Love stories Tilburg University

‘My Master’s year was the best year of my life’

Love story 3 min. Swaans Communicatie

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. Anna Shemetkova (29) came from Russia to the Netherlands to do a Master’s. Niels van den Elzen (29) was a mentor waiting in a Donald Duck outfit to help new students find their way during TOP Week. The couple has been together for seven years now, they are married and have bought a home in Tilburg.

“’Oh boy,’ I thought when I first saw Niels dressed up as Donald Duck,” Anna laughs. “We got along like a house on fire during TOP Week; we talked for hours. But nothing happened romantically. I was young – 22 at that moment – and I had just moved in from another country. It was a lot to take in, so I took it easy.”

Beer cantus

At the end of September, Anna and Niels’ paths crossed again, during the beer cantus at TalentSquare, where Anna had a room. "I did not participate but I could see what was happening from my window,” Anna reminisces. “Niels did join and soon got drunk. Which is the whole point of a beer cantus, I guess, ha-ha.” Niels knew that Anna lived nearby and he needed to use the toilet. “We got talking in my kitchen. It was from about nine in the evening. We just chatted on and on till four in the morning. The funny thing was that Niels was in charge of the kitty for the group he was going to go out with, so they were texting him all evening to come downtown and pay. But we just couldn’t stop talking. So yes, we certainly hit it off.”
After this nice long talk, the students began to text each other. “And we never stopped,” Anna smiles. After a few weeks, the first date took place, with many to follow. “I remember that Niels cooked a meal for me in my student room. But we took it easy. In December, we were officially a couple.”

There was a big difference with my Bachelor’s in Russia

Best year of my life

Anna has many good memories of that year at Tilburg University. “Looking back, it was the best year of my life so far. I started living on my own for the first time, studying abroad for the first time. It was fun to be in contact with so many international students. TalentSquare played a key role in this: I made friends for life there. You live together with many other students, so it is hard to be lonely there. One of my flat mates is still my best friend.” She also found her Master’s in Communication and Information Sciences very interesting. “There was a big difference with my Bachelor’s in Russia. In the Master’s phase, you choose the courses you want to take, so you really learn something about the things you are most interested in. You take your Master’s to please yourself.”

Anna en Niels

I found it hard to see myself moving back to Russia after my studies

Dutch culture

It was not actually Anna’s objective to stay in the Netherlands. “I was very open-minded about it,” she says. “I really wanted to study abroad, but I was aware that it might not be my cup of tea and that I might want to go home after a month.” But the opposite was the case. “I found it hard to see myself moving back. Of course the fact that I had fallen in love with Niels had something to do with it. But it wasn’t the only reason. I loved Dutch culture and I felt right at home here.”

Cheese sandwiches

However … there were a few things that Anna didn’t understand about Dutch culture. “When Niels and I had lunch at the Mensa, Niels always went for bread, butter, and cheese. You could have a hot meal for the same money! I just didn’t get it,” Anna laughs. She also had to get used to Dutch punctuality. “In Russia, it isn’t a problem if you are fifteen minutes late for a lecture. In the Netherlands, all students are ten minutes early, and being late is frowned upon. I did have to get used to that, but now I’m also quite punctual.”

Anna en Niels

An international relationship is never boring

International relationship

Anna is now working as a Digital Marketing Specialist at Studyportals. Niels is a Business Analyst at Veldsink Groep. The couple bought a home in Tilburg and got married in October 2021. “An international relationship is never boring,” Anna states. “You have to deal with different languages, experiences, and cultures. That is a challenge sometimes. In Russia, it's quite common to get flowers from a man regularly. After I told this to Niels, he started giving me flowers more often,” Anna chuckles. “Now we try to combine the best of both our cultures. We communicate in English and in the meantime, we are learning each other’s language. I took a few Dutch courses and can make myself understood pretty well. And Niels is taking a Russian course so he can talk to my parents. It is a good thing that we can mutually invest in our relationship in this way.”

Do you have a Tilburg University love story too?

Did you meet the love of your life at Tilburg University? Did sparks fly immediately? Or did it take a little longer for your feelings to grow? 

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Date of publication: 19 June 2023