Nothing Lasts Forever – Except UCU

By Ivo Dimitrov

Three fantastic years and you’re out. Everyone knows the deal from the moment they catch a first glimpse of College Hall. But what if there’s a way to cheat the system? Can you come back to this magical place?  The Boomerang talked to alumni who did the impossible: they returned to UCU.

Katie Kirk, Anthropology professor and tutor, Class of 2002 ½, doesn’t shy away from revealing her UCU past. Looking over campus from her office in Newton, she recalls living in Locke, writing psychology essays, and debating with fellow students. “I met the two loves of my life here: my husband and Anthropology,” she says. “I was the girl who went running all the time. One day he asked me to run together. And here we are, ten years later.”

She admits to going through several phases here. Initially a studious shadow person, she then started to appreciate the social aspects of campus life more. “I might have even learned more outside of the classroom. You build a deep connection with a diverse group of friends. You will always share a common experience and a certain interest in the world. You stay close even after graduation.” says Kirk. The safe and comfortable environment of UCU was the reason she submitted her CV here years later, while working on her PhD.

The same sentiment is shared by Hinze Hogendoorn, who came back to teach after finishing his PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience. “Returning here was a logical choice. I have always appreciated the close relation between students and professors, and now that I teach, even more.” Like many students today, he came here in 2001 without a clear direction and soon found his passion. He describes himself as a diligent and hard-working student, reaffirming the image we UCU’ers radiate to others.

Sebastian Cassé, Class of 2003, remembers spending a lot of time at the bar, in typical UCU fashion. Nowadays he prefers his office in College Hall, where he works as an information manager for the college. While studying here, he never gave much thought about his academic goals. Instead, he focused on campus involvement, DJ-ing in the bar twice a week and setting up a film club. Later he continued his education in media and film studies, but ultimately got involved in UCU again through a friend. “The environment is fun and working here is very rewarding. I feel I make a difference in the students’ lives,” says Cassé. “I never wake up wishing this wasn’t my job.”

But have the college and its students changed over the years? Cassé seems to think so. Ten years ago, coming here was a risk, as no one could estimate the value of the diploma. Now that UCU has built a reputation, the choice is much safer. “Students used to be quite alternative, now they are much more focused. B+ is just not good enough anymore.” Kirk agrees on the pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit in her time. Nowadays she sees a much bigger investment in the community. “There was nothing when I came here – not even the bar.”

UCU continues to affect the alumni’s lives and they all recognize the value of this experience. “The most important thing that I learned on campus is respect for and understanding of difference, and I hope that we impart that on students in our classes as well,” says Annemarie van Geel, who graduated in 2003. She went on to become a Middle East specialist and has been teaching a class on the Arab-Israeli conflict for the past five years. Kirk describes her UCU time as profound and very formative, but stresses that it is different for everyone. “The lack of anonymity and the amount of pressure are the downside of living in a close community. But for me it was exactly the right place. I thrived here.”

In the end, even the second round of UCU has an expiration date, especially in the case of Kirk. In January, she will start working at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam to research Indian immigration. She feels this is the only way to continue developing and broadening her knowledge. And just like her, all of us will have to find the courage to leave at some point (or get kicked out). No matter how much we feel connected to this place, you know there will be a time to move on and leave forever. Unless you come back to teach.

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