Pubs and clubs, sex and lots of beers: the stereotypical student life. For some it would even be the epitome of student life. However, not every student can sleep off the hangover on a Sunday. How do religious students perceive the party life?
Text: Laurie Raats Photography: Ronald van den Heerik
Kirsten Voerman (20) is a psychology student at the EUR and is a member of the Dutch Reformed Church. Giggly she starts talking about her faith. “As you can see I wear normal pants!” Kirsten is also a member of the ‘Vereniging Gereformeerde Studenten Rotterdam’ (VGSR), the Dutch Reformed Students Association Rotterdam, and she is happy to tell about her background. She was brought up in a religious environment and went to religious primary and high schools. With the exception of one uncle, her entire family are members of the church. God plays an important role in her life, something that can be a little demanding. “I do certain things differently in my life. But I don’t consider that a restraint. It is difficult sometimes though to work out what God asks of me.”
Jewish student Shira Raber (24) is following her master programme at the EUR. With her dark hair and light eyes she stands out from the crowd. Shira also grew up in a religious environment, however the setting was the centre of Amsterdam. After a Jewish primary school she chose voluntarily to go to a Jewish high school. She wrote her final exams (VWO) together with six other students. “I wasn’t raised in a bubble. It was a familiar environment; it just made it easier. It is a life style one adopts.”
Jewish, Dutch Reformed or Muslim, there are people from all kinds of cultures and religions at the EUR. It took Kirsten a little while to get used to the big university, so she decided to join the VGSR. This association provides her with a familiar environment while everything was new. “During my student time I started to think about my religion. I wanted to be between people who were doing the same thing.” Kirsten noticed that many students live their lives differently. Lots of parties, going out and sex are all part of that. “I became more conscious of my own life style. My religion has become a bigger part of me.
Mark-Robin Hoogland (40) lives in a nice apartment building in the centre of Rotterdam. Apart from being a minister he is also student minister at Erasmus University. A small necklace with a cross, neat clothes and a pair of friendly eyes are looking at me from the black leather chair. A cup of tea sits wobbling on a wooden table. Tricky subject, religion. It raises many prejudices among students. Being Dutch Reformed is often equaled with living under a strict set of rules: no sex, alcohol or media. But is this image true?
“Students often come to me because they are interested in a certain movement within a religion. They wonder what that movement means and what it can mean for them,” Hoogland explains. As the minister takes another sip of his tea, I wonder about my own background. Religions with all their branches are unfamiliar territory for me. I wasn’t raised religiously and didn’t grow up in such a world either. A smile appears on Hoogland’s face: “People who aren’t believers visit me too. There is nothing wrong with that. Often they have a problem which I may be able to help them with, while their study advisor can’t.”
Hoogland meets the students at home. It creates a bond of trust. “This space is much more anonymous to the students. I never ask visitors whether they care being seen, but I do take it into account. I always plan a fifteen-minute gap between students, so they won’t have to use the fire escape to get out unseen.”
All the alcohol, sex, nights out and partying; one’s student life could look like that. However, does each and every student live that life? On the face of it, the lives of religious students don’t seem to differ too much from the lives of ‘average’ students. But what is an ‘average’ student? The clichés of the alcohol abusing students haunt universities and a big part of the student population is judged wrongly. A religious student does not have to be a boring student. And not every student is a drunk.
Selman Ince (22) is a Muslim and business administration student at the EUR. He does not agree with the stereotypical image of student life. “I think it is wrong when people think a student is thought of as going out every week and drinking a lot. It is just a small minority that live that life.” Selman doesn’t drink alcohol himself and doesn’t visit venues that serve alcohol either. It is not to say he is against having a good time; he just sticks to the rules of the Quran. “When I see drunken people, I don’t want to experience the alcohol.”
The Dutch Reformed student will not say ‘no’ to a nice beer. In moderation of course. Kirsten does not associate with many people who are not believers. The extreme stories about going out, drinking and sex are a different life style to her. She goes to church twice every Sunday, often with her house mates, sometimes with her parents. Living in a Dutch Reformed student house does make life easier for her. These people understand why she doesn’t go out late on Saturdays and why her religion is something she can hold on to. “I like to spend my Sundays this way. I feel like sleeping in sometimes, but I am always happy to be in the church. On Saturdays, I know there is a church service the next morning and I take that into account. I will go home a little earlier.”
Visiting the mosque, reading the Bible at home, or spending a Friday night at home, there are plenty of prejudices of religious students going around. The Saturday is the holy day for the Jewish people instead of the Sunday. The Sabbath starts on Friday, which means that Shira is always present at her parents’ dinner table on Friday nights. The weekend is planned differently so she will not go out on Fridays. It is a different way of growing up. “Certain things I do differently, not because I am Jewish. It is a different way of being raised. Nobody in our family eats alone on a Friday and I find that important.”
