“You should try walking in the shoes of someone who has ADHD, autism or some other mental health condition”, Hazem Omran (21) reasons. If the university wants to become a better place for students with functional impairments, empathy is a first step, the communications student sums up. “Organise a mental health day and teach staff and students what it’s like to have a mental health issue. Then we won’t have to keep explaining it to our teachers.”

Hazem believes this would help to counteract any prejudices people might have. It’s not so easy to tell a teacher that you have ‘something’. “What will they think? ADHD? Oh, then you’re just lazy and disinterested. Or maybe they might think that you’re trying to find an excuse.”

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The preconceptions that surround ADHD play a role in his life more often than he would like. Until recently, the second-year student was doing an internship at a start-up. Out of the blue, he was sent away, without any warning or a conversation. That still hurts. “I was supposedly unmotivated, but I was never able to articulate that I was motivated. It feels so shit, so personal.”

The search for a new internship placement led to the inevitable stress, given that he wants to avoid delays to his studies. He has worked too hard for these and will be leaving to study in the United States for six months this summer. Fortunately, a new, interesting internship was soon found at Sekisui, an international company that specialises in manufacturing packaging materials. He will have his last day there on 15 August and then there are still a few days to bid Rotterdam farewell.

Alone around the world

For months leading up to his trip to America, Hazem has only felt a sense of enthusiasm, but now that it’s drawing closer, he’s also become increasingly nervous. “My parents are going on vacation the week before, so I have to miss them even longer than I’d already expected. It’s a big step to go to the other side of the world all on your own. My family has always been there for big steps like that, like moving from Egypt to the Netherlands when I was 16.”

Although enthusiasm prevails more than anything. Especially when it comes to the elective courses. “There are so many! Human Resource Management, journalism, communication, psychology and so much more. I still have to make a choice.”

Understanding environment

Hazem wants elective courses that are right for him, he says. For example, International Bachelor Communication and Media are now a good fit for him. “I’m very lucky to be in an environment that is very understanding. I hear from my housemates how competitive the more business-oriented studies are. I suspect that there is an atmosphere there where you’re less likely to dare tell people that you have ADHD, for instance.” He also heard that students there form groups based on their average study grades. Is your average too low? Then you are not allowed to join. “That really wouldn’t work well for me nor my self-esteem”, he notes.

The five students that EM is following this year have all sorts of ideas for improving education for students with disabilities and are discussing these ideas this month. Mid-July, rector magnificus Annelien Bredenoord will also be responding to their experiences and suggestions that they shared last year.