A fresh start at the university is an adventure. For many new students the city is completely unknown, a lot of friends go to a different university and some are moving into a student home. It is very exciting, but it can also be a little frightening. Luckily, there is the TOP Week. There is no better way to get to know your fellow students than by an informal introduction week with a lot of fun activities. We spoke with two board members of TOP to get an insight in their board life and how they are dealing with the current situation.
Many students don’t know you very well because you work behind the scenes almost a whole year, would you like to introduce yourself?
Feline: ‘I am Feline de Vries. I am Vice-Chairman and PR this year. I have completed the master organizational sciences. I chose to do a board year because it was the last fun thing to do to end my student life in a good way.’
Joep: ‘I am Joep Hurkmans. I am Internal Affairs this year at TOP. As Internal Affairs I am responsible for the participants, mentors and crews. In short, the function contains everything with people. Among other things I supervise a few committees. It is very nice to do. I have completed my bachelor International Business Administration. This year I wanted a gap year to bridge the time between my bachelor and master. I didn’t already want to start with my master thesis. Next year I am probably going to start with my master Marketing Management, but I am not sure about that.’
Both of you are students in Tilburg for quite some time. Can you remember your own TOP Week and what were your experiences from this week?
Feline: ‘I have participated in the TOP Week as a pre-master student. Therefore, my group was actually reasonably old and this was quite nice because people took a lot more responsibility for things. For me personally, the most magical moment of the week was the cantus. On Tuesday we had a small cantus at Cafe de Boekanier. But when the TOP cantus followed the next day, I didn’t know what was happening. In The Hague I never heard of a cantus before.
It is a cliché, but my group members are friends for life. I still have contact with them every day, with one more than the other of course. They are people who helped me through my study. Occasionally, I still have a look at the photos of that week.’
Joep: ‘For me it is nearly the same. I have participated in the TOP Week as a bachelor student. It was also some time ago. A couple of people who I met there, I still speak to every day. In my case it was a little bit awkward in the beginning because you are at the start of your student life and everything is new.
In the unique current situation, we at TOP are all committed to give the people a good start that is not awkward. We try to prepare the participants in a good way, such as every year.’
As board of TOP you only focus on two weeks of the year. How does a normal week look like for you?
Feline: ‘It is different per function. But our weekly board meeting is the guidance of course. We have a lot of appointments with external parties because we cooperate with a lot of different parties. However, in my position the camera crew is of great importance. During TOP Week we have people who make pictures and videos and develop this into an after movie. At the beginning I have had a lot of appointments with different parties for this, because we had to find a new crew. In the end we chose our best option and then we had to make agreements with them for important things such as the script. In addition, I manage the website and the social media which costs some time every day. So, I have a lot of tasks that return every day or every couple of weeks and these tasks are never finished.’
Joep: ‘I think this is approximately the case for every function. Of course it differs who we have contact with. I have a lot of contact with mentors and participants. At the moment the situation concerning the mentors is very topical, because we are in the middle of the recruitment period. Eventually, I will get busier with the participants because the registrations will open soon. We don’t exactly know when the registrations will open but this will come in the near future. How my working week looks like is very diverse. One week you are very busy with meetings with the board, committees and faculties and the other week you are busy with improving your communication skills. I mostly write a lot of texts. Hence, this is how my function broadly looks and how I spent my weeks.’
Feline: ‘We work with a lot of peaks. We have a lot of peaks that we have to complete. Eventually, we will arrive at our last peak and that is the TOP Week.’
Luckily the TOP Winter Week could go on. How do you look back on this week and the organization of it?
Joep: Needless to say, it was a lot of fun to organize this week. From October till the end of January we were busy with its organization. The week was extremely exciting in my opinion. I think everyone from the board shares my opinion. We organized it just with the seven of us, there were no committees yet. You had to rely just on yourself and your fellow board members.’
