am totally happy. The problem is, that it affects my study routine. I have a very busy lifestyle and always have a lot going on at once: sports, member of the programme committee, two jobs. I administer questionnaires and I work in a café. That puts me back into a nightly routine.’
That makes it hard to concentrate on your studies. ‘While I’m studying I can find myself staring at everyone around me, or out the window. Or I see a newspaper and start reading it. I also suffer from headaches, which is very tiring. During class that’s a nuisance and so I leave or start drawing. It’s all very discouraging.’
Marla often feels powerless, because there is nothing she can do about her concentration problems. ‘I was in tears once when I had to read two articles for an essay I had to write. I tried all week and still didn’t get through them. So I didn’t write the essay. I started to fall behind and everything slowly started to pile up. I should get everything done at the beginning of the week, otherwise I run the risk of losing my concentration.’

Every bit as good
Marla doesn’t think her study problems are caused by her partying. ‘The concentration problem is a separate thing, although going out will make it worse. I don’t think many students have as severe concentration problems as I have.’ She wants nothing more than for her studies to go well. ‘I just want everything to go well, so I can finish my studies and graduate, just like anyone else. I don’t want to have a problem, so I’ll solve it myself. I’m intelligent enough, otherwise I wouldn’t be at university. And so I want everything to be right. I want to be every bit as good as others. When I’m not, it feels like failure to meet the norm.’
Marla is now working on her bachelor’s thesis and has been accepted for the research master. ‘I’m still afraid I’ll let go of my routine again and go back to partying and unhealthy living. But I’m really sick of it. I want very much to get my routine back. I want to give up smoking, take up a fun sport and work regular days.’

Bob’s story: ‘Sweaty palms and fear of making a fool of myself’
Jason’s story: ‘I thought I had to be a resounding success’
Marla’s story: ‘I find it harder to concentrate than other students do.’
Michael’s story: ‘And then my student grant ran out.’

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