from left to right: Slava, Masha, Kamila en Maria

Time Space: a study spot in the city to avoid the University Library

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Four recently graduated alumni are presenting a new initiative this academic year: a study spot that isn’t the over-crowded University Library. After the launch on September 18th, Time Space will open: a place that encourages you to step outside of your own study bubble.

Read in Dutch

If you’ve ever tried to find a place to study in the University Library during exam weeks, you’ll know it’s a survival of the fittest environment. You need to show up early, present your ID card, and then, as soon as the gates open, quickly and efficiently find your way to your favorite study spot. If you’re ten minutes late, you won’t have a chance of finding a place. Once you’ve claimed a study spot, people expect that you don’t leave it for too long, don’t make too many sounds (or any at all, preferably), and eat elsewhere. Four recently graduated alumni – Maria, Masha, Slava and Kamila – figured there has to be a better way. A more social way. This year, they’re starting study spot initiative Time Space.

You can get isolated in the library

It’s 2013 when Maria (22), Masha (21), Slava (21) and Kamila (21) pack their bags in Russia and move to the Netherlands. Kamila goes to Amsterdam for her bachelor’s in Business Administration, while the other three start their bachelor’s studies in Economics and Business Economics in Utrecht. Although, of course, there are many difference between the Netherlands and their home country, one thing stood out: “The university library is always completely packed. Even if you’re there at 9 AM.” Not just that, Maria explains. “In the library, you can experience a feeling of isolation, even sitting among hundreds of others. Especially if you’re an international. You don’t have any contact with others, with the notable exception of the angry glares thrown your way if you make too much noise grabbing your laptop.”

The lack of contact with other students is a shortcoming, the four say. The University Library is set up in a way that students stay in their own bubbles. They’re not encouraged to find out what the person next to them is doing, for instance, even though “we could probably share a lot of knowledge with each other, and learn from each other’s views,” Maria says.

It’s possible, for example, that you’re in the library, laboring furiously on a topic that your library neighbor could easily help you with. The four give an example: “Maybe the guy sitting next to you in the library is from Mexico, and he could help you quite easily with your Spanish assignment, while elsewhere there’s a PhD candidate who could help a freshman write a paper that follows the academic guidelines.”

When you smoke, you talk to people

Things become very interesting when you talk to students outside of your own discipline, Slava says. During his studies, he did the extracurricular master’s program Young Innovators, in which master’s students of several disciplines came together to work on a current issue. “People studying things like medicine, biology, math, economics, law and physics formed teams together. That was amazing, because it teaches you how other people think. Economists look at situations in terms of profits and costs. Law students in what is right and what isn’t. Students of medicine think in risk factors. Sociology students refer to theories, while psychology students pay attention to different personalities. You need these different mindsets to solve problems.” Maria agrees: “Life becomes more interesting when you meet people who have different mindsets.” In the University Library, meetings like this don’t happen easily. “Unless you’re a smoker,” Slava says, laughing, “because then you do get to talk to people.”

The study spot Time Space, which the four will launch on September 18, aims to change that. Last November, Masha, Maria, Slava and Kamila realized all four of them had similar ideas for a social study spot, and they decided to join forces. When they presented their ideas to Ronald van den Hoff, founder of Seats2Meet – which offers ‘flex’ spots for people to work at – things took off. The next six months, they’ll have a trial run in one of his locations. When the people who work in the flex spots go home, the desks at the Social Impact Factory at the Vredenburg square are open to students. Every working day, students can come study from 4 PM to 10 PM – and during weekends, from 9 AM to 10 PM. “Maybe we’ll even facilitate 24-hour study marathons,” Masha says.

It looks like a living room

The idea is loosely based on Russian anti-cafés. In these bars, housed in old buildings in cities like St Petersburg, you pay for each hour you’re inside; the price includes unlimited coffee refills, and often, cookies. “It looks like a living room,” the four say. They all regularly spent time in similar cafés before they moved to the Netherlands. For studying, but also because it functioned as a place to meet other young people. At Time Space, they want to adopt the same principles. Students pay one or two euros an hour for a study spot, but the price includes coffee, tea, and maybe even cookies. They’re also thinking of group discounts for group project meetings – something that’s notoriously difficult to pull off in the library – and a system that will let you stay for free after a few hours.

Time Space is meant to be a less noisy place than the cafeterias – a popular spot for study groups – and more social than the library, where everyone stays in their own bubbles. Masha, Maria, Slava and Kamila have plenty ideas on how to achieve their goals. Kamila: “We’ll have rooms in which you can study in silence, places meant for meetings, and shared study rooms. Aside from that, it’s nice to have a break during study sessions. So during these (shared) breaks, we’ll help students talk to each other. Sometimes, people don’t see why it’d be interesting to talk to their neighbors, but once the ice is broken, it often turns out you have plenty to share.” The four will use feedback from students to try to find out what works best for this, but they can already imagine all sorts of things – from a break in which students share the issues they’re working on, to a meditation as a study break. All are voluntary; you won’t have to join in on an activity when you’re in the middle of a nice study flow, for instance.

“We wanted to solve one problem with another,” says Slava, summarizing Time Space’s goal. “We don’t just want to solve the lack of available study spots, but we also wanted to connect the functional goal to a social goal. We want to get students in touch with each other, and with new knowledge. By doing that, we’re connecting them to opportunities.”

Time Space will open on September 18 in The Social Impact Factory at Vredenburg 40. You can reserve a study spot on the website. Your first visit is free.

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