6.1 Humans of Tilburg University

There are many different people walking around our beautiful campus, each with a fascinating story. Throughout the year, we interviewed several of them. These interviews have been shared on our social media channels. A few previews of the interviews are presented below. To read more, please join our social media channels.

Hezha Mohammed Khan

“Being able to make a difference is so rewarding.” Alumna Hezha Mohammed Khan grew up during the war in Iraq. From there, she travelled to Tilburg by way of California. As part of the Zero Hunger Lab at Tilburg University, she is conducting a study of hunger among children. In addition, she is committed to helping young people in the Middle East.

“Every day, I receive messages from women and girls all over the world telling me that l inspire them. That is fantastic, but it also adds strain. I don’t want to make any mistakes. In the Middle East, having a good family is more important than a successful career. I want to show girls that it’s possible to do both. That’s why I’m doing my very best to be a good woman, a good mother, and a good citizen.” 

Read more about the Zero Hunger Lab in 2021

Zainab Karimjee

To save six months of rent, our student Zainab Karimjee chose to return to her native Tanzania when classes were being held online. “Due to the regular power outages and a lack of internet for two weeks during the Tanzanian elections, however, it was difficult to study here. I am two weeks behind due to the absence of internet. Although I can watch most of the video lectures later, some are livestreams. A lecturer might incorrectly think that I’m not committed. The context in Tanzania is very different than in the Netherlands.”

We hope that Zainab will not have as many practical and internet problems once she returns to Tilburg. “I’ll be able to see my friends. I do miss them. One advantage of online instruction is that I can plan my own time. One drawback is that you lose the connection with your program in some way. Am I still on the right track? It’s harder to know that now.” 

Read more about online instruction in 2021

Marvin Putuhena

“I’m convinced that we all have talents. If we allow each other the freedom to use them in our own unique ways, we can make the world quite a bit better.” Marvin Putuhena (25) started his school career in pre-vocational secondary education. After completing programs in senior secondary vocational education and a university of applied sciences, he went on to earn a Master of Laws degree, and he is about to complete another Master’s program in International Law. He now works as a policy lawyer at the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science (OCW). He was one of the first in his family to attend university.

“My parents gave me the freedom to develop myself, and my lecturers gave me many opportunities, because they recognized that I had more potential. I nevertheless observed a lack of equal opportunities, especially in senior secondary vocational education, based on different ethnic backgrounds, as well as on social background. I would like for students to be able to discover what they are good at, what their talents are. What you want to do should not be determined by your religion, your social class, or your economic position, but by your hope, your talents, and your willpower.” 

Ans de Jong

“Our job is to keep the coronavirus out of the buildings.” Ans de Jong has been on the cleaning staff at Tilburg University for four years. “In normal times, when I start working, it’s quiet, but it gets busier as more and more people arrive on campus. Now it stays calmer. I would really like for things to get back to normal and for the campus to come back to life, because that’s the way it's supposed to be. Fortunately, my co-workers and I can still take coffee breaks together. Not running into anyone at all, I would really miss that.

Although the campus was obviously busier before the pandemic, our work now is really important. The people who come to campus these days appreciate the fact that things are thoroughly scrubbed and that we are doing our jobs. All of these jobs are obviously intended to keep the coronavirus out of the buildings. Now, we’re mainly cleaning faucets, door handles, light switches, keyboards, telephones, chairs, and toilets. I’ve had COVID-19 myself, and I therefore want to do everything I can to prevent infections.” 

Luuk van Hoogstraten, Jason Oleana, and Dylan Mattijssen (Genius Voice)

The Marketing students Luuk van Hoogstraten and Dylan Mattijssen often encountered the Data Science student Jason Oleana in the Deprez building, and it was there that the idea for their start-up was born during a short recess: Genius Voice. Dylan recounts, “At one point, Luuk happened to mention that something big was going on in the United States... voice assistants were on the rise. At that time, the Dutch version of Google Assistant was not yet available; that did not happen until four months later. By then we had already made our move.”

“You see that the ideas are endless,” continues Dylan. “Our first question was therefore: ‘Where do we start?’ This is where Tilburg University’s start-up program, IQONIC, came in. We requested support to help our start-up take steps toward success.” As Luuk observes, “It is sobering to realize that only two of the 10 or so speech technology companies that were operating in the Netherlands when we started are still in business. Speech technology has not developed as rapidly as we originally expected. Without IQONIC, we wouldn’t have been able to get around the many pitfalls that exist, and Genius Voice would have ended up in the graveyard for speech technology start-ups.” Jason is confident that speech technology will become a common fixture in people’s daily lives. As Luuk observes, “And in three years, we won’t still be working with only three people. I even wonder whether we’ll still be in the Netherlands then.” 

Read more about IQONIC in 2021

Ajanee Ranasinghe

“Working from the other side of the world has been an interesting experience.” Ajanee Ranasinghe, an Assistant Professor at TiSEM, was offered a job at Tilburg University in mid-February 2020. “We knew that the coronavirus would complicate matters, but we weren’t yet aware of how much of an impact it would have on me.”

“I tried to work from Asia based on Middle European time. I started working around four or five o’clock in the afternoon. After a few breaks around mealtime, I would keep working until two or three in the morning.” Ajanee admits that a few accidents happened from time to time. “For example, I once dozed off during a Zoom seminar at three o’clock in the morning. I was only an auditor and not in view, but it was still embarrassing! Since that time, I have resolved not to participate in any more late-night seminars, even if I’m only a little tired. Choices! On the other hand, remote working gave me a chance to explore a few Australian nature trails during the day. So, on the whole, it turned out to be a unique experience.” 

Read more about hybrid working in 2021

Loran van den Dungen

“What I’m most looking forward to is seeing all of those happy faces.” Loran van den Dungen, a student of Information Management, is the President of the TOP Week board. “Students have a real need for a completely personal orientation week, and I’m proud that we were nevertheless able to provide that.” Loran explains that they want participants to forget as much as possible that this year is different as well. “We’ve prepared a fun program, and this year’s orientation week is in no way inferior to previous editions.”

For the TOP Week in September 2021, the board had worked out several scenarios, so that they would be ready for whatever the COVID-19 restrictions might be at that time. “What made it more complicated this year compared to previous editions was mainly the logistics. In fact, we organized four orientation weeks instead of one. Fortunately, the past months have taught us to be flexible.”

Janne Calis

“We ask students to donate food to the food bank.” Janne Calis, a student of Global Law, is a volunteer with the Red Cross Student Desk Tilburg, which conducted the Meal for an Other campaign in 2021. “This includes products like pasta, rice, and dry groceries that have a long shelf life and would otherwise just sit in the pantry. We call on those who can afford it to buy not one but two packs of pasta and give one to us. We then deliver it to the food bank.”

With this action, they would also like to draw attention to students who depend on the food bank. “During the pandemic, many students saw their part-time jobs disappear, and that did not make life any easier for students with very little spending power. There is a big taboo on it, and so students are not likely to admit they could use help. They have a right to assistance, however, and they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.” 

Read more about student well-being in 2021

Mila Chuncheva

“I took a lot of notes during my studies, and I promised to make a dress out of them.” Psychology graduate Mila Chuncheva had previously made a dress out of newspapers that turned out better than she had expected. “When my friends saw the newspaper dress, one suggested that I should make one out of my summaries, because I used to take a lot of notes when I was studying.”

Now, you might be thinking, “That girl has a lot of time on her hands.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Mila explains, “The truth is that I did not make the dress until the night before the photo shoot. And I don’t think I had a plan. I just start something, and if I’m not happy with it halfway through, I throw it away or start over in a different way.” At any rate, it keeps Mila busy. “Personally, I love it when people use art to express themselves, or to cope with things. For me, it’s more the latter. I go crazy when I don’t have anything to do, so I make up things to keep myself busy.” 

Bram Groothuis

“I know almost every square foot of the campus grounds.” Bram Groothuis, a contract-management employee for cleaning and grounds maintenance, has been working at Tilburg University for nearly 40 years. “Given my passion for nature, I became responsible for maintaining the greenery on campus in the 1980s. Since then, I have helped ensure that there is more room for flora and fauna on campus.” We now have many bee hotels, owl hives, and insect-attracting plants on campus. “My goal is to make the campus a beautiful, green, and safe haven for many people.”

Bram’s work day starts at 6:15 a.m. “It’s not because I’m a natural early bird, but because I’m responsible for ensuring that the campus looks tidy. Every morning, I help my co-workers in the cleaning service get started. We work together to make sure that everything is tidy and neat by the time that the first visitors arrive on campus. That sometimes takes more work than you might think.”

Read more about sustainability initiatives in 2021

Isa Nieuwstad

“It’s everything that I had imagined it would be.” Our Law student, Isa, was on exchange in Madrid during the final months of 2021. “I lived right in the center of Madrid, cooked with my roommates, took trips to other cities with people I knew for just two weeks, and ate delicious tapas in the cutest restaurants. The nice thing was, we could always join in the activities that others had planned. That idea of ‘inviting yourself’ is just part of the whole exchange experience.”

The actual studying also went well for Isa. “I specifically chose courses that are not offered at Tilburg. Whereas I had mainly taken courses on Dutch Law, in Madrid, most had to do with International Law. It was a nice addition to my studies.” Isa admitted that it was sometimes a challenge to get everything organized, especially during the pandemic. “But the help from the Study Abroad Office ensured that I knew what to expect and that I could be confident going on an exchange to Madrid.” 

Read more about exchange in 2021

Daniel Fidrmuct

“Surprisingly, I didn’t feel very homesick when I moved here.” Daniel Fidrmuct has been living in the Netherlands since August 2020. He is an exchange student from Slovakia, and is studying Economics. “I quite enjoy living on my own, but I do miss my family and parents. And I miss Slovakian food.” But then again, food is also the nice flip side: “I would say the best part of making international friends is being able to discover new food. I’m so happy to have the chance to try so many things.”

Besides the food, Daniel admits that the classes were also not what he was accustomed to: “I think my study timetable was the hardest to get used to. Education in the Netherlands is much more intensive than it is in Slovakia. It’s much more demanding, and it requires many longer hours of studying every day.” He does think the courses at our University are very good. “They’re all taught in English in a very internationally oriented manner. And my lecturers are approachable and competent. I like that the relationship with the lecturers is so good and informal, because that makes me feel more at ease.”