Life Changing Moments #5: Illness

When Sarah*, an Indonesian student, found out that she had tumors on her brain, she literally changed everything about her life: she decided not to spend years in medical school and choose to study abroad.

‘The moment I found out that I had a medical condition, my whole perspective towards life changed,’ says Sarah*, an 18-year-old student from Indonesia who was diagnosed with several brain tumors when she was 16.

Two years ago, she has a medical check up because she was suffering from constant, intense headaches. ‘Doctors couldn’t find the headaches’ cause, so I was going back and forth to the hospital for months.’

Coming to terms

The first months were very tough, not only for Sarah but for her family as well. Her parents couldn’t cope with what was happening to her. ‘I think they have realized now that there is nothing they can actually do about it, so they have come in terms with it in a way.’

Although they still hope that the tumors are not malignant, Sarah doubts it because there is a family history of cancer. ‘I feel like they are avoiding the situation in a way, but I am not blaming them. I know it must be really hard for them.’

Nevertheless, she believes that there is a positive side to the problem as well. ‘I am lucky that I found out about it quite early. Some people have tumors but they only find it out when they are already in the final stage. Then, I think it is even harder for their families to accept it.’

Going abroad

Due to her medical condition, Sarah decided to abandon her dreams of studying medicine because she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life studying. But she didn’t know what else she really wanted to do, so she applied to several universities. She got accepted into the faculty of law of the University of Groningen.

Today, she enjoys every single moment of her time abroad. ‘I always lived with my family, so it is a new experience for me to live in a foreign country all by myself and I actually like the city a lot. I am happy that I have met people from all over the world here.’

‘I believe everything is going to be fine’ Living in a student city and seeing people who use drugs or other things that could be harmful is disappointing to her now. ‘It’s such a shame. They have like their whole life ahead of them and they actually choose to throw it away.’

For her, being surrounded by people who can understand her is vital at the moment. ‘I have a friend here with whom I can share everything. I think it is really important to have someone who stands by you in your difficult moments, so I believe everything is going to be fine.’

*Per the student’s request, Sarah is a fictional name.


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Life Changing Moments #4: Sailing

American student Graham Clark realised his sailing trip was a life-changing moment after reaching shore. ‘You just have to accept your fate and whatever happens, happens.’

‘My father and I flew to Hawaii in July 2014 to get on a 13-meter-long boat and set sail for a character-building trip. Neither of us had any sailing experience in the past,’ says Graham Clark, a 20-year-old bachelor’s student in linguistics.

The journey didn’t start auspiciously: there was no wind for fourteen straight days, which meant that they had to rely on their fuel. Once that ran out, they had to wait for wind in order to reach the coast. In total, their adventure lasted for 22 days.

Thistle, the ship that Graham and his father sailed across the Pacific.

Thistle, the ship that Graham and his father sailed across the Pacific.

But fuel shortage wasn’t their only worry. ‘There are somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 shipping containers which fall off the ships and are floating in the middle of the ocean like an iceberg. There is a chance of running into one of those in the middle of the night, and then? Good luck. But I tried not to think about that, because then you could drive yourself crazy. You just have to accept your fate and whatever happens, happens.’

Graham, his father and the captain ran shifts throughout the day and night. Life vests were also mandatory. ‘In the beginning, I didn’t take it seriously, but then I realised that if I fall in the ocean I’ll die, especially when I’m on a night shift, because my father and the captain were usually sleeping and they would only notice the next morning.’

Eventually, they caught a strong wind came and sailed quickly toward the coast. ‘Once we reached it, we first had to buy more fuel, since we still had a day of sailing left. After that, we ordered beer and pizza. I hadn’t had either of those things for many days. They tasted amazing. It was exactly what I needed.’

Part of the journey

A sunset as seen from the middle of the Pacific ocean.

A sunset as seen from the middle of the Pacific ocean.

When they managed to get home safe, Graham realized that this voyage was a life-changing experience for him and he started appreciating some things more, as he explains. ‘It was really nice to get off the boat and lay flat, because basically with the boat, you are always leaning one way or another. I also enjoy food more. After such a trip, you have a better idea of what you actually need in terms of food, because it’s not like you can go to the store and buy more. You need to be very conscious about what will you take.’

