by Zoë Perry
I grew up in Heidelberg, a beautiful city in southern Germany. It is a bit bigger than Maastricht and it also has its own university. However, while Maastricht University was founded in 1976, Heidelberg’s university exists since 1386. For as long as literally every inhabitant can think back, students have been a natural element of the city. In contrast, Maastricht University is still very young and new. The process of adjustment to a changing city dynamics is a long-term process, and the high rate of international UM students does not make this any easier.
Over the years, students and Maastricht “citizens” have co-existed instead of co-operating. While one could probably write a whole book on this topic, including arguments from both frustrated students (“we want a better nightlife”) and irritated citizens (“we want peace, calmness and parking spaces”), this would be rather unconstructive and would lead to nowhere. Instead, the city needs a space in which citizens and students can come together and share their experiences, visions and goals for Maastricht, as communication is the key to living together. Creating such a space is one of the main goals of the Student & Society Initiative, which was founded by students and is supported by the university. Throughout the year, they organize and host events such as dinner parties, discussion evenings and social drinks in order to bring together likeminded students and citizens who would like to get to know and understand each other better. Everyone interested can sign up via their website and participate for free.
Recently, I attended one of these events, a discussion evening on the topic of “Living the Good Life in Maastricht”. The informal atmosphere was very relaxing and I really enjoyed talking to so many people. Suddenly, the Maastricht inhabitants weren’t that distant anymore. During the pub-quiz on Maastricht I could show that, after all, I knew already quite a lot about this town. The project started this year as a pilot project, funded by the Student Service Center. In case you are interested, just have a look at their website or sign up to an event. They also offer Dutch – English language tandems, through which students can improve their Dutch while helping citizens to improve their English or the opportunity to take part in a social project in order to make Maastricht a nicer city. Take a look, spread the word – and who knows, maybe the next time you have to go to the municipality you will actually know the lady at the desk.