A point of view

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When you are 53, you are in the prime of life nowadays. But tell people that you’re a student and they look at you askance, disbelieving. Stefan Semenczuk describes this experience in his nominated column to be the campuscolumnist 2019. 

Picture the scene: I’m fumbling with the lock on my oma fiets after a hard day in the library when a Utrecht cyclist on his tank-like Popal Daily Dutch smashes into my head.  My number is up. Fifty three years old, but when you have to go you have to go.  I would hope family and friends would decry how young I was between sobs. No age. 53, prime of life nowadays, my whole life before me.   But tell people that you’re a student and they look at you askance, disbelieving.   On more than one occasion I have been mistaken for my housemates’ dad. You might think this was immaterial – just a bit of hurt pride – get over it, but ageism is alive and well.

When I started my research masters degree at Utrecht University I was in emergency accommodation. In August I set off for a week in Utrecht to secure a place to live in the coming semester. No joy.  At 53 you are a little past sharing bathrooms and kitchens with party animal students (no disrespect) and so I was looking for a self contained apartment. I would suggest a large minority of the adverts for self contained apartments stated women only (why if it’s self contained?) and the majority asked for students 18 – 30(ish). 

Now I’ve never been a landlord, but if I was in that enviable position, I think I would be more inclined to rent to a tired fifty something rather than an energetic twenty year old, but in all honesty, If I was happy to rent to a student, it would be a student of any age or gender.   

On a recent OSK course in Rome I went to a very educational Marcello Mastroianni exhibition at Museo dell’Ara Pacis.  In my best Italian I asked for a ticket, brandishing my Utrecht Uni. student card.  Ten euros, full price. 

“Cosa, nessuno sconto per studenti?”   
“ Yes, but you have to be under 26”

To add insult to injury she answered in English.

So far on my degree I have attended colloquiums in Utrecht, Amsterdam, The Hague and Haarlem.  Transport costs can really rack up. Luckily for my fellow Dutch students, public transport is free – and why not?

It’s a policy for which the Dutch government should be applauded and justly proud.  International students can avail themselves of free transport if they apply for student finance.  Great, but you have to work 56 hours a month to qualify. Getting a part-time job shouldn’t be too difficult, there’s a shortage of workers so I am told and true enough, without much effort I secure work in a biscuit factory.  Don’t ask.  At least it is work and I easily do over 56 hours a month, after all, I only have lectures two days a week. Have I applied for my free transport pass? No, because you have to be under 30.

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