It was a big transition for Julia (22), moving to Amsterdam from a village near Zwolle. But she threw herself into student life with great gusto. Until she failed to pass any exams and took a radical decision.
Medicine was a surprising choice, both to Julia’s parents and to herself. ‘There are people who want to become a doctor from the age of three, but as a child I didn’t like hospitals much. I thought they smelled.’
Because her grade average was sixty per cent, she had to take part in the decentral selection procedure to be accepted. ‘They said I would have to work hard, but I should probably be alright. My motivation was good and my personality matched the degree course.’
She didn’t fancy commuting from Zwolle every day so she moved to Amsterdam. ‘I didn’t really want to move to Amsterdam or Rotterdam. I have been brought up with the idea that Amsterdam is the big bad city where you will be raped and mugged and where everything goes wrong. That idea is still prevalent in the east of Holland. My parents and everyone else in the village still think that way.’
She quickly found a place to live, with a landlady, in the Jordaan. ‘It was a very small room, with a bed, a desk, and a wardrobe in the hall. For no less than three hundred Euros. At first I was pleased with it, but it became increasingly filthy, truly disgusting. My landlady wasn’t exactly clean. I stopped noticing, until my mother came round. She said: “What’s going on here?” The fridge was full of mouldy food, for instance.
There was a coffee shop below my window as well. In nice weather the men would hang around there until two or three in the morning. I heard some interesting conversations, but I didn’t catch any sleep. I was living on six square metres and slowly losing my mind.’
Her former class mates had all gone to Groningen and Nijmegen and Julia missed them. Particularly her best friend, who she had been at school with since first grade.
Because she didn’t know anyone in Amsterdam, she joined Nereus. ‘I didn’t really want to join a rowing club. I had fallen out of a canoe three times in my life, so why row? I ended up enjoying it though and I threw myself into student life. You go to all the drinks and parties and I spent at least four, five days a week doing that. Student life, that was what it was all about!’
No credit points
‘Towards Christmas I ran into a very difficult period. I hadn’t kept up with the subject matter and I didn’t grasp it. I thought: I’ll just go for it and if need be, I will take a resit. My parents were worried and wondered if I shouldn’t try harder. It wasn’t until the third period that I really started studying and keeping up with the work. But that was also a period that you truly had to grasp the subject matter. I failed, despite having worked hard for it. That was terrible. I wouldn’t say I became depressed, but I was deeply worried. After three quarters of a year I still hadn’t earned a single credit point.’
Because she was falling behind, Julia met with her mentor. ‘That was not a nice conversation, because I was told to face up to my responsibilities. After three or four meetings, she stopped going. She wasn’t annoying, but I did feel she wasn’t listening to me.’
And what about her friends? ‘Of course your friends want to help you, but it’s different here than in my hometown, where I can hop on the bike to visit them every evening. I did meet some people during the orientation week, but those were fleeting contacts which soon died out.’ She couldn’t cope with it on her own anymore and finally Julia told her parents that she wasn’t doing well. ‘Together we decided that the best thing for me to do was to take the year again. Once I had made that decision a weight was lifted from my shoulders.’
When she retook the first year, Julia was initially upset at being stuck between seventeen and eighteen year old ‘youngsters’. And because she had to hold back on Nereus.
At first it was a bit tense, but I began studying well and kept up with everything. I passed the first and second exam, but the third period was the ultimate test. I passed that one as well. I now have an internship at the AMC, new digs and friends I can rely on. I still go a bit wild every now and then, but my studies are my priority now.’