‘The week was very stressful behind the scenes. We were busy all the time and had to communicate well. There were a lot of people dependent on things we had organized. Generally, it was just a very nice week! It was a lot different than the upcoming week in the summer will be. Then you work with a lot more participants and committees, which makes a difference of course.’
Feline: ‘When you asked us about it we started laughing and maybe even started glancing a little bit. It is just something that we built and it was so awesome to experience! Besides the stress you have, you are really on cloud nine. Fortunately, we still have the after movie that I watch now and then.’
It is unavoidable that there are some disappointments and problems in the preparation period and in the week. What did you find the biggest challenges of organizing the TOP Winter Week?
Feline: ‘As a board you are just new. Getting to know each other is quite a challenge at the start. This is separate from the week by the way. Although it is something you take into the preparations for the TOP Winter Week. Furthermore, the contact with external parties is a challenge. You have to be more formal with one than the other. You are going to request quotations, choose particular parties and you have to look at your budget all the time. You are dealing with many aspects, before you are able to make a choice. I thought that was occasionally a challenge.’
Joep: ‘I agree. As a board you know each other from a past TOP Week but in October you really start working together. I think that went well with us and it still does. With the seven of us we are at the board room and dependent on each other. I am a person who works individually most of the time and I had to get used to depend on another. You also rely on other functions of course. If I need money, I have to speak with the treasurer for example.’
Are there any things you have learned from the TOP Winter Week, that you would do differently if the week in the summer would be organized in the old way?
Feline: ‘The scripts. We organized the scripts in such a way that there was quite a lot of time left. This would have been a bit more tighter in the summer, but it is just a small detail. Generally, everything went well.’
Joep: ‘Everything in front of the scenes went flawless. Behind the scenes there are always a few points of improvement. The function of the Winter Week is also to prepare us for the week in the summer. We work with a lot less people and the small things that went wrong are learning points for the next week.’
Feline: ‘We are very happy that there didn’t occur serious accidents and everyone was able to return home safely. That is very important to us.’
Joep: “As a board we got prepared very well. We followed first aid courses and an emergency response course. For the TOP Week in the summer we even had to follow a forklift course. We had a lot of training for things that could happen behind the scenes. Little can go wrong.’
What was your personal highlight of the week?
Together: ‘The cantus. We got called onto the podium twice and then a thousand people are staring at you. At that moment you realize what you have built.’
It is quite a pity that the upcoming TOP Week cannot go through in the way it was originally planned. We assume that you already prepared some things for this week. Were you prepared for the cancellation of big events?
Joep: ‘When nothing was clear about the consequences of corona on big events in the summer, we were already discussing with external parties what the options were if the TOP Week could not take place in a normal way. What are we able to do and what are we going to do on the night that the announcement is made, now that big physical events cannot occur? Fortunately, we had prepared this very well. It didn’t come out of the blue for us. We preferred of course that the TOP Week could continue in a physical way, maybe this is still possible with a smaller number of people. Every possible situation we take into account. When it became known that the week could not continue physically or with a large number of people we released statements, messages to mentors, and mails to external parties. With the external parties we discussed our options of what we can do to give the students still an appropriate introduction in whatever way that is possible.’
Have you already come up with specific activities as a replacement for the old ones?
Feline: ‘At the moment we are still in the phase of brainstorming. We are working together with our committees and a lot of ideas have already arisen. We do not yet know what is possible and what not. So, at the moment we cannot give an answer to that.’
Joep: ‘Usually the program is ready at this point in time. It looks every year very much the same. In 2016 during my TOP Week there was “The Single Party” in the 013 for example, but that has been removed from the schedule because such an event did not get evaluated properly or it was time to change some things. Every year we build upon the schedule of the past. The construction of such a program is usually done in a month and then we can start with the preparations. Now we are coming up with something completely new and we are at an advanced stage. With the thing we have in mind at the moment all student- and study associations will feature.’
Feline: ‘We would like to have it completed at the end of May, but we cannot say that with complete certainty.’