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The added value of being active in an association

Date:15 December 2020
Author:Silvana Della Penna
Silvana Della Penna, Argentina, PhD in Kidney Pathology at the Pathology and Medical Biology Dept. Currently Publications and Project Officer in the Cardiac, Vascular & Metabolic Medicine field
Silvana Della Penna, Argentina, PhD in Kidney Pathology at the Pathology and Medical Biology Dept. Currently Publications and Project Officer in the Cardiac, Vascular & Metabolic Medicine field

There’s a lot I have to thank the University of Groningen for. Not only the education through my PhD but also through the many experiences I had the pleasure and honour to have.

I moved to the Netherlands to pursue my PhD in medical sciences at the end of March in 2011. The first Dutch city I ever set foot was Groningen. Like many of you, I was amazed by the number of bikes in the parking area at the Central Station! And to my surprise, on that exact spot, the very first day of arrival, I met by chance an old Dutch friend whom I had met before in Argentina, a long time ago during a trip to Patagonia. What a coincidence! That day of arrival was the start of the many happy days I had in Groningen.

Silvana during “What’s up with the hagelslag”
Silvana during “What’s up with the hagelslag”

In 2012, I became international alumni ambassador for the University of Groningen and vice-president of the Association of Latin American Students (ALAS) of which I became president in 2013. With the association, we organized several activities for students together with the University, the municipality of Groningen and several other international student associations. Representing the association, I participated in monthly meetings with the University of Groningen, specifically with the Groningen International Student Platform, where the associations raised students’ inquiries e.g. admission process, mobility, and housing. We were also part of the Let’s Gro Festival in 2013, with the event “What’s up with the hagelslag”. During that Festival, each of the participating international associations showcased their culture to the community. Also, topics such as how to improve the interaction between the community of Groningen and international students were discussed. We were very happy that our event was rated as the highest attended event of the Festival. The year after, we participated in the first edition of “Experience Groningen”.

Being active in an association opens many doors. You meet people from different backgrounds, with different jobs or studies. You meet people who have been in your same situation before, so they save you the hassle of going through a hard time by helping you or giving you tips. You also make many friends very fast and you never feel alone. They become your family abroad.

Meeting the King and Queen
Meeting the King and Queen

2013 was a very important year for me because I graduated for my PhD. But the most wonderful event of that year was meeting the King and Queen of the Netherlands! In May 2013, I was invited to represent the international student community during a visit of the King and Queen to the city of Groningen. I sat on a table with his Majesty and the Queen, the Groninger mayor and other community representatives to have coffee during a break they had from walking through the main spots of the city. I could not believe my luck; I was asked to sit next to King Willem-Alexander! On the right side of the King was sitting Queen Máxima, which was a ‘double’ honour for me, as Queen Máxima comes from Argentina like me! The coffee break was very short, but we had the chance to talk a bit about the internationalization of education, the city, the challenges, and the benefits. The King and Queen were so polite and pleasant to talk with that it felt like I was dreaming. It was such an honour and an experience I’ll never forget.

My participation in organizations hasn't stopped since then. I have been the Scientific Coordinator of a network of Argentine scientists in The Netherlands since 2016. Through this network, I had the honour to meet a former Argentine President in 2017 in his State Visit. But best of all, I get to work and organize events with wonderful groups of people everyday, engaging in activities with our members and other scientist networks in The Netherlands.

These experiences have added an enormous value to both my personal and professional development. I learned to be more resilient, to adapt quickly to changes or to new environments, to act quickly, to overcome challenges in an effective way. I also learned to look for solutions and to think outside of the box, and gained experience in working in multicultural teams. These soft skills are very much sought in professionals these days. My advice to those reading my story is: be active, connect with others, explore new things and have fun!

To conclude; I had the best time in Groningen with exceptional experiences and lots of fun. The association I founded, the activities we organized and took part in, it all provided me with an extensive network, a lot of opportunities and above all: I had a great time. Thank you Groningen! 

About the author

Silvana Della Penna
Silvana Della Penna
Silvana Della Penna studied Pharmacy and Biochemistry at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. She specialized in kidney pathology during her PhD at the Pathology and Medical Biology Department, University Medical Center Groningen. She was awarded the "Erasmus Mundus Action 2 - Eurotango" scholarship in 2011, and the "Abel Tasman Talent Program" scholarship for the period of 2012-2013. She led the Association of Latin American Students between 2011-2013, a non-profit organization which helps Latin American students before and during their stay at RUG, integrating them to the Dutch society as well as making them feel at home.
www.rug.nl/alumni/about-alumni/ambassadors/2012-2013/silvana-della-penna_-international-alumni-ambassador-2012-2013_-argentina?lang=en