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 #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