Maaike Bijker

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Maaike Bijker (ISPP 2000-2004) is a Research Assistant for the University of Cambridge’s Department of Public Health in Cambridge, UK. She is currently working on a five-year research project, Very Brief Interventions, which investigates the most effective way to deliver health advice in less than five minutes in order to increase physical activity to prevent vascular disease. To conduct this study, Maaike and her co-researchers first train nurses to deliver brief pieces of health advice. After a consultation with the nurse, the patient is interviewed immediately and then again a few weeks later to see how the patient may or may not have incorporated this advice into his or her lifestyle. This research will hopefully contribute to government policy on preventative health care, saving lives and reducing the national cost of health care in the UK.

In some ways, this research comes up against what Maaike learned about behavioral change in her previous years studying for her Bachelors of Arts in Social and Political Studies at the University of Cambridge and Masters of Science in Social Psychology at the London School of Economics. “According to most experts, behavioral change occurs gradually over long periods of time,” explains Maaike, “so this project demands a lot in the space of just five minutes.”

Deciding to study Psychology was a subconscious and gradual choice for Maaike, though it now seems like a natural and obvious pathway for her. “As long as I can remember, I have had a fascination for listening to other people’s stories – their upbringing, their culture, their language and their world view in general, ” she says. But it was her personal experiences moving across the world from the Netherlands to Cambodia, and back again, that had most significant impact. She remarks, “I am, like many Third Culture Kids, the example of a person who grows up with an identity that is heavily influenced by different cultures and different knowledge systems. If you put all of that together, the obvious choice for me was always going to be Psychology and unsurprisingly Social and Cultural Psychology.”

After living in Cambodia for four years, Maaike affirms that she definitely experienced ‘reverse culture shock’ upon returning to the Netherlands. She describes the transition: “It was a very difficult experience. I look Dutch, speak Dutch etc. – but due to our lack of exposure to the popular culture, