Romy van Leeuwen (27) is sitting on the couch with one leg up as she relaxes in the home of her parents Peter van Leeuwen (58) and Wendy van Leeuwen (57). There’s a portrait photo of her and her sister on the cupboard. Romy is an education specialist at Risbo and has been living just around the corner in Krimpen aan den IJssel for several years now. During her time as a Psychology student, she lived with her parents. It was nice at home, and it was close to university, she explains.


University was an unfamiliar world for her parents, who didn’t pursue higher education themselves. “I remember you taking me to the open days”, Romy tells her parents. “I loved that you just tagged along everywhere. But what was it like for you guys to come along to university?”

Parents of first generation students 1 – eerste generatie studenten_3000_Migle Alonderyte

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“I was fine with it as long as I no one talked to me”, Wendy says. “I’m always afraid I’ll say something stupid.” As a child, she grew up thinking she wasn’t smart. Although she did well at school, she was sent to domestic science school, where teachers would tell her she only had to learn how to cook and take care of the children. Her parents didn’t encourage her to continue her studies either, so after finishing domestic science school she started working in a clothing shop. She’s been a stay-at-home mother since the birth of her first child, Romy’s sister. “Still, I’ve always been curious about what happens at university.”

“I was mainly curious what kinds of jobs specific degree programmes prepared you for”, Peter explains. He studied Aeronautical Engineering at senior secondary technical school and now works at a grid operator, where he attends and teaches many courses at higher professional education level. “We felt it was important for you to pick a degree programme that would help you find a job”, Wendy adds. “I never went to university myself, so I think all degree programmes are interesting and it’s great if you get a diploma in the first place. Still, you also need to look to the future.”

Romy van Leeuwen eerste generatie studenten 2_3000_Levien Willemse.
“You don’t always have to know how everything works, that’s just not possible”, Romy says. “You’ve always supported me in so many other ways.” Image credit: Levien Willemse

Talking a lot

Even so, they left Romy completely free to choose any degree programme she wanted. “I never felt you guys were pushing me in any particular direction”, she says. “Did you have any programme in mind that you thought would suit me?”

Wendy: “You actually told us you wanted to study Criminology early on.”

“That’s right”, Romy interrupts with a laugh. “Because I watched too many detective series with you.”

Her parents nod smiling. “Criminology also seemed really interesting and a lot of fun”, Wendy continues. “I thought I could piggyback onto your studies a bit and learn some things along the way.”

But after attending a disappointing taster lecture on Criminology with her father, she opted for the bachelor’s programme in Psychology followed by the master’s programme in Human Learning and Performance. “Did you have a sense of what my degree programme was all about?” she asks. Peter: “We found that out along the way by looking over your shoulder.”

“We talked a lot together”, Wendy says. “You sat at the dining table downstairs rather than staying in your little room. Because you explained what you were reading a lot of the time, I gradually learned what it was all about. I enjoyed that.”

Lots of time at home

At first, Romy’s parents didn’t have a clear picture of her on-campus life. “I never had any experience with university, so I had to learn all about it from you”, Wendy says. “But it never seemed like you were spending much time at university, to be honest. I liked it though, you were learning a lot at home.”

“That’s true”, Romy agrees. “I’ve never been the kind of person who wanted to join a student association or anything like that. I only found out about associations when I started studying. I guess it’s different if your parents did go to university. But I thought: why should I join one of those? I just want to learn!”

“I do kind of regret not going to Eureka Week. I didn’t really know what it was”, Romy explains. “If I had a child that was going to university, I’d tell them: you should do that, it’s fun!” Wendy: “We might have been able to tell you that if we’d gone to university.”


Romy’s parents occasionally felt frustrated that they couldn’t help her with her studies. “If you were panicking because you didn’t understand something, like statistics, I’d also feel panicked”, Wendy explains. “I’d be thinking: dammit, why can’t I help her? That made me a bit sad at the time.”

“At some point, you were so far along in the degree programme that we couldn’t help you anymore. It’s also a completely different field”, Peter adds. “Also, I didn’t have enough time to delve into the statistics textbook. That felt a bit frustrating.”

“You don’t always have to know how everything works, that’s just not possible”, Romy says. “You’ve always supported me in so many other ways.” She remembers her mother helping her cram for an examination at the dinner table. “I’d give you a list of terms so you could quiz me”, she says. Wendy: “It didn’t matter whether I understood them or not.”

Romy would also regularly explain what she had learned. “We’d go for a sandwich together at lunchtime and I’d talk about a patient case study I’d just read.” “You learn things more effectively if you have to explain them to another person. You helped me simply by listening.”

“It was interesting to hear about those cases”, Wendy says. “I’d have liked to have studied something like you did, something to do with helping people.”


Her father wasn’t home as much because of his work, but read both her theses. “I remember you didn’t entirely understand my master’s thesis, but you still read it all the way through and checked the spelling”, Romy adds.

Peter: “I enjoyed seeing what you’d been working on all this time.”

“And seeing what you’d been paying for all those years!” Romy jokes. “I don’t have any student debt thanks to you guys, which is great.” Wendy: “We started living on less because we wanted to make sure you could start your career without any debt.”

“I’m lucky I was born into this family,” Romy says. “I’m so lucky to have you. You may not have gone to university, but you helped me get an education by motivating me and supporting me financially. You need to work hard at university, but it’s also a matter of luck.”

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