On a crisp Tuesday afternoon, a group of Dutch and international students is meeting at the nursing home Pniël in Kralingen. They are welcomed by the Erasmus Student Network. Members of the international student association are here every second Tuesday of the month, for a short walk and a chat with elderly residents of the home. And that’s exactly what they’re doing today.

Jannat, a law student from Pakistan, came to the walk for the first time because she misses her grandfather. She speaks to him on the phone every day. “I love the elderly, and living abroad makes you miss your family, especially older members, so much. It’s nice to be able to connect with the community here.”

Memories of a frozen lake and Portugal

pniel ouderen wandelen rolstoel groepsfoto student wellbeing festival foto Natalia Khozyainova (2) (EM)
At the Kralingse Plas all the elderly and students made a group photo. Image credit: Natalia Khozyainova

Before walking across the Kralingse Bos, students get instructions on how to assist the residents with wheelchairs. Since it’s cold, students also help out with putting on gloves, scarfs, and blankets. On the walk, the sights of Kralingen bring out the memories, and residents share their stories – from remembering skating over a frozen lake in the park, to living in Portugal or learning French in school (and still speaking it).

The initiative between the nursing home and the university exists for several years, and some students volunteer on a regular basis. This is what Julius, master student Global Business and Sustainability, also wants to do: “I left my contact details at the nursing home, as they are always looking for volunteers. I miss my grandparents and speaking to people outside the student circle”, he shares. “Life stories of the residents are so interesting: the lady I walked with today traveled the globe and knows several languages. We spoke in German, and discussed politics, Covid, traveling, you name it.”

“Some residents don’t go out for weeks”, says the coordinator Annemarie van Zessen. “So it makes them very happy to simply change the scenery and meet new people. Before Covid, students also participated in our Sinterklaas celebrations. We drank hot chocolate, dressed up and connected. Hopefully we will be able to do it again soon.”

Planking for your soul

However, not only mental activities are offered during the festival. As our Roman ancestors knew: mens sana in corpore sano – healthy body, healthy mind. What is the best way to take your mind off any problem? Visualise it – and punch it out. Into a punchbag, of course.

Aziz Ahmad, a boxing coach at Erasmus Sport, agrees with the philosophy, and greets several new students into his kickboxing class on Tuesday evening. The class starts with a warm-up that immediately shows who came here for the first time. “Planking is good for your soul”, Aziz encourages the sweating students with Nirvana’s Smells like teen spirit playing in the background.

Julia, master student Strategy Economics and one of the newcomers, laughs: “I haven’t done sports since I arrived in Rotterdam in the summer, and it’s about time.”

Not a thought

Her classmate Maria came to support her. “We were looking for activities to do during the Wellbeing Festival, and kickboxing looked interesting”, she says after the class is finished. “I was ready to quit mid-class, but continued, because finishing is good. I’m proud now.”

Best feeling after the class? Realising that you haven’t thought about a single problem in the last one and a half hours. “It completely gets your mind free. Not a single thought. So nice after the weeks we’ve had”, Maria laughs.

The Student Wellbeing Festival is taking place until 19 November. Find more information on the activities. More information on the ‘Walk with the Elderly’ can be found here.