Carmen (30) is a sociology graduate. In hindsight she says her time at university was like a rollercoaster ride. Not just because she spent a lot of time in Australia, but also because her degree course unbalanced her self-image and the image she has of the world.
Even though studying went quite well, when she started, Carmen found it hard to connect with other students. ‘I immediately felt that everyone had formed groups already. Besides, I don’t care much for student life. I purposely didn’t join a student union. The whole group thing, the initiations, it’s just not my thing. Those students are such fratters.’
The subject matter had a tremendous impact on Carmen’s self-image. ‘In addition to the study load you have your own personal growth. As you’re studying, you are discovering yourself. Sometimes I would return from lectures with an entirely different view on the world. The things you thought you knew to be true, turned out not to be. I repeatedly experienced these discoveries as small earthquakes. I found that very difficult.
Sometimes you think your degree course is sterile, as if it doesn’t affect you in any way. But studying can change your view on the world, it really moves you. You’re discovering yourself and that comes with a lot of stress, especially during exams.’
During her time at university Carmen spent a lot of time abroad. ‘I found it hard in Holland. I wanted to go to Australia and in order to earn some money I took a job in a restaurant during my second year. I was enrolled, but I didn’t take any subjects that year. So that was a wasted year.’
In the summer she left for Australia to teach there. ‘I stayed there all year and I had a fantastic time. I also met a new boyfriend during that period. He was a kind of Crocodile Dundee. I promised him I would come again at Christmas. So once I was back in Holland, I took on all kinds of jobs again. Because I wanted to go abroad so often, I didn’t leave home. I didn’t want to spend four hundred Euros on rent for a room.’
During her master she went to Australia again. ‘That was great. There was an atmosphere and an interconnection which felt very good. No bureaucratic fuss. Just good education. I really felt like a fish in water there.’
When Carmen returned to Holland she began her thesis. ‘The drive to perform well, caused tremendous stress. While writing I suffered severe headaches. My brain was so overloaded and saturated, I jammed. On top of that everyone assumed I would pass. If anybody could do it, I could. But I was the one who had to do it. I was the one who had to spend day in day out at my desk. It was my struggle. And I honestly did struggle, particularly with myself.’ It took Carmen over a year to write her thesis, after which she suffered severe pneumonia. ’That pneumonia was my body crying out at me to change. I think I pressured myself too much and this was the physical expression of that. I risked my health and at the end of it all, I had to pay for it.’
Carmen had a turbulent time as a student, she thinks. ‘It felt like a rollercoaster ride. You get on and you have to sit it out. I’m very positive about the future now. I have to regain my physical strength, though. That thesis was a huge mountain to climb.’
In November she returns to Australia for a friend’s wedding. The country doesn’t hold the attraction it once did. ‘I had a lot of trouble finding my way in Holland, but I managed to do it. Australia captivated my heart, a great part of my personal growth took place there. They were formative years. But looking back, it was also flight.
Now I feel very much at home here and the world is at my feet. I’m going to start small, in Holland, and after that I’ll just see what happens.’