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Hot Seat | "I don’t easily open up to others"

Nothing compares to home in Suriname, but Cosmos feels like a nice second family. The international student association of which Jamie Tjong-Ahin recently became chairman, is without a doubt the place where she feels most at ease in Eindhoven. The combination of work for the board and studying Built Environment is tough, "but I go for it, and learn and grow from it.”

photo Rien Boonstoppel

The TU/e was not her first choice, the twenty-year-old Jamie admits during the conversation in the Common Room, just before she snatches her first question from the black hat. She was actually aiming for Delft - closer to a few family members who have already moved from Suriname to the Randstad - but was too late with her application. But, she says smiling, “Eindhoven is certainly not a second best. I have never regretted my studies here."

Cosmos was the first place in Eindhoven where she really felt at ease, she says. “Everyone here is so open. There is so much dissension between groups and cultures in this world, but here everyone is open and people want to learn from each other. And now as a chairman, I would like to dedicate myself to this purpose.”

What is the most important thing you have to do this week?

“Complete my school assignments. I have three deadlines this week; I am working on a project and must submit two reports. I will make it though, I perform best with the pressure of last minute work anyway. When I was in school, I regularly got told off by my mother. She would be yelling that I should not start learning on the last day. But then I perform best.

Within the Cosmos board we have the rule: your health is your first priority, your study your second, and your board tasks your third. At busy moments I have to remind myself of that, but it is nice that the others understand you; we are all going through the same thing."

When Jamie reads the second question, her face shows disapproval and she puts the question back in silence. Only when we ask about it, she reads it out loud: "Have you ever used drugs?" No, she says. "I just don't want to have anything to do with the subject."

Whom would you like to ask a question and what would the question be?

Jamie takes a long time to think. “As a young chairman of Cosmos, I would really like to ask all leaders: how do you get to the point that people respect you, that they see you as an example? My own example, when it comes to leadership, is for sure my father. I'm very proud of him. He has always been a leader, among other things, in his work and he continues to develop this skill. He is also a role model for the large, blended family he grew up in.

I am realizing more and more that I am like my father. Setting goals for myself, working towards reaching them, developing myself - we have many of the same qualities. He also finds education very important: "As long as you get your diploma, you will be doing well." This is how I see it as well: a diploma is the basis of your success, from there you can go places."

When did you actually want to give up, but decided to continue?

“Everyone sometimes gets to a (difficult) point where he/she wants to give up. But then I imagine the result and I realize: ‘If I keep on going, I'll be there in no time.’ Once you achieve that result and look back on how you might have struggled, it gives you the best feeling. So I never really give up, I always get myself together (again). I don't listen to others easily in such a situation. My mother always says I'm pretty stubborn that way.”

Who or what do you miss the most?

“My family of course; I am all about family. Just sitting at the table with my family is enough for me, then I feel joy. And I miss the food. I have already made so many Surinamese dishes here in the Netherlands, but they never taste the same as they do at home. Especially Baka Bana, fried banana with a layer around it, with peanut sauce - delicious.”

“I last saw my parents in August. I was in Suriname last summer and able to celebrate my birthday there. I hope I can go again in December; everyone will come to our house for Christmas, Surinamese love to enjoy good food together. But airline tickets are expensive, especially around that time; you easily pay fourteen hundred euros for a return ticket. If I can't go there, my mother will probably come here again, just like last year. She loves the Netherlands and the cold climate here." Laughing: "I don't understand that".

What is your biggest prejudice about others?

“Ever since I was a child, I noticed and felt that people often have an opinion about others. That has had an effect on me; I don’t easily open up to others, afraid that people will judge me. I do have two very good friends, really my childhood friends; my mother used to call us ‘the three musketeers’ because we were always together. Apart from my family they know me best, I share everything with them. One of them once said that I am someone with multiple levels. In the beginning I am a bit reluctant, I share little personal information - but as I get to know someone better, I slowly become more open.

I mostly hope that people find me lovable, as that’s what I really try to be. And I never judge others; everyone is different, everyone is his own person, and nobody is the same as me."

For our column The Hot Seat we ask students and employees to pull five cards from our top hat full of questions. One question may be exchanged. The next interview will appear in three weeks' time.

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