Although it wasn’t always smooth sailing, Graham is looking forward to his next journey. ‘After spending time off of a boat, I would like to get back to one, even if the same thing happens again. It is part of the journey and you have to accept that the weather is out of your control. I think it’s an experience everybody would benefit from, but it’s definitely not for everybody. It’s not easy. I am really glad I did it. I will never see anything more beautiful than the sunsets and the stars at night from the middle of the ocean.’


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Life Changing Moments #3: Bullying

‘I was bullied for 13 years. I felt like nobody, besides my parents, cared about me,’ says Donna Mae, a 23-year-old Dutch pre-master’s student in International Business and Management.

ae was bullied for her appearance when she was younger. ‘I don’t look like normal Dutch people. I am not blonde. My father is Dutch, but my mother is from the Philippines, so I look a bit Asian. My teeth are not straight. Because of all that, children in primary school made fun of me and called me names.’

At first, the bullying wasn’t that intense, but it eventually became her worst nightmare. ‘It was horrible. The only thing I ever wanted was just to fit in and be liked by the other children. Bullying is a very tough situation for a child to handle alone.’

‘I was alone’

Mae describes her school years as dreadful and solitary. ‘I felt that although I was standing in the middle of a big crowd, I was alone.’

Mae still lingers when she recalls one of her worst memories. ‘One day, in high school, a girl told me: ‘I wish you were dead.’ It was horrible.‘

The cruel comments hurt her so badly that she considered killing herself. ‘Once, I went to the train station and I thought: ‘This is it.’ I had decided to commit suicide, but I didn’t do it because of my parents.’

‘I had decided to commit suicide’ Their unconditional love and support during her personal odyssey kept Mae alive. ‘My parents were my rock during those years.’ Poetry was also an outlet for her feelings, and when she shared one of her poems with her teacher, she advised Mae to visit the school counselor. ‘She thought it was high time I got some help, and that’s what I did.’

Turning the page

At the age of 16, she decided to turn the page and start a new chapter in her life. ‘I went to Canada for a summer exchange program. I had a great summer and I was so thankful that I was still alive.’

Despite her circumstances, Mae was dreaming of a brighter future. ‘I always wanted to achieve something important in my life and that kept me focused. Now, here I am, studying at the University of Groningen. I am very proud of myself. Partly I am thankful that they bullied me. Every day I wake up and I feel so grateful that I have the opportunity to study, and bullying is the reason for that.’

Since the age of 14, she knew that she wanted to follow a career related to economics, and she is really excited about the programme she is studying. ‘I didn’t know the pre-master’s would be so focused on what I wanted to do. It is related to international companies, and since I want to obtain a high position in such a company, I believe it is ideal for me.’

Making amends

Although she still gets emotional sometimes, she has made amends with her past. ‘I know that they already know that I moved on with my life and that’s enough for me, I don’t need to get in touch with them.’

While her studies are very demanding, Mae is enjoying every minute of it. ‘Being able to study is a huge right for me. It’s not easy, but who said that life would be easy? I actually learned that the hard way.’

Life Changing Moments #3: Bullying

Life Changing Moments #2: India

‘When I arrived in India, I understood what culture shock really means,’ says Yuanyuan Guo, a Chinese student who moved to India in 2013 to work as an intern for an international organisation.

First days

Her first internship abroad was definitely a life changing experience. Guo, a 22-year-old Chinese master student in Euroculture, describes her first impression of India as disappointing. ‘I was stuck at the airport for more than two hours. The guy who was supposed to pick me up was late, so I had to wait there,’ she recalls. ‘I was very annoyed,’ she adds.

Although she visited tourist attractions in order to explore the country a little bit the next day, Guo was still in a bad mood. ‘There was nothing there, let alone the fact that it was full of garbage. I couldn’t really understand why this place was in the list of the country’s tourist places.’


After the initial shock wore off and despite the fact that her stay hadn’t gotten off to a very promising start, Guo tried to focus on India’s positive side. The family that she stayed with also helped her adapt quickly to the new culture.

‘They were very nice and they treated me as if I was part of their family as well,’ she says. ‘They actually made me realize how friendly and nice Indian people are.’

Soon, Guo began to enjoy her time in India and the Indian lifestyle. ‘They are very relaxed and they have a lot of free time, whereas China is developing so fast that people are just working without enough free time to meet their friends or to relax in general.’

She also liked Indian music. ‘We went dancing with my friends very often. Even when I went back to China, I was constantly checking if there were any Indian dances or concerts that I could go to.’


Although Guo enjoyed her stay in India in the end, she couldn’t help but notice some of the country’s problems. Poverty is common and many Indian people don’t have an adequate standard of living, ‘I was surprised when I found out that even the fact that their living standards are very low doesn’t seem to be a problem for them.’

However, the most striking thing for her was how many people relied on begging. ‘The majority of them were mothers with their kids. I think many of them have turned begging money from others into their profession. I felt really bad about this part and I think it definitely needs to be terminated somehow in the near future. The organization I was working for was planning to implement some strategies in order to fight this problem, however it is high time the government did something about it.’

No regrets

Although many of her Chinese friends were having a really rough time in India and wound up returning to China earlier than planned, Guo didn’t. ‘I was trying to enjoy every single moment and I even kept a diary to write down all the amazing experiences I had there.’

Guo hopes to go back to India one day. ‘I miss those days a lot. I know that such a trip isn’t ideal for the majority of people. However, for me, it was a unique experience and I learned how to behave in a multicultural environment.’


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Life Changing Moments #1: Pregnancy

‘In the beginning, I had mixed feelings about this new life’, says Denise Holguin, a 32-year-old master’s student from Colombia who recently moved to Groningen. She is in the city to finish her Erasmus Mundus programme in Learning and Teaching of Spanish in Multilingual and International Contexts. She’s also six months pregnant. 

Denise says her certainty about becoming a parent is also getting stronger as time goes on. ‘I am sure this is something I want to do. The love for my baby is growing along with my belly.’

Although she and her husband were trying to have a baby, Denise decided to apply for a master’s programme. When she eventually got pregnant, she never really considered the possibility of quitting her studies. She had been awarded a scholarship for a master’s, so stopping was not really an option for her, as she explains.

‘A very nice feeling’

‘The fact that I am pregnant doesn’t mean that I can’t continue with my life. Pregnancy is of course something big and special, but we still have a normal life, and quitting my studies wouldn’t be fair for myself.’

She never felt the morning sickness that many pregnant women feel and was able to continue with her life and her studies as normal. ‘I just need more rest now and time to exercise, to knit and to go to the hospital for testing, and I need to sleep well.’

In fact, Denise thinks that her baby likes the lessons she is attending. ‘I feel him or her moving a lot during my lessons. I am always attending classes with my hands on my belly and feeling my baby moving. It is a very nice feeling.’

‘I felt very vulnerable’

Although her routine has changed little, she abandoned her initial plan to move to Berlin and finish her studies, and moved to Groningen instead per suggestion from her teachers, who told her that the programme would be less intense here.

‘When I arrived here with my husband, I was really depressed and I was crying all the time. I knew I would be alone since he had to go back to Barcelona, and I felt very vulnerable. I didn’t know anyone here. I had to share a place with other people which I wasn’t used to, so the beginning was really tough for me.’

But despite the difficulties, Denise says she got used to her new life in Groningen quickly and managed to overcome all of her fears. Today, she is more optimistic regarding her future and her decision to move to Groningen alone. ‘I think I am more positive in general. It is said that pregnant women are more positive towards life, and I really feel that is true.’

Special regard

As her pregnancy progresses, her perspective towards life is changing, too. ‘Of course my studies are vital for me, but the perspective is more focused towards my baby at the moment.’

Her attitude towards children and pregnant women has also evolved. Before her pregnancy, they were just normal people to her. ‘But now, I have a special regard towards them. I feel like I can identify with them. I also understand my mom better now and why she worries so much about us. I see my husband not just as my partner but as the father of my baby and an educator who supports me in this whole process.’

Life Changing Moments #1: Pregnancy

Denise already feels like a mom and and finds herself making preparations to welcome the new family member. ‘I have started to sew and knit things. I have made some cloth toys, a quilt, and now I am knitting a blanket. This is something I would never have done before. My life is full of changes.’


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Stay Hooked

Stay Hooked, the radio broadcast me and the other students of the master in journalism of the University of Groningen did. It went live on the 18/12/2014.


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