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CursorOnTour@SSC | The sports centre as a second home

Getting fit, staying fit, learning to swim, preparing yourself for an upcoming competition, training with your team, reaching personal goals or breaking personal records, or simply escaping life’s pressures for a moment - everyone has their own reasons to come and sport at the Student Sports Centre Eindhoven (SSC). For some, however, the SSC is more than just a sports facility; for them, it is almost a second home.

photo Bart van Overbeeke

“This feels like a second family”

Arash Roomi Zadeh is a 30-year-old PhD student within the Signal Processing Systems group of the Department of Electrical Engineering. He has been in Eindhoven for four years, where he first obtained his PDEng at the TU/e, prior to which he completed his Master in the Italian city of Turin - the city to which he moved at the age of 22.

“I did my Bachelor in Iran, I also had a job there, but my parents said: ‘Why don’t you travel a little, go and see something of the world? And then you can return after.’” At the moment, however, Arash is not considering his return, as life in the Netherlands suits him. “When you travel, you tend only to see the touristic highlights and hence nothing changes regarding how you think and how you perceive the world and others. By living in another country, you discover that daily life might be very different to that which you are used to at home, but also that people are all equal on some level - that overall they share the same norms and values, and believe in the same things.”

Life abroad has changed him, he says. Laughing: “But perhaps that is just because I got older.”

Out of your comfort zone

Arash has found that traveling and living abroad has taken him out of his comfort zone in a positive way. Of course, he misses his family (“that bond is very strong in Iran”), but he has gained a home-far-away-from-home in the form of the Student Sports Centre. In Iran, Arash was a fanatical climber and a student of taekwondo. Here he has tried all kinds of different sports, and can be found at the sports centre almost every day.

Currently, he is enjoying yoga, which he started initially in order to gain a little more flexibility for taekwondo. Arash prefers sports that involve both body and mind - something he has found on the yoga mat - and he has now also given a few lessons in power yoga himself.

Yet for Arash, the Student Sports Centre means so much more than just sporting. “Others go into town on a Friday night to have drinks - I also do that sometimes, but I feel happier when I am here. It feels like a kind of second family, the people are incredibly friendly, involved, and helpful.” In the centre of Eindhoven (where he also has his own apartment), he sometimes visits The Hub for Expats, but that “is a little more ‘foreigners amongst one another.’ Here at the sports centre the population is more mixed, and you can also spend time with Dutch people.”

Persian versus Dutch

This also allows him to improve his Dutch language skills, which Arash finds an important aim, because “it allows you to broaden your horizon.” Interestingly, Persian is distantly related to Dutch. “For example,” Arash explains, “the Dutch word for ‘daughter,’ is ‘dokhtar’ in spoken Persian.”  

When asked whether Dutch and international students also discuss more personal issues in their conversations in the canteen of the sports centre, Arash laughs. “My personal bubble is large, I talk to everyone and about everything. I don’t want to generalise, but Dutch people tend to be a little more reserved in that respect.”

“Being busy here, amongst the young people, that is my life”

Henk Janssen is 79 years old. He retired in 2001, but still works around fifteen hours a week for the Student Sports Centre. “Uncle” Henk, as he is known, especially to earlier generations of students, is “part of the furniture.”

Initially, there was some confusion regarding the agreed time for the interview, but Henk arrived within ten minutes nonetheless. Born and raised in Woensel, he lives within a stone’s throw of “his” Student Sports Centre, where he applied for a job in the late 1970s. Having worked previously in security at the university, his “life revolved around sporting. So, when a job became available here, I knew what I was going to do.”

From indoor and outdoor football to badminton and swimming - Henk has always been keen on sports. Although his age and health no longer allow him to do everything, he is still always ready for a brisk walk or a cycle to “keep his stamina up for a bit” and for all kinds of different chores at the sports centre - from washing the centre’s three vans, getting change, and refilling the vending machines, to helping behind the bar or in the porter’s lodge. Generally, he works about three days a week on the campus.

Upon his retirement in 2001, Henk affirmed that, in time of need, the sports centre could always call him. That “need” arrived and, luckily for Henk, never really went away. “I am not one for sitting still or staying at home.” Despite the fact that physically he has slowed down a little, as he states: “As long as my health allows me to, I will stay here. Because being busy here, amongst the young people, that is my life.”

His favourite place has always been the canteen, where he has spent many hours behind the bar. Students may like a bit of a party, but then so does Uncle Henk. “We often sang quite a bit, competing with our club songs,” Henk explains, adding that he allowed the students to do almost anything, “as long as they cleaned up afterwards. They tended to listen to me more often than to others. For example, I would say: ‘Hey, there are twenty empty glasses over there. If you return those first, then you can get more beer.’”

A Hundred Herring

He remembers well the “herring eating” with the Hajraa volleyball club. “Then they carried in a hundred herring with onions the Wednesday after the carnival. That was such a mess.” So too the “oliebollen tournament” by the same club on January 2, with “seven hundred, sometimes eight hundred, oliebollen [deep fried batter balls; a Dutch New Year delicacy] and all those cans of icing sugar… like there was a thick fog in the air. But afterwards, thirty people took a dustpan and brush to hand, and a bucket of soapy water, and within an hour everything was clean again.”

However, Henk’s strongest memories of the sports centre are not only happy ones. He remembers one particular game of indoor football like it was yesterday (despite it being “at least twenty-five years ago”). One afternoon, a 22-year-old player became unwell. The player sat down for a while, then continued playing five minutes later, before finally collapsing on the field. “They immediately took action, people tried to revive him, but he died in the ambulance. I will never forget that.”

A more positive memory - albeit also one with a powerful emotional charge - is climbing the Alpe d’Huez with a group of colleagues in 2012, amongst others, in memory of their colleague Dennis Schonenburg, who died a few months earlier of cancer. Henk went along as one of the team coaches. “We went away for a week with fifteen of us. Wonderful.”

By his own admission, Henk does not know many of the latest generation of club members. The current membership list has somewhat overtaken him, and learning English to be able to hold a conversation with the many international members “is not something I’ll do anymore at my age.” Yet the Student Sports Centre continues to be close to his heart. “It’s a real meeting place, busy in a pleasant, cosy way. There is never trouble here.” 

“After yet another day behind the laptop I just have to move”

Matej Grobelnik (24) is a Slovenian Master student in Data Science, currently living in the Luna accommodation block on the TU/e-campus. His Italian peer Robin Esposito, who is of the same age and studies at the same faculty, is following a Master’s degree in Web Science and lives in the Aurora block. At least five days a week you can find them both at the Student Sports Centre.

Seeking more freedom, independence, and a new environment, Italian Master student Robin Esposito wanted to leave home after his Bachelor. “I was also curious about different approaches to education. In Italy, the focus in my field of study is primarily theoretical, very mathematical; the lectures are very individual and not very practical. Here you have way more projects, with clear deadlines - much more realistic, if you compare it to working practice.”

He became friends with Matej (who describes the Netherlands primarily as “well organised, super efficient, and very clean”) two years ago during an introduction to the Master programmes. Although they did not “click” immediately, time did its work - as did the connecting power of doing sports together and that of their sports instructor, Lara Hofstra. “She had a chat with the both of us, first in Dutch to me, because she thought I was Dutch,” Matej laughs. Robin continues: “Not long after we started organising volleyball lessons for internationals, in preparation of the Hajraa Outdoor Tournament.”

They both follow different groups lessons at the sports centre: body pump, cardio core, core. Robin explains: “I also regularly attend yoga classes, hip hop sometimes, squash, volleyball. Yes, I spend quite a lot of time here. For only a small cost you can do any sport you can think of and try out things without having to inscribe for anything beforehand.”

Hot and busy

Both Matej and Robin explain that they did not have any comparable, easily accessible and affordable sports facilities back home in either Slovenia or Italy. Hence, they are very satisfied with the facilities in Eindhoven, “even though Lara often complains that things are falling apart around here,” Matej laughs. He has to admit: “For example the showers in the changing rooms could do with a makeover. And sometimes it is very hot here in the summer.” Additionally, it is often very busy, Robin adds: “For the body pump lessons, we have to be present twenty minutes in advance, otherwise all of the weights may be in use.”

“I actually feel like you should sport every day,” says Matej. “In educational programmes like ours, you spend a lot of time behind your laptop; after a day, I just have to move, leave my apartment, do something.” Robin continues: “We both live on the campus, so the sports centre is nice and close.” Not that you will find him there every day: “Sunday is my resting day. I just have to allow myself to do nothing one day a week.”


After sporting, the two friends often stay around the centre, meeting up with friends. “Many of them are also busy working on their Master theses now, so it’s nice to meet each other here and escape that hectic environment for a while,” states Matej. They primarily socialise with other international students, because “it is often just a little easier to establish that kind of contact. As an international student, you are far away from home, often alone, and this kind of forces you to get to meet people - to be open to others. Dutch people are harder to get to know; they have more of a northern mentality, people are a little more closed around here.”

