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‘You end up in a completely different world’

What did psychology student Jessie learn while working at a psychiatric hospital in The Gambia? And why is Noman from Yemen now studying political science in Leiden? Thanks to donations from alumni, students have the opportunity to spend time abroad funded by a LUF grant. Jessie and Noman talk about their remarkable experiences.

An abbreviated version of this article appeared in Leidraad, our alumni magazine. The full magazine is available online. 

The hospital was a bit like a dumping ground for the community’s unwanted’

Jessie ter Meulen (22) is a Master’s student in Clinical Psychology. She used her LISF grant to do an internship at a psychiatric hospital in The Gambia.

‘In a lecture on cross-cultural psychology in Leiden, the lecturer told us that almost all psychological research is based on a very small part of the world’s population: most respondents are western, white and highly educated. That got me thinking, so I arranged to do an internship at a psychiatric hospital in The Gambia. The hospital was a bit like a dumping ground for the community’s unwanted: people with all sorts of problems ended up there. In the first month I was there, a psychotic patient killed two other patients. It was a terrible incident and was unheard-of there too. I didn’t witness it myself, but was shocked nonetheless.’

Jessie ter Meulen in The Gambia.

‘I decided to stay anyway, and have no regrets. While I was there I learned that it isn’t just about practising psychotherapy; it’s all about gaining the patient’s trust. There was one woman who was confused and threw a bucket of paint over herself. What helped her most, she told me later, was that I didn’t judge her, but took the time to wash the paint out of her hair and eyelashes. In the Netherlands, you would leave a job like that to the nursing staff. They hardly kept any medical records in the hospital, so the staff had more time for the patients. An internship abroad is even more of a learning opportunity because you end up in a completely different world. I’m really glad I had the chance to do it, thanks to the LISF grant. Before I went abroad I had already decided that I wanted to work with traumatised former child soldiers and the internship only confirmed that.’

‘The civil war in Yemen left me stranded in Egypt’

Noman Ashraf (23) is a Master’s student in Political Science. to the Kuiper-Overpelt Fund has made it possible for him to study in Leiden.

I was born in Pakistan, grew up in Yemen and studied in Egypt. While I was studying in Cairo, the civil war broke out in Yemen, preventing me and many other Yemenites from returning home. That was especially problematic for people who were ill. I became involved in the Stranded Yemenis charity and helped raise money for cancer patients. It’s partly because of this experience that I find issues such as civil rights and the status of migrants particularly interesting.

Noman in Leiden. Photo: Hielco Kuipers

‘I really wanted to study Political Science in Leiden because of the specialisation Nationalism, Ethnic Conflict and Development. It wouldn’t have been possible without the Kuiper-Overpelt Funds, a LUF grant. One of the conditions of the grant is that I have to share my new knowledge with local communities, and I will certainly do that. After my Master’s I want to work for an NGO in the Middle East and eventually help people in Yemen once things have settled down there. But before that I also want to work for an NGO in Leiden. My fellow students, both Dutch and international, have made me feel at home here. It’s so important to be part of a close-knit community.’ 

Text: Linda van Putten

Would you like to donate towards grants for talented students? Discover the possibilities at www.luf.nl/draag-bij. For more information, contact Eline Danker on 071 513 0503 or at e.danker@luf.leidenuniv.nl

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