A taste of Moldova in Groningen

By Edward J Szekeres

Ever wondered what’s it like to run a business in Groningen? “Hard but rewarding,” says owner of Tucano Coffee.

When you come in, it feels like you stepped in the Amazon rainforest. Leafy plants, wooden statues and flamboyantly coloured paintings of wildlife greet the customers of Tucano Coffee, an ethno-styled café co-owned by Moldovan fiancés Diana Scorpan (19) and Sergiu Braga (30).

“Groningen is buzzing with business potential thanks to its vibrant and active student community. It just needed a place where likeminded people could come together,” Diana explains her business idea.

Elegantly dressed and radiating confidence, Diana proudly scans the half full coffee shop with her vivid eyes. It´s early afternoon and the warm light inside Tucano is a great lure for rain-soaked people out on the street. The sound of a coffee machine pouring fresh cappuccino in a patchwork cup, cuts through Diana´s words. “Trust me, this place is going to fill up in no time.”

Pioneers of the west

The city´s very own coffee jungle is just a few metres down the road from the Harmonie building on Oude Kijk in ‘t Jatstraat. But its origins trace all the way back to an inconspicuous country in the Balkans.

The Tucano brand was born in Moldova in 2011. Its founder and CEO, Ruslan Cojocaru, became fascinated by the indigenous Tucano culture while travelling around the tropical forests of South America.

The Tucanos are a native tribe from Brazil and Colombia. Emblems of their lifestyle take prime position in all 32 Tucano coffee shops dispersed around eight countries of the world, including Romania, Kyrgyzstan, and the United Arab Emirates.

Diana and Sergiu´s café, the first of the Tucano franchise in Western Europe, is no exception. Before opening their coffee shop in October last year, the ambitious couple embellished the commodious premises with wooden furniture and natural, wholesome décor. Wicker chairs surrounding walnut coloured patio tables, rest under the constant gaze of tribal figurines. The design became an instant hit with Groningen´s hip, eco-friendly student community.

“We have a very loyal customer base. Most of the people that come here are familiar faces,” says Diana.

She thinks this loyalty is sparked by the famed Moldovan hospitality that her business is trying to stay faithful to. Diana greets every incoming customer with a bright, warm smile. Waiters nonchalantly stroll around the cosy room as the sweet scent of steaming coffee and freshly baked cheesecakes slowly lingers behind their backs. The hum of casual conversation bounces off the tall walls.

“Everybody is welcome here. Dutch, international, young or old, all our customers are part of the Tucano family.”

Photo credit Tucano Coffee

Love, peace, coffee

Meri Cools (24), a journalism student, is one of the returning clients. “I really like the place. It´s very laid-back and easy-going, almost like a hipster hub. Oh, and their coffee is great!”

Diana´s coffee shop imports all its coffee beans from Moldova, where they are dried and processed. Despite the long journey, the freshness of the beans upon arrival is guaranteed. After all, Tucano Coffee has a reputation to uphold. “Our coffee recently scored 87 points out of 100 in the prestigious Coffee Review evaluation, which is the world´s leading coffee guide.”

On average, only a few hundred coffees score this high or above, from the thousands of cups of joe tasted every year.        

But serving good coffee is one thing. Distinguishing your café from the dozens, if not hundreds of others in the city, is another. “What makes us different from our competition is our intimate and very personal care for our customers. We don´t just serve them, but we gradually get to know them. We talk, laugh and sometimes even cry together,” describes Diana, revealing her coffee shop´s competitive edge.

Love, peace, coffee is the brand´s stamp and philosophy. But the symbolic motto is not just a lofty ideal. It shines through Tucano´s day-to-day operation.

“When you go to Starbucks, yes, you can get quite good coffee, but it´s very busy, loud and you don´t want to stay there too long. In Tucano, you get both the chill, comfy vibes and good coffee,” says Meri, the faithful customer.

