Stories of CISC graduates. Sofia Panchenko: about university education in the Netherlands and the reasons why STEM is useful.

Stories of CISC graduates. Sofia Panchenko: about university education in the Netherlands and the reasons why STEM is useful.

If you think that math is useful only for mathematicians, hear the story of Sophia Panchenko, CISC graduate of 2020, who studies in university in the Netherlands. Sofia, who is always active, full of initiative and cheerful, conquers new frontiers in our country, too.

Our graduates shares her thoughts and stories from her university life, her opinion about why studying STEM is necessary and why one must never be afraid to show initiative.

Why the Netherlands? And how did you choose a college? Why did you choose to study natural sciences

At first, I thought about studies in Germany or Austria. But since I really like biology I chose the natural sciences. I examined many programs, starting from nutritiology, but ended up with life science. Then I decided to consider Switzerland and the NEtherlands, because there are many programs devoted to natural science, taught in English and Dutch, and the universities are engaged in many researches, which was vitally important for me. So, I applied to  several universities, and was accepted into three in the Netherlands.

I’ve chosen Avans University of Applied Sciences. I wanted to study at applied science, not the research, because the first one allows to obtain more practice and to work in a lab.

What were your first impressions of the university?

I went to the university on September the 4th, to a lecture. Of course, when I prepared to move to another country, I realized that there is another country, other people. I was amazed with what I saw, and with my university.  It is very comfortable, with all conditions for good education. My university works like a good clock,  meaning the way they provide information and make sure that a student has the best understanding possible.  They are promoting the students to study independently, to search for information and engaged into research, and it helps you understand what you are doing and why.

At the first year of studies we learn and practice the basics, so that the second year of studies could be devoted to a more narrow specialization. Now we are studying biology, chemistry, math, Lab Calculations – chemical problems with different level of complexity. Starting next semester, we will have physics, biotechnology and several more interesting subjects.

There is such practice in our university: some of the classes can last for the whole day. And the teacher at such classes is more like an observer. First, we must individually prepare the information about what we will be doing, divide into groups, discuss the plan of actions, make a poster or a presentation. It stimulates team cooperationі, develops the skills for information presentation, the ability to perform the presentation correctly. IT’s an art. Then we receive feedback from the experts. And all this happens within a single day.

How do you build communications with your peers in another country?

The thing is, my co-students are not my age, they are slightly older than me. Because in Ukraine we graduate the school earlier than the teenagers in many countries. And we often enrol at universities at once, while in other countries the graduates can take a time-out, try themselves in a certain sphere, then select a program of studies and enrol. And they graduate at the age of 18-19. There is one boy in my group, who is 23. He studied at a university before, but decided to change the direction and enrol at a different faculty.  It’s normal here, people are not afraid to change things, no matter at what age.


For me personally, studying with older students is not a problem at all. CISC made me more open, I am used to showing initiative when I meet new people. All the barriers were erased while my studies at CISC.

For instance, every group here must have a representative; it’s like a president of a class, but with slightly different responsibilities. We chose one, too. But within a week, when we were asked, who our representative would be, everyone was silent 😊 So, I decided to show initiative. Then we became very close with the people in my group, we became friends, and now we shoe initiative together.


I think that one must show initiative.

How quickly did you manage to adapt to life in the NEtherlands? Did you feel the cultural difference?

I adapted very quickly. But right now I am living a more calm and routine life due to quarantine. I had only one trip to another city to visit my friends. But I’m planning to travel the Netherlands more often in the future.  And I realized that I would like to re-discover Ukraine when I come back home for summer vacation, because we have a beautiful country, and I want to see the things I haven’t seen before.

And about the people here in the Netherlands – they are always friendly and smiling, and tell exactly what they think, straightly. But they do not mean to offend you by such straight-fowardness. I like it her, and I have many friends, even from other countries – Turkey, Spain, Germany, Slovakia, Vietnam.

Please, share with us some of the exciting moments from your university life. 

We have work in the lab every week. It’s the most exciting thing for me here, I enjoy working in the lab very much, analyzing the work, filling in the lab journal.

We have to prepare bfore every lab work –  fill in the safety chart, indicate the elements we are working with. For instance, ethanol or even juice. You have to specify exactly what and where you will be ading, and what you must wear.

You must learn and understand what you are working with, otherwise you will not be able to answer the questions in the chart. You can find the answers in the web, of course, but it will not make you understand.

I liked the last lab work in biology.We worked with different types of plant cells. We had to examine them, draw a picture, define some indicators, which required: cut the leaf and paint it in different colouring solutions. Immerse the leaf for a different amount of time, depending on the type of plant. Then wash it in ethanol, hold the backside of the leaf under water, so the remainder of the paint would be washed off, but could be still seen in the microscope.

Then we had to wait. And, finally, we had to analyze the type of plant. The stems of plants are formed differently, their cells are organized in a different manner, and we had to examine and analyze it very carefully. I enjoyed it so much!

Did you like STEM sciences in school?  Do you think school students have to pay special attention to STEM?

There was the time I did not like math, but in CISC I understood that it can be interesting and very helpful.  Even now, when I am a university student, one might wonder why I need the math if physics, biology and chemistry are my specialty. But I need it for lab calculations, for analysis, – math is always necessary. And I am grateful to CISC for helping me love this subject.

Now I can just revise the material I learned in school and work with it. But some people are facing mathematical aspects for the first time, because their school program did not include them. And they have to take extra time for studies.

Biology and chemistry are also useful for me now. As I already said before, we are studying the basics now, and many topics are the same as in the school program. And I liked biology in school very much.

STEM helps you to develop comprehensively and to understand how everything around us works

That’s why I liked the integrated lessons in CISC, like biology+physics, math+chemistry. This approach helps you to learn more, understand how everything works and interacts, understand that the things are not as complex as they seem sometimes. Integrated lessons showed us how we can apply the knowledge in practice, find the crossing points in different disciplies and spheres of activity.  Thanks to such approach, I realized that all the things in this world are more closely connected than I thought.


Is there a STEM direction at your university?

I am studying the whole STEM now. We also have a bonus: if you show excellent results in the laboratory this year, the next year you can assist or even work there. I am trying my best to achieve it.

You also enjoy literature – is it something you liked even when you were a child?

I liked reading ever since I was a child. Now I wish I could return to the intensity of reading I had before, since I have so many things I want to learn. There is a great library in CISC, I used to take books there all the time, discussed things with my fellow students.


The main lesson you learned in school that will definitely help you in the future

Don’t be afraid to try something new. And communication always helps, that’s why you have to show initiative more often.  The more acquaintances you have (and CISC attributed to that greately, in my case) the more interesting things will be waiting for you ahead.


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