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The event, an initiative of the Student Welfare Programme of the EUR in collaboration with Siggie Online Coaching, takes place physically in a theatre arranged like the living room of a student residence: there is a sofabed, a table with a laptop, and a side table with a few empty cans of cola on it. A large screen hangs on the wall on which the participants are visible in a Zoom meeting: students, lecturers and others following the broadcast live.
Signs of a burn-out
Lifecoach Bert Bootsma walks onto the stage. “As a lifecoach, I help people with the transition from ‘suffering through life’ to ‘living your life’,” he explained. “Athletes feel it is perfectly normal to be coached by a sport coach. Why then do we feel it is strange when people want coaching during the most complex and greatest challenge we are confronted with: life itself?”
When Bert begins to list the signs of burn-out, he is quickly interrupted by Milan, one of the actors on the screen. “This list makes me feel like you are trying to convince us that we are having a burn-out,” he said. “A friend of mine has all these symptoms, but not a burn-out.” In reply, Bert asks him to describe his friend’s typical day, and after a bit of hesitation, Milan describes a busy schedule of playing sports, studying, social activities, work and tasks for the committee of his student association. “Thank you for sharing, Milan, and I can certainly say that you are heading for a burn-out,” said Bert. “I mean, of course, your ‘friend’.”
Watching films and eating pizza
The evening progresses in the form of an interactive play, in which the audience becomes acquainted with the student Milan and his flatmate José, who is faced with other challenges. While Milan has arranged his day so that he is on the go 24/7, José spends all day in bed watching films and eating pizza. He misses the parties and contact with fellow students and is hardly motivated to study. “If you continue like this, you are going to get very depressed,” said Milan. “Couldn’t you at least get started on your CV?” José shrugs his shoulders. “Once the corona crisis is over, we shall enter an economic recession. We will not be able to find a job anyway.”
The play aims in a light-hearted manner to draw attention to serious and current topics like stress, depression and burn-out. In the intervals, songs are sung, and the actors present statistics (one in every five students is at increased risk of burn-out since the corona crisis). The students can also share their experiences via Zoom. In the final scene, Milan is talking to his student counsellor about trying to decide between following a minor next year or spending the year focussing on the committee board. When the student counsellor suggests that Milan should ‘take a more active role instead of waiting’, Milan has had enough. He walks away angrily and climbs under a blanket on the sofa to sleep, exhausted from all the stress.
At the end the students in the Zoom call are invited to share their own stories about studying during the pandemic. A student from Bulgaria described how she did not visit her family at Christmas so they would not be exposed to risk, and another student shared her concerns about online examinations, which she feels is an invasion of privacy. One student suggested starting to create ‘pilot-examinations’ as well as pilot-festivals.
Students from the Villa Volta house stated that they would be happy to organise activities for students, even at one and a half metres distance, but felt that there was little scope to do this. Together with someone from the municipal council, they will explore what is possible. The Minister for Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven, stressed that students must ask for help early on when things are not going right, but that it is difficult when the GGZ is overloaded. One of the university psychologists responded that the university holds a walk-in consultation hour every Thursday, which students can register for – something that many of the participants were not aware of.
Are you curious about how the evening went? The livestream of the evening is still available for viewing for another week.