“This doesn’t taste like Coca-Cola”

Still a teenager and a second-year student of international relations at the RUG, one would expect Diana to spend her days floundering with her studies in the library, only to fritter the evening away in the pub. Instead, she works in her café day-in, day-out, either as a bustling waitress or a composed manager. “I´m here at least eight hours a day. I do most of my studies in here as well. It´s practically a full-time job.”

Her duties mostly revolve around ensuring each clog in the Tucano machine fits perfectly and works according to plan. Only rarely does she have to defuse tense situations evoked by customer complaints. “A lady once complained about the Coke she ordered. She said it didn´t taste like Coca-Cola. I couldn´t help her much in that instance,” she says with a smirk. “But most customers are very friendly and excited about Tucano´s exotic look.” 

While Diana´s entrepreneurship has taken its toll on her studies, she remains defiant in the face of a momentous challenge. “I failed some of my courses, but I just keep going. Doing business is much bigger than just studying. I know it will be worth it in the end.”

Photo credit Tucano Coffee

A Day in the Life of a Homeless Man

By William Macmaster and Tadhg O’ Sullivan

John is an eloquent and charming man who speaks three languages. John previously trained to be an artist. He is creative and has a keen eye for details. John is homeless.

Despite his welcoming persona and upbeat attitude, he, unfortunately, found himself in a situation where he couldn’t pay his rent in Rotterdam and had to move to Groningen to seek refuge. He is one of many people who has found themselves in such a situation.

Sometimes when we see people in the streets looking raggedy or asking for money, it can be an inconvenience or even annoying to us. What we never do is put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand their day to day life. That was until now.

The Stand’s Tadhg O’Sullivan and William Macmaster spent a day with John, followed him around the streets of Groningen and saw what he gets up to on a daily basis. John spoke openly about he views on his own life, as well as the members of the public he meets every day.

The video you are about to watch will reveal to you how John manages to keep his head above water and live the life of a homeless man.

When movies bring people together

By Natalie Lange

Movies are more than just pictures on a screen. They bring characters to life, tell stories, and bring people from all walks of life together. When Josué Almansa talks about movies, his face lights up. He passionately sees them as a great tool of learning, since every film brings across a different message.    

“Movies can help us become better people and improve ourselves by creating dialogue,” says Josué Almansa. He notes that while not all movies out there are necessarily good, some do tell important stories or raise important questions.  

Inspired by movie nights organised by Utrecht based organization, L’Abri, Almansa decided to create “Lets movie it.” These monthly movie nights invite all Groningen citizens of any age and nationality to come together, watch movies and discuss their content afterwards.  The events started a year ago in February 2018 and show mainly movies in English or otherwise with English subtitles. 

“After the movie we sit together and share our first impression,” explains Almansa. For him this part of the event is special because everyone interprets each movie differently, and by discussing it new perspectives come to the surface.

The group discussions are not limited to any specific aspect of the movie, it is more about sharing opinions, thoughts and connecting the plot to personal experiences. The discussion is open to all opinions and in Almansa’s eyes, “it is okay to disagree.” Seeing people discuss a film brings him joy even weeks after the event.  

Movies that challenge you

Almansa discovered his passion for analysing movies when he was a teenager. “I had a good philosophy teacher who challenged us to critically analyse a film and identify potential messages,” says Almansa.

“One goal of this project is to learn something that is not included in our academic environment and to gain more life experience through the stories that are told in the movies,” he explains. In his eyes it’s important to create a safe space where people can discuss meaningful topics, such as different worldviews, the role of idols, the purpose of life or forgiveness.

“Good movies are able to connect people and challenge their worldviews,” says Almansa. He enjoys the moments during a movie when everyone shares the same emotions and empathises with characters, such as Prince Albert in The King’s Speech. The Italian movie La Vita È Bella is one of his all-time favourites.

The movies selected for the event are not restricted to a specific genre but should be inclusive and facilitate a meaningful discussion afterwards. “If a movie is extremely specific to one particular culture, I won’t show it because other people can’t connect to it,” says Almansa.

