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First-year student? Mentors Mireia and Marten help you get on the way!

At the beginning of the corona pandemic, our Faculty appointed student mentors to guide first-year and international students. What drives these mentors, and what is it like to be back at the Faculty again? Mireia and Marten tell us all about it.

In this series, we let students and staff talk about their return to the Faculty. Would you like to share your story too? Let us know.

Mireia Alegre (24)

Mireia is an international student from Barcelona. She joined the Faculty of Science last year to study the Life Science & Technology master’s and is currently working on her research project. In her first year in Leiden, she participated in a mentor team. Now, a year later, she is a student mentor herself. 

Marten Raaphorst (27)

Marten is a Chemistry master’s student, specialising in Theoretical Chemistry. In the academic year 2016-2017, he was a Board Member of the study association Chemisch Dispuut Leiden. He knows his way around as a mentor, as this is his third semester.

Could you explain to our readers what a student mentor is?

Marten: ‘During the start of the corona pandemic, the Faculty recognised that first-year and international students need extra support. That’s why they initiated the student mentors, who guide new students and make sure they have someone to talk to.’ 

Mireia: ‘As mentors, we each guide a group of around 10 to 15 students. In this way, the students have a familiar face to can ask for help, and they also meet fellow students.’ 

What does it entail to be a mentor? 

Marten: ‘We organise meetings and fun events for the group. We meet every week. During the lockdown, that was often online, but sometimes we were allowed to meet at the campus. That was really nice in those difficult times!’ 

Mireia: ‘In the lockdown, the meetings were mainly for interaction, so just to have a nice chat with people. Now that everything is on campus again, the students ask for more practical advice, such as about what research project to choose or how to make a planning for their master's. So we guide them through these processes.’  

Why did you become a mentor? 

Mireia: ‘I’m an international student and started my Life Science & Technology (LST) master’s here during the pandemic.  In my first year, I was in a mentor group myself. I didn’t know anybody, so it was really nice to be able to meet new people, talk with them, and get help from a mentor. I even made a new friend! Now I want to do something back for other students who struggle and might feel alone.’ 

Marten: ‘Shortly after we were allowed back at the Faculty again, I was at a poster market about chemistry and LST research. I ran into one of my mentor students and we started to talk about the event. Then all of a sudden, more of my mentor students turned up as well, really excited and asking lots of questions. Those moments are really rewarding.’

Do you think the mentors will stay after corona?

Marten: ‘Yes, I think and hope so! However, these mentor groups are mandatory for first-year students. But some students don’t feel much for it. That’s why I think it would be better to make it optional so that we only get the students who actually need it.’

And now, back at the Faculty again. What’s that like? 

Mireia: ‘Oh, it’s really amazing to be back here again and talk to other people! I was a little bit nervous when I came to the lab the first time, as I wasn’t sure what the Dutch culture would be like. But I felt very welcome from the start, and people helped me get started in the lab. It feels good to have a chat during the coffee break, and it’s such a great feeling to be able to say: “See you tomorrow!”’

Marten: ‘I really enjoy that we can have lectures in person and work on campus again. For me, that’s much better than online. Last year was a lot of working alone from home and only having contact with people I directly work with. But now I really like seeing everybody in the building again and being able to have causal conversations with people over some coffee. I feel like I’m part of the Faculty and my study programme again.’

Text: Bryce Benda

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