Law alumni Ryan and Corona together for more than 40 years: ‘For her sake, I was prepared to repeat a year’
Many loves have their origins on campus, though not all of them last. Some campus couples are still together to this day. Towards the university's 100th anniversary, we collect their love stories. Ryan van der Aa (64) and Corona Smitskam (64) met for the first time during a School introduction day in 1977. After two years of studying together, they clicked. They have now been together for more than 40 years and reminisce about their time in Tilburg.
Ryan lived in Eindhoven and came to Tilburg in 1977 to study Criminal Law. Corona lived with her parents in Tilburg and started in a Social Law program that same year. As students, they were in the same introduction group and ended up in the same group of friends. “Other students used to call our group “The Chain” because we used to queue into the lecture hall and sit in one row,” Corona remembers.
It took about two years before Ryan and Corona started their relationship. “The programs were structured differently than they are now. In our time, you had two years for your kandidaats (comparable to the modern Bachelor’s). I failed to successfully complete the second year, so I had to redo it. Ryan did complete his, so he had to go on to the next year,” Corona says. Ryan continues: “Then I thought: we won’t be able to sit next to each other anymore. So I just accompanied Corona to the second-year lectures. One of the instructors noticed me and sent me packing, saying that I had no business being there.” Corona laughs: “He was all upset that he was not allowed to decide for himself what lectures to attend. Of course I thought it was so sweet that he wanted to repeat a whole year just for me!”
This made it clear to both young people how they felt about each other. Soon they were an item. Ryan and Corona’s group of friends had seen it all coming, of course. Not a lot changed for the couple, except for not being able to sit next to each other during lectures. “We still saw each other every day, we walked around the Warande a lot, and we shared the same group of friends,” says Ryan.
Studying was much cheaper than it is now: in 1977, the tuition fee was 300 guilders
After a couple of years, Corona’s parents moved away and she continued to live in the flat at Cobbenhagenlaan. Because she did not receive a study grant, she let the two other rooms so she could make ends meet. She became a landlady and Ryan was one of her tenants. Corona: “Studying was much cheaper than it is now: in 1977, the tuition fee was 300 guilders. The textbooks were extra. I had a summer job at Philips for six weeks that paid for my studies. The university was different too, at the time. The campus was much smaller. Everyone knew each other and contacts with professors were rather informal. For instance, there was a professor who invited all first-year students to his home. We had to read a very difficult book and discuss one chapter.”
“Another important thing at the time was the bike path that ran straight through Tilburg,” Ryan remembers. “It used to run straight from the campus all the way to Oisterwijk. Student life used to center around that entire bike path and foot path. From our flat at Cobbenhagenlaan, we walked that route to Polly Maggoo. There we had a nice Belgian beer for five guilders. And then we walked back because we had no money for a second beer. If we wanted to go to the movies, we had to save up.”
During my studies, I learned a way of thinking to solve problems which has always benefited me
Student life to working life
Ryan graduated in 1985 and went to work as a Personnel Officer at management consulting firm Berenschot. He then went on to work in Amsterdam and then in different jobs that took him all over the world. “Eventually I never worked in the field I trained in. But during my studies, I learned a way of thinking to solve problems which has always benefited me. And it was also useful that I spoke the language of lawyers.”
Corona graduated in 1986. “It was quite normal at the time to be unemployed for one or two years. You just took your diploma to the social services. There just wasn’t any work. I had resigned myself to that, but oddly enough, I had a job before I graduated.” She began her career at the university’s Science Shop (Wetenschapswinkel). Then she worked two years as a researcher and until 1995 as an instructor of Social Security Law at the University of Amsterdam. That year they moved to Limburg, where Corona started her own business as a writer of legal texts. In 2011 her career developed into a totally different direction when she took charge of the musical program of a cultural center. “I was thrilled to be making that switch towards the end of my career. I learned a lot there. It was so different from law.”
Marrying was mainly a practical solution, a change in our legal position. It’s not surprising, us being lawyers.
Ryan and Corona had a cohabitation contract, but when Corona became self-employed, it proved to be cheaper and easier to marry after all than to update the cohabitation contract. So, without anybody knowing, they tied the knot in the conventional way. “It was mainly a practical solution, a change in our legal position. It’s not surprising, us being lawyers,” Corona laughs. But the milestones are definitely celebrated. Ryan: “When we had been together for ten years, we threw a big party. And an even bigger one, lasting two days, on our 20th anniversary. With our Tilburg group of friends in attendance of course.”
Back to Tilburg
The bond with the group of students that Ryan and Corona met at the start of their studies in 1977 continues to be strong. “We became friends when we were all students and now we share pictures of grandchildren on WhatsApp,” Ryan muses. “During our time as students, we used to go on holiday for a midweek as a group every year. We rented two adjacent holiday cottages. Later we did city trips over a long weekend. And we are in contact a lot via our app group.”
On the group’s 40th anniversary, in 2017, they all returned to Tilburg. “We rented bikes and made a tour of all the places we had lived. And also to the university, to see what the present-day campus looks like. The city itself has changed quite a lot. At the end of the 1970s, there were lots of empty textile factories. It has been done up really well. It was so nice to be back in Tilburg after all those years.”
Ryan and Corona look back on their time as students positively and with satisfaction. “I came from Eindhoven to Tilburg, as the first of my family to go to university. So I had no idea what to expect,” Ryan says. “But the university was small-scale and informal. A lot of attention was paid to making the students feel they belonged.”
Date of publication: 17 July 2023