Lotte Nagelhout: “The EUniWell Alliance is truly created by and for students.”
Can you start by telling me a little bit about yourself?
I'm from the Netherlands from a very small village originally and I moved to Leiden for my studies. So that was kind of a big change, but I started a bachelor in Archaeology, at Leiden University and finished that last year and now I’m doing a research Master of Science in archaeology, which basically prepares me a bit more for doing a PhD than a normal Master would, and my research is mainly focused on human skeletal remains and past disease. I live in Delft now in the historic city centre, with my boyfriend and two cats that we adopted and in my free time I also take care of and ride horses. I also like to paint.
Amazing! You seem to have so much time, you have all these hobbies, you’re active in EUniWell, you're doing your Master's degree and you're planning a PhD as well.
Yes, so I have one year left for my research Master and afterwards I would like to slightly change or continue on my research topic and broaden that into a PhD. Hopefully, that works out.
Fingers crossed for you! And how did you first get in touch with EUniWell? How do you see your current role there? What is your current role, first of all?
I first became active in October 2021 and went to the Rectors’ Assembly in Florence as a student representative for Leiden, after someone else dropped out. I came in contact with that through the previous student representative, Fenna, and I really liked the atmosphere between the group of international students as they were all very prepared to be active for the well-being of European universities and students as a whole. So I stayed as a student representative for Leiden until March 2022, when I became the Chief Student Officer, following Amel Anane. And so I see my current role as bridging the gap between the student board or the general student perspective and the broader EUniWell staff members and central office. I’m in contact constantly with both and trying to find opportunities for efficient co-creation between the students and the staff, and hopefully I also ensure that the student perspective is taken into account when making broader and more important decisions through the Alliance. So through that, the EUniWell Alliance is truly created by and for students.
“Through EUniWell I have the chance to be involved and also stand at the foundation of change and improvement for students across Europe. And I think that's a great opportunity to be able to be heard in almost all aspects of decision making.”
Thank you. So you've not actually been with EUniWell all that long, just since October. How did you find out about EUniWell and perhaps also what’s your personal motivation?
I found it through the previous student representative, Fenna, like I mentioned. And she’s very politically minded and has a very political study as well. And my academic interest is totally not politically related. So that’s actually what motivated me to take up this role. Because I do have that political interest that I can fulfil that way. Through EUniWell I have the chance to be involved and also stand at the foundation of change and improvement for students across Europe. And I think that's a great opportunity to be able to be heard in almost all aspects of decision making. But what also motivates me, of course, is the chance to work together with international students with a similar vision and mindset and the cultural and academic diversity can be very inspirational. Also a bit challenging sometimes, but the mutual respect for the students and staff that is involved is something I strive for, for all the partner universities.
Amazing and, I mean you answered this now a little bit already, but where do you see the added value for students in general with EUniWell?
It’s the possibility to get involved with other students from Europe. To experience new places and cultures as well as new academic structures, new viewpoints, and through that you gain a more open minded and understanding mindset. And I think that’s extremely important for the world we live in nowadays, that’s increasingly becoming more global and transcultural. Also of course the well-being research that is done by the EUniWell partner universities and is shared ensures our best practice policy on well-being issues, such as mental health, which is really topical among students, especially after the COVID pandemic. So I think that’s vital for European students and their development.
Absolutely, great! And when recruiting students, what advice would you give them when they’re considering participating in EUniWell? What’s your elevator pitch for EUniWell?
Very simple, get involved in any way you can. And maybe also, because it can be such a complex project: Start simple, be ambitious but not over ambitious because it’s still a work in progress. You can get involved during events such as the FestiWell that we had recently. That’s a very low-level type of participation. But if you want to be more involved, you can become a student representative both on a local and international level. Yeah, I think, if you want to participate, start simple and you will eventually understand everything, but it takes a while. And also just ask away to the current local student representatives, cause they know a lot and get in touch with them and see if it’s the best for you and if you want to be involved.
“I would also like to see even more student participation in order to have the variety of cultural and educational backgrounds that need to be represented within the Alliance”
Great, I think that pretty much has it covered. Another question that I did want to ask you, that kind of ties in with the earlier question about your motivation, is, seeing how EUniWell has this particular focus on well-being: Does this focus have a personal meaning for you as well?
