Sabrina Jammy, Psychology bachelor programme, ESSB
“I had a burnout when I was 17. As I got near to my finals at secondary school, all I could think about was my performance: I didn’t want my averages to drop below 8 out of 10, my ‘profile project’ needed to be perfect, I had the starring role in our school musical. In other words, I want to be the best at everything I did. At a certain point, my body simply threw in the towel. I got all the symptoms of a burnout. But I thought I was being a complete weakling and just had to take things up a notch. Last year, I nearly had another burnout, because I had taken on way too much. Since then, I’ve tried to take a more conscious approach to my work and studies. And I’ve been planning in time to relax.
“I rounded off my Communication degree programme and started on my second bachelor’s in Psychology. I also have two businesses on the side, but I still feel a bit crummy – because I’m not doing a master’s instead, for example.
“Peer pressure is definitely a problem, and it has only gotten worse. You used to only feel pressure from your friends, but now the whole world has become your peer thanks to Instagram and Facebook. Because I’m sensitive to this kind of thing, I consciously limit my time online. I recently did a three-month social media detox, for instance.
“I think the university could pay more attention to the pressure to perform among students. They could hire more student psychologists, for example. If you’re in the early stages of a burnout, you shouldn’t have to be on a waiting list for six weeks.”
Niek van Disseldorp, Economics and Fiscal Economics bachelor programme, ESE
“I don’t feel any kind of performance pressure. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you why I’m not stressed out. I’m forging my own path, and if that means my programme will take a bit longer, so be it. Nor am I particularly interested in the whole debate about student debt and the loan system: I’ve racked up at least 40,000 euros in debt, but I’m confident things will work out. Maybe I’ll have to work harder after graduating, but I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.
“I don’t really have tips for other people. I simply try to do whatever I enjoy doing. I’ve accepted a lot of responsibilities – I’m currently chairing the Extraordinary Life – because I enjoy the work.”
Varsha Doelam, Medicine alumna, Erasmus MC
“I definitely feel the performance pressure. I attended a predominantly ethnic school in a disadvantaged neighbourhood. It wasn’t difficult to become the number one pupil there. I had to work harder when I was in high school. But what made it really bad was: while I had a good exit score in primary school, my teacher didn’t think university preparatory education suited my future, because I wouldn’t be able to take care of my husband and children. And that’s where the real problem started: society filling in my role and ambitions as a woman of colour for me. I have to deal with prejudices and stereotypes. I’m a certified physician, but at work, many people assume I’m a member of the care staff.
“You’d expect this to put less pressure on me, because people don’t have any expectations. But it works the other way round, actually: the less they think of me, the more pressure I feel. After all, you have to work three times as hard to prove you’re up to the job.”
Isis Vogelaar, Entrepreneurship master programme, RSM
“Of course I feel a pressure to perform. When you look around, there’s always someone who’s doing even better than you, or with a more interesting side job. I think it’s all due to our uncertainty about the future: of course, you hope to get a good job and build a nice life for yourself. And there’s the feeling that if you want a particular job, you’ll need to work harder.
“Incidentally, I don’t think that we should just expect the university and the government to solve this problem, because it’s broader than that. I think that as a society, we need to adopt a new mind-set, in which the job market doesn’t just offer opportunities to the very best performers but to other people too.”
Affan Ibne Sharif, Economics bachelor programme, ESE
“I’m from Bangladesh and have only been here for the past one-and-a-half months. As an international student, you live in two worlds: you need to satisfy the Dutch standard and deal with people’s expectations back home.
“Most of the pressure comes from people back home. My parents are paying 20,000 euros per year for my studies, so I’m not allowed to fail. I can’t just quit, because then people will ask: why did you choose that study in the first place? I constantly need to prove that I’m worth the money – not just to my parents, but to the entire family and our community. I need to excel, follow an honours programme and – if this is an option – graduate with honours.
“And our family dream plays a role in this as well. My mother is a housewife, but she studied Economics too. It was a big wish of hers that I would follow in her footsteps. She’s counting on me to make her dream a reality.”