“Yesterday I heard that the students in RSM’s Honours Programme were going on a study trip to Silicon Valley. While we’re slaving away here for free. It’s an outrage.” Seeing the big smiles on the four students’ faces, we should probably take their complaints with a grain of salt. We find them once again throwing their hearts into their job for the day: to make dinner at the Ronald McDonald House for 50 parents of children admitted to Sophia Children’s Hospital.
In other words, second-year students Max, Tamim, Jeremy and Roos won’t be spending the afternoon basking on a sunny Californian beach. Instead, it’s time to roll up their sleeves. “It’s a new experience, for sure,” says Jeremy, who’s checking whether the mass of green beans and broccoli are ready. “Hardly what you expect when you go to university – or enter the Honours Programme for that matter. But that’s what makes it nice too.”
Every EUR faculty has its own Honours Programme. This programme is described as follows on the University site: Erasmus University offers exceptionally talented and motivated students the opportunity to enrol in a special honours programme in tandem with their regular programme. In these ambitious extra-curricular programmes, the very best EUR students and lecturers are brought together in an inspiring and intensive study environment. This challenging and demanding academic setting allows them to work together to make a difference.
“Keeping their feet on the ground,” – that’s how university lecturer and ESSB’s Honours Programme Coordinator Brian Godor sums up the new course he has charted with the students. While in many cases, the programmes for very gifted students often offer an in-depth treatment of the theoretical underpinnings of their field, Godor went for a different approach. “We still offer that as well, but in principle, they’re already ‘well catered for’ intellectually speaking. I’d much rather see the students become a well-rounded person than become a lot smarter – they usually don’t have to worry about their marks. That’s why we’ve decided to broaden their horizons rather than go in-depth.”
And this broadening doesn’t just take place at the children’s hospital – it resurfaces in a variety of guises. “One student wanted to give something back to her village. So she decided to make the rounds delivering medicine. Other students volunteered for the Dutch Council for Refugees.” Godor has drawn inspiration for the Honours Programme 2.0 from his home country, the US. “Students there often do volunteer work for their fellow citizens: community service. I want our students to give something back to the city too. After all, their degree programme costs society a lot of money.”
The students working in the Ronald McDonald House kitchen share Godor’s vision. “This makes it really easy to do something in return,” says Tamim. After he and fellow chef Roos serve the first 20 plates (curry with rice and vegetables), they take a moment to reflect on the past few hours. Roos: “Things like this make you more aware of the world around you. I had heard of this place, but this allows you to see up close what it’s like. And it’s so easy to help out.”
Although the afternoon had its challenges. Like typical students, the four would have no chance of getting into ‘Master Chef’. But Max, the most experienced cook of the group, still manages to pull the crew across the finish line. Although watching the other three pile enough food on each plate to feed a family of five, he can’t help looking slightly perturbed: “It could have been better. The broccoli is mushy; the rice is too sticky. I hope they enjoy it nonetheless.”
An hour later, his concerns prove unfounded. The plates are wiped clean and the four chefs have had their fill of compliments. Meaning that Max too can look back on a job well done. “This is one experience I won’t be forgetting any time soon. It’s great to be able to help these people, who have it hard enough as it is.”
Tamim agrees. “You make people happy, and they have one thing less to worry about. That’s reward enough for your work.”