Selman lives with his parents in Rotterdam-Zuid. He grew up in an area where many Turks and Moroccans live. Like Shira he spends a lot of time with his family, in addition to studying and spending time with friends. For the gentlemen in the family there are the Friday prayers on Friday afternoons. If he has the time, he will join the other men to the Mosque. “Other religions have their sacred days. We don’t have those within Islam. Work and studies are important in my life. However devoting myself to my religion as well, gives peace.”
Some of Hoogland’s visitors have questions about relations. For example, a non-religious boy falls in love with a religious girl. “It seems simple enough, but that isn’t always the case. Religion can sometimes cause differences in opinion.” The minister seems to doubt for a second. “Students, you see, the world is at their feet, but at the same time, are you being taken seriously? How do you shape your life according to what you believe in?”
Shira blushes. She is not in a relation at the moment. It is important she will be dating a Jewish guy. It is not because of ‘being Jewish’; it has to do with family and tradition. She lives a traditional life, eating kosher. Why? She does not know exactly; it just feels right. To be in a relation with a Jewish man would be more easy. But sex before marriage; that does happen, even though according to God’s ‘rules’, it isn’t allowed.
Kirsten lives both for herself and for God. She says you live your life with people and you want to live for God. Not always easy for a girl in her twenties. In addition to the Sunday church services she has her ideas about marriage, relations and sex. “God has meant one man and one woman to be together. He asks you to realize this and to not just give yourself away. Marriage is a good guideline because it forces you to make the decision to stay together for the rest of time. The fact that my boyfriend is also Dutch Reformed makes it easier to talk about it.”
The Quran also forbids sex before marriage. Selman takes the rules of the Quran seriously so he refrains from sex until he is married. No problem for the young student. “Personally I find it very important, but there are also students, who believe as well, who think differently. It depends on how important you make it.”
The eyes of the student minister light up when he starts to talk about his own youth. According to him all teenagers rebel against their parents during puberty. He starts laughing. “I did that in my own way. I refused to join my parents to church, so I went at different times.” Often teenagers start questioning the meaning of life. Hoogland was still young when he decided to devote himself to religion. After some time he decided to join a monastic order. It became his belief that way and guidance.
Their religion is the guiding principle to all three students and their lives. There is one major similarity: They are faithful to their families. Yet they deal differently with rules and traditions. Kirsten will not go out too late on Saturdays because of the Sunday church service. Selman participates in Ramadan and Shira visits the synagogue. Whereas Shira will only pray once a week on Fridays or in the synagogue, Selman tries to pray as often as five times a day. The Dutch Reformed student prays in the mornings and prays continuously throughout the day; on her bicycle, in the bus, or just at home. Kirsten: Praying doesn’t always have to be done with closed eyes and joined hands. It just brings you a little closer to God.”
Not a restriction
Being a student can be tough, but studying is more to these students than simply working their way through study books. Because with the rules and traditions of their religions also comes a book: the Bible, Quran or Tanakh. Shira occasionally reads the holiest scripture of Judaism. Selman tries to read a chapter of the Quran every week and Kirsten reads the Bible regularly. She also studies the Bible for Bible meetings at the VGSR.
The students have chosen their own paths in student life. Yet despite this, they do not see too many differences with non-religious students. “I think non-religious students have a similar student life. OK, I don’t go to the pub, but I really wouldn’t like it either”, Selman says. Shira on the other hand can often be found in the pub, with her friends. To her, religion is a part of her life, not a restriction. Shira: I am no different than others. I only have a few different principles in life. My family is extremely important to me, but so are my studies and my friends. I don’t live a different student life. I enjoy being young and going to parties. Still, there is one difference. At a Jewish celebration there is always a lot of food and little alcohol. At non-Jewish parties alcohol is often the only thing there is!”
Hoogland casts a last glance into his teacup. It is empty, and it is an hour later. He believes the stereotypes are nonsense. “You could say, those students, they just drink and party without caring about anything. But through the way I deal with them I can say it is a stereotypical image. It doesn’t hold true for all of them. Each individual has his own story and every person is worth living a great life.”
‘I am no different than others. I only have a few different principles in life’
‘I feel like sleeping in sometimes, but I am always happy to be in the church’
Seman Ince: ‘I am no different than others. I only have a few different principles in life.’
Kirsten Voerman: ‘Marriage is a good guideline because it forces you to make the decision to stay together for the rest of time.’
Shira Raber: ‘Nobody in our family eats alone on a Friday and I find that important.’
Mark-Robin Hoogland: ‘How do you shape your life according to what you believe in?’