Once upon an Intro


It’s been a quarter of a century since I attended the Intro. And that’s still downplaying it a bit, because in truth, it’s been exactly 26 years. The world looks different now – and so do I, to be honest. But who knows, maybe some of you, the first-year students of 2022, will still be able to recognize yourselves in my stories from the previous millennium. Let’s go back to August 1996.

In 1996, we were facing a room shortage as well. At least, that’s what we thought; because the current room shortage is a lot more acute. Back then, you couldn’t go look for a room online. Instead, you’d put up flyers that read ‘room wanted’. By the toilets in student bars or on notice boards in university buildings. You’d cut the bottom of an A4 sheet into fringes, and on each strip, you’d write your name and phone number. Well, your parents’ fixed line number, that is. And voilà: you’d have convenient little notes people could tear off and carry in their pockets, which, after all, did not contain cell phones yet.

My home was far away from my student city, Nijmegen, but an acquaintance of mine was willing to put my flyers up. I received a couple of responses and went to a few housemate selection evenings, but in the end, I fell prey to a rack-renter. Fortunately, it all worked out: the 100-year-old building I ended up living in stole my heart – despite the poor state of maintenance. And the ragtag band of housemates became a new family, whom I have kept in that same heart ever since.

Having arranged that room, I had my father drop me off one hot summer day in the city where my new life was about to begin. I brought a second-hand bike and an overstuffed overnight bag with a handle that cut into my shoulder, because backpacks were not very popular yet. Neither were rolling suitcases, for that matter, of which the cadence over the sidewalk now forms the signature tune of every student city.

A side pocket of the bag contained the information letter my intro moms had sent me: a phone list of the intro group and the address of the student house where we would meet each other for the first time. Literally, for the first time: because social media had not yet been invented.

In the absence of duckface avatars or blurry graduation party photos, I had created complete mental images of my group mates based solely on their names. Images that were thrown out of the window immediately upon first introduction, because behind the exotic-sounding name hid a surprisingly Dutch face and the strong, staccato name belonged to an extremely gentle person.

This social pressure cooker of an introduction instantly forged bonds for (student) life. Together, we roamed the streets during our nights out, yawned our way through information sessions while hungover, and unwillingly took part in sports day.

Every discotheque we visited was always full of smoke, even without the help of smoke machines. Whether you smoked or not, the pungent cigarette smell around the pile of party clothes in your room would remain for days. By the way, there was no such thing as a beer/coke divide in the intro group, because drinking alcohol was allowed from the age of sixteen. I myself was not yet eighteen, but I could exchange my guilders for beer or Apfelkorn at any bar in town.

Getting to all these nightlife spots in time proved to be something of a challenge. This was because I lacked of a sense of direction on the one hand and a phone with Google Maps on the other. The city map was my best friend, but the little “you are here” arrow was sorely missed.

You couldn’t just send a quick message in the group chat asking them to share their location. Once your group mates were out and about, there was no way to reach them. Fortunately, we had devised a very clever system to bring our lost sheep back to the flock.

This system was as simple as it was effective: we always made a first, second, third and sometimes even a fourth appointment for the next day. If you missed the 2:30 p.m. orientation tour at university because you got lost or overslept, you could join us at 5 p.m. for drinks on a nice terrace, at 7:15 p.m. for dinner at a cheap pizzeria or at 9:30 p.m. for the start of the pub crawl at that one party café.

As you can see, we got by without cell phones and the Internet in the nineties. Even if it was only because we had no idea what we were missing and how radically the world would change in the decades to come. Nor did we know that we would be facing a pandemic that would last for years and a full-blown climate crisis.

The moral of this story: first-years, have a fantastic time at the Intro and enjoy your student days. Become independent, make friends for life, fall flat on your face and get to know yourself. Also... make the most of your studies, because we are counting on you to come up with the solutions and inventions of the future.

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