He likes to select movies that are not necessarily popular but stoke discussion such as The Railway Man, The Dark Horse or The Straight Story. “I personally think a good movie deals with important questions of life to which we can, in a sense, relate or which might challenge our worldviews,” says Almansa.

The number of attendees varies and depends on the movie selected. The average movie night has around thirteen attendees, but for the movie Dead Poet’s Society, which was shown in February, around thirty people showed up. Upcoming movie nights are announced via Facebook and an email distribution list.

By showing movies with intriguing characters, moral dilemmas, big ideas and hidden truths, Almansa is daring people to explore and reflect movies on a deeper level.

As Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society puts it: “There’s a time for daring and there’s a time for caution, and a wise man understands which is called for.”

Groningen’s first Gaelic football team

By Tadhg O’ Sullivan

Liam O’Connell was on a night out with friends, sometime last year in Groningen, when he realised he was seeing more and more Irish people around the city. The first-year physiotherapy student was surrounded by them in class, and kept bumping into them around the city. And that’s when he came up with an idea.

Liam decided to start Groningen’s first Gaelic football team together with his Irish friends. “I thought because there were so many Irish people over here, it would be a great idea. The club is like a home away from home,” he says.

The Groningen Gaels club, which started out as a fun idea between friends, now boasts a men’s and a women’s team that have already competed in The Hague and have big plans for the future.

But what is Gaelic football exactly?

“It’s kind of a mixture of sports I suppose,” Liam says. “You can hand pass the ball like volleyball, you can kick points like Australian rules, and you can bounce like basketball.” What most people might not know, is that Gaelic football and its sister sport, hurling, aren’t just played in Ireland, but there are teams all over the world.

“Our first proper competitive tournament was in The Hague, and there were teams from Dublin, Glasgow, Copenhagen, Moscow and of course, the Netherlands.” It was Groningen’s first competitive game and Liam believes both the men’s and women’s teams put themselves on the map for future competitions. “We won a few games and lost a few games, and there was a big gathering after in the clubhouse with the teams. We all had a few beers and enjoyed ourselves which is all part of it too.”

Next stop: Europe

But the Groningen Gaels aren’t resting on their laurels and they are targeting more tournaments in the near future.  They’re hoping to go to Luxembourg in the summer to compete in the Benelux league, which will involve teams from Luxembourg, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Liam tells me there will also be teams from Germany and France, invited to make the competition even tougher. “It’s going to be a big aim for us, alright. We did well our first time out in The Hague, but we’ll be looking to be better in May.”

It’s not just about the sport though. As with everything Irish, the craic (Irish word for fun) is an integral part of everything Groningen Gaels do. “It’s a great opportunity for travelling too. I was looking at the map on Gaelic Games Europe and I saw maybe 50 or 60 clubs in Europe, so I thought it would be a great excuse to go see all these clubs with all my friends.”

Future plans

Groningen Gaels have made leaps and bounds in their short history. They have already received sponsorship from PM group, a construction company, and O’Malley’s Pub, a local Irish pub in Groningen. From this, they were able to buy 50 brand new jerseys, and other training gear they needed, to start training and competing.

The club now has 50 members and they have big plans for future competitions.  But what will happen to the club when Liam graduates? “I hope when I leave, I will have left the club with a good foundation and obviously, I hope it will continue on.” Liam hopes a group of people similar to himself and his friends will be able to carry it on.

There was an attempt to set up a team in 2008, but it was unsuccessful. ”I wouldn’t want that to happen to Groningen Gaels,” Liam states. “Me and the lads have put so much time into it, so I just hope that the club can continue on well into the future. I think there’s so many Irish people coming to the city that there’s no reason why it shouldn’t. There’s always people looking to play Gaelic and have a bit of fun.”

Groningen Gaels are always looking for new members and you can find out more on their Facebook page.

With great power comes great responsibility

By Yujia Yang

What does it take to lead the Groningen branch of a major international organisation?

Eli Berghuis (20) is the president of Amnesty International Student Group Groningen (AISGG). She joined the group two years ago as a freshman in university. “I have always been very passionate about the protection of human rights”, Eli says. “Although being a part of the Amnesty International organisation is a small way to contribute, I believe it still could make the world a little better.”