I think it means the creation of a mindset and attitude within the partner universities on well-being. For me personally, mental health among students is very important and I think that is something that needs to be at the forefront of each university and each educational programme. Through open communication and collaboration between universities and researchers, with that emphasis on well-being, which can be mental, social or economic. I think that’s the main thing that it means to me personally, like the personal growth that it provides and the opportunity for personal growth in the best environment possible. That sounds very preachy, but... (Lotte laughs)
No, I think it sounds great. It’s going to be really good to hear all of this for students that are interested as well, I think. And because you said you know the relevance of mental health in educational programmes that leads us very nicely into our next question which is: Which developments would you like to see from EUniWell in the next one and a half years? How do you see us helping to achieve that goal?
Yeah, I think what I would like to see is a practical way in which EUniWell can mean something to other students. Because I talked about how it’s a mindset and an attitude and creating that, but the practical output is also very important so that students can see what is being done. And of course I would also like to see even more student participation in order to have the variety of cultural and educational backgrounds that need to be represented within the Alliance, and I think that should be achieved through even more student participation. Additionally, I think, a broader recognition and awareness that EUniWell exists among the student bodies would also be something I would like to see. I think those goals are only achievable through creating practical outputs such as easier mobility opportunities or European degrees and better practices in improving student mental health. So I think that’s a few of the developments that I would like to see.
Yes, I think we can all agree on that, and I think it’s going to be a challenge, but a very worthwhile one for sure. Perhaps also from your personal experience now being in your Master’s degree, already studying in Europe, what do you feel already works well studying in Europe. Do you have the feeling that you are a European student? Or do you still feel like you’re a Leiden student, a Dutch student, first and foremost?
I think, during my Bachelor’s I had a lot more the feeling that I was a Dutch student, but now in my Master’s it’s getting much more international. And I think that studying in Europe increases your possibility to encounter and interact with these different cultures that we have, because Europe is highly varied. And for me, being an archaeology student, I also travelled during my Bachelor’s for excavations so that already gave me a bit of that experience.
Where did you travel?
In the Dominican Republic, actually. So not in Europe, but I was there for two months.
Oh wow, that sounds interesting! I want to study archaeology now. (Eva laughs)
Yeah, that was really great!
In a networked world, that would mean for me studying with the ability to learn from and participate in an international and interdisciplinary community, that's created by researchers, students but also non-academics, in a way to also impact the world outside of universities.
Okay, and where do you think Europe could still do better? And how can European University Alliances and EUniWell specifically, perhaps also help resolve existing problems?
One thing to follow up on the previous question, is that we have that mobility, but that requires a lot of independence from students as well. Even though we have programmes like the Erasmus Plus programme that help with that, it can still be very scary to move to a foreign country. We need to start over and make new connections, is what I’ve heard from other students. So European University Alliances specifically can contribute by creating a social and economic safety net for those students, that would provide support during challenging times, especially the first few weeks. And of course that is already being done by, for example, the mobility skills courses. I believe it’s called inter-comprehension courses. But I think that could also work in a more social sense.
Yes, I always hope that EUniWell will allow people that maybe are a bit hesitant, especially at the Bachelor’s degree level, where going to university can already feel a little bit overwhelming, to maybe just dip their toes in first. And then they get to know a few people in our partner universities and then maybe gain that confidence, right? Like, I have a little bit of a network and I can do this now.
Yes, exactly. It’s great to have that safety net, but you need to also have the opportunity created first, through baby steps.
Absolutely. Then looking further ahead into the future, how do you envision studying in a networked Europe or even in a networked world?
In a networked world, that would mean for me studying with the ability to learn from and participate in an international and interdisciplinary community, that’s created by researchers, students but also non-academics, in a way to also impact the world outside of universities. And through that, common values, both academic and global, would be shared, without losing cultural and individual diversity, which I think is very important. And in a more practical sense, students would be able to move freely between different universities, and that would for example mean that you do one semester with a couple of courses at one university and then another semester at another university. Instead of having a very defined period of time in which you travel abroad and do a semester abroad and then come back home. So in a networked world, you could move around freely and have that European citizen feeling. And I think also lastly, students of diverse backgrounds should work together with researchers also from diverse backgrounds to create an open and all-inclusive academic environment, I think that’s very important.
Fantastic, I absolutely agree. Thank you so much, Lotte, for answering all of my questions and for your time! Do you have anything that you feel like you want to add or that we've forgotten about?
Maybe that if people want to get involved, they can get in touch with me or their local student representatives contact, which will be featured on the governance page.
If you are a student and want to participate in EUniWell, do not hesitate to contact Lotte at cso[@]euniwell.eu.
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