Yet both students explain that their sports instructor, Lara, is an exception to the rule. Matej: “She is very open, helps you in every possible way. Also, I can really laugh with her and she is just extremely enthusiastic.”

Apparently, she is also very enthusiastic about Robin’s baking which, although having nothing to do with sports, according to Lara, definitely needs to be mentioned in this article. Robin has been baking for weeks now (laughing: “The more cakes I bake, the easier I can convince others to come and sport to burn off the calories”) and has even attempted a traditional Limburg cherry pie. “The Dutch have approved of it,” Robin laughs.

“I still come here, even when I don’t feel like it”

Whether she is “part of the furniture”? “Lara [Hofstra] thinks I am.” Fontys-student Jasmijn Dagevos laughs. “But I am sure there are plenty of people who come here more often than I do.” She comes to the centre approximately four days a week, and recently, she has also become an intern for two days a week.

She laughs, a little ashamed - albeit unjustly - when Cursor asks her age (23). “Many of my friends have graduated already, some of them are even considering children.” But, after a few moderate educational detours, Jasmijn is still in the middle of her study in Applied Psychology at Fontys in Eindhoven, which she supplements with a pre-Master trajectory in Tilburg.

She has always sported a lot - some might even say to the extreme, but more about that later. “But actually, I always just did something.” A few years ago, however, her enthusiasm was sparked by a friend, and she joined the Student Sports Centre.

She started taking zumba and yoga classes, but shortly after started more targeted training with personal trainer Daan Guldemond. Jasmijn had anorexia. “I have always been very concerned with my body and my appearance. When I came here, I was already receiving treatment - but largely it came down to ‘eat pizza, eat fries, do whatever you want.’ And that was a bridge too far for me.”

Clear agreements were made, and clear goals were set. With a focus on gaining weight, becoming fitter, and becoming stronger. “I could not have wished for a better trainer than Daan,” says Jasmijn. Without him, by her own admission, she would never have dared setting foot in the weights room. “I was terrified. I did not understand anything of it, and of course I was very skinny, and then you have those big muscular men who (albeit unintentionally) stand there staring at you…I would have never gone in on my own.”

On the weighing scales

She also felt supported when being weighed, which was always done with the read-out of the weighing scales out of her view. “A little shameful, so I thought, but Daan really gave me trust. The emphasis really was on: How much can you lift, how many repetitions can you do? I always had an image of personal trainers as ‘slave drivers’ for whom it is never enough, but first and foremost, Daan was always very positive.”

Her treatment is now finished, and so are her training sessions with Daan. When asked whether she is better now, Jasmijn replies: “I don’t think that as an anorexia patient, you will ever really be ‘better,’ you will probably always think about it. But I do feel better. Before, I could not do anything during the six weeks of summer holiday. Now I have had such a fun holiday; I have been everywhere, and have done so much.”

Now she regularly trains together with the sports centre’s instructor, Lara Hofstra, “just for fun, doing things that I like. We often go outside, doing bodyweight exercises, power yoga, running up and down the stairs of the TU/e.” Lara is not only her sports buddy, but also the supervisor of her internship, which has just started. Together with her, amongst other things, Jasmijn hopes to develop a form of training for trainers and instructors at the Student Sports Centre specifically aimed at how to deal with people with an eating disorder or, for example, following a very strict diet. “They really want to help, but often don’t know exactly what to do with that.”

Jasmijn also wants to establish a kind of sports buddy programme that makes it easier for people to go sporting together: “For everyone who needs a little push in the right direction, and for people who do not want or dare to go alone.” Above all, Jasmijn asserts, people have to feel at ease at the sports centre - also in the weight room, which she herself initially entered so shyly. “With the two of you, it is immediately a lot less scary. And I find it especially important that the women do not worry about the men in there.”

Salmon sandwich via Facetime

Herself, Jasmijn rarely needs that little push towards the sports centre. Especially when she feels down, sporting with Lara helps her to overcome her feelings. “I still come here, even if I don’t feel like it. I think that everyone who sports here, leaves with a better feeling than when they arrived. And it gives many people a ‘homely feeling.’” That said, she very much misses her other regular sports buddy, Esmee, as she has just left for a six-month internship abroad. Laughing, Jasmijn adds: “We now have our habitual salmon sandwich at the sports centre via Facetime.” 

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