Go big or go home

During her first year, she was in the Write for Right committee, which organises one of the annual writing marathons in Groningen on International Human Rights Day. It is one of the traditions set up by Amnesty International to write letters for prisoners of conscience and for those who have been wrongfully detained.

“In Groningen, we write letters to the government to put pressure on them, to say ‘hey, your policies don’t line up with human rights’. It’s still my favourite committee, even though I am not allowed to have a favourite,” states Eli.

After being accepted by the National Student Campaign committee last year, she had an opportunity to work closely with the board here in Groningen. They have created a campaign that opens dialogues about discrimination in universities by collaborating with all 11 of the student boards around the Netherlands.

“After it ended, I wondered what was next for me. I thought ‘go big or go home’. So, I applied for a board member position. The board saw my enthusiasm and determination, not only on raising human rights awareness by doing campaigns, but also by trying to solve funding problems even now, which is very difficult but important.”

What does independence mean?

Amnesty International is independent of political pressures exerted by governments and universities. None of the Amnesty student groups are funded by the organization’s headquarters. They fundraise by hosting small activities and events, like movie nights and the annual collection for charity.

Eli explains that Amnesty International Netherlands (AINL) must make every financial report 100% transparent and public, so that people know where their money is going to. However, with 11 student groups across the Netherlands who organise their own events, it is more difficult to keep track of every single cost.

“As a donator to AINL,” she says, “it is positive in the sense that I know whether my money is used in a good way or not. As a member of AISGG it can be rather annoying.”

She thinks it is a shame that the headquarters don’t support them financially. “They have not realised how much potential the student groups have. They only know that we are independent”, she continues. “We have great ideas, but we are just unable to do it because we do not have money.”

Eli and presidents from other student groups have already taken steps to build up a closer relationship between the groups and the headquarters. However, as a large and international organisation, it is not easy to change overnight.

Make the world better, even a little

Having played a crucial role in AISGG for almost three years, the group has become the biggest part of Eli’s life. “Besides my studies, it’s my main priority,” she laughs. “I am always thinking and talking about it, as well as sharing my passion and unforgettable experiences with everyone.”

After organising and participating in many campaigns and activities across the Netherlands and Europe, she remembers two campaigns that impressed her the most. One is called “kijk niet weg”, which means “don’t look away”. It is about helping the refugee situation in Lesbos, Greece, where the refugee camps are overcrowded. AISGG prompted the Dutch government one month ago to take in 1000 refugees, and are now waiting for a response.

The second campaign concerns discrimination. Eli collaborated on this project with other student boards in the Netherlands. She says that she was surprised by how open-minded people were, but also “shocked” by how much discrimination exists in higher education in the Netherlands.

“Students we helped were not afraid to share their personal stories and opinions with us. For example, an African girl complained about unequal treatment she received from one of her professors because of her skin colour. And this is not an isolated case,” she says.

This anti-racism campaign also ran in Groningen. “Even here,” explains Eli, “discrimination in university is also a problem. It is necessary to pay more attention to it and to take effective measures in improving the situation. We are trying to take some further steps, even if it’s just a little at a time.”

Respect one another

As the president of a group, she has to do more than just organising campaigns. She tries to seek common ground and properly handle differences within the group. Eli says that “it is so common to see that some people just do not stand by the same values as you, even if you are in the same organisation advocating the same thing.”

She takes the refugee campaign as an example, saying that most things went well. But there was one guy who disagreed with it, and thought that the refugees should stay in Lesbos. “I am so passionate about this issue, but people just do not understand.”

Although the conflict did not lead to any yelling, Eli still regards it as one of the greatest things she has learnt as part of Amnesty. “Not everyone sees the world in the same way as me – it sucks but it makes the world more interesting.”

Eli adds, “currently our organisation has roughly 100 members, but only eight to ten are Dutch people. Obviously, we are an international group, so it is more important to us to listen to each other, learn from each other, and respect one another.”