Why students volunteer

‘It's good to leave your bubble’

Non-profit organisations in Groningen are greatly in need of students. But they often prefer to spend their time in other ways. Three students tell us why they did decide to volunteer. ‘It’s more gratifying than just a job.’
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Door Nivine de Jong

4 February om 17:00 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:14 uur.
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By Nivine de Jong

February 4 at 17:00 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:14 PM.
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Nivine de Jong

Studentredacteur Volledig bio Student editor Full bio

They have to go to class, meet up with friends, are part of a study or student association, work a side job: students are a busy lot. At the Matchmarkt, on February 14, volunteer organisations hope to convince them to look beyond the student bubble. Between 3 and 7 p.m., the Animal Ambulance, the COC, Noorderzon, Oma’s Soep, and OOG TV, among others, will present themselves at the Forum. Meet Emmy, Lieke and Niklas, who’d rather help refugees or homeless people than do committee work.

Photo above Designed by Freepik / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

Emmy Wolfswinkel (23)

human movement sciences

Once every two weeks, Emmy visits the asylum seekers’ centre in Assen to exercise with the children there. She’s on the board of the Sports 4 Society foundation, which introduces newcomers to the Netherlands and students to each other. ‘Few people realise how lucky they are to be born in an affluent country. I think I should give back to people who don’t have it as easy as I do’, Emmy explains. 

She was taught this attitude by her parents, but it was her idea to do volunteer work. She also served as a language coach at Humanitas, teaching Dutch to Syrian refugees, and last summer she went to the Greek island of Lesbos to help out there. ‘That was an intense experience, but I loved being able to help these people’, she says. ‘You don’t know terrible it is until you’ve been there. It was really hard to leave.’

Her work with refugees is in no way connected to her studies, ‘but that’s what makes it fun’, she says. ‘Spending time with people who are different to myself has really added an extra dimension to my time as a student.’ 

Many options

Emma says it’s easy to study and do volunteer work at the same time. If you know you’ll be busy for a few hours you can just work a little harder the day before or the day after. ‘It gets a little busy sometimes, but it’s important enough to me to free up the hours.’ Plus, you can choose work that fits in your schedule, she emphasises. Would you like to do volunteer work once a month, or every week? Would you rather work one on one or with a group? ‘There are so many options.’   

A job pays, but volunteer work doesn’t. Emmy doesn’t mind. She says volunteer work should be unpaid, because you don’t do it for yourself. ‘You shouldn’t have selfish motives. It’s to help other people.’

Lieke Molenaar (22)


Lieke helps out at United Kitchen, a pop-up restaurant at Eeterie De Globe at the Akerkhof once a month. Women with a migration background come together to prepare a three-course meal of international dishes. 

The goal is to help the women integrate. They join the diners for conversation and the proceeds of the dinner are invested in helping them. ‘We talk to the women about what they need. If one of them wants to do a language course, we can finance that’, Lieke explains. 

Lieke used to work as a refugee coach at Humanitas and worked at the Luisterlijn, a 24-hour hotline that people can call for support. ‘That was enjoyable, and I could use my knowledge from my psychology bachelor and learn more about how to have a good conversation’, she says. ‘What I do now isn’t really related to my studies. But that’s okay; I just want to make a difference.’ 


Lieke encourages people to do volunteer work while they’re studying. There’s plenty of time to make money later, she says. ‘I’ll be in debt anyway, whether or not I make money now. My time is better spent doing volunteer work; it’s more challenging and useful than a job. I also get more satisfaction from it.’ 

Just like Emmy, she thinks it’s good that volunteer work takes her out of her ‘student bubble’ and that it introduces her to different kinds of people. ‘Don’t think of it as something you have to do, though. If you’re only doing it to pimp your CV, you won’t enjoy it.’ 

She does recommend that you know that you’ll have the time for it. ‘Once you start, you have to finish it. People are counting on you. Just because it’s voluntary doesn’t mean you can quit whenever you want.’ 

Niklas Kranz (22)

econometrics and psychology 

Niklas is living proof that students can make time for volunteer work if they want to: he’s doing two studies and helps out at Open Hof, a meeting place for homeless people. Niklas serves coffee, tea, and sandwiches, and plays chess with the visitors. He also takes in the clothes that people drop by. 

‘When I was just studying econometrics, I wasn’t feeling fulfilled. I wanted to do something extra’, says Niklas. ‘This is a group of people I would never know otherwise. It’s interesting to find out how people got to where they are and what makes them tick.’ 

More students should do volunteer work, he says, because they have a tendency to live in their own world. ‘I see how much time they spend on association committees. That’s volunteer work, too. They might as well use their time to benefit society. They could learn from it as well.’ 


Niklas didn’t inherit his volunteering gene from his parents. ‘But when I started talking about it at home, my father also picked it up’, he says, laughing. He’s decided to borrow all the money he can instead of getting a paid job. ‘Making money isn’t a priority for me right now. I’ll do that later.’

Niklas thinks volunteer work is more valuable than a normal job. It’s useful, he says, you learn how to plan, and it teaches discipline. It does mean he has to cancel other social events. When someone organises a party when he’s already committed to serving sandwiches to homeless people, the party will have to wait. ‘That’s part of the job. I’d like to do even more volunteer work. There’s so much to do; I won’t get bored any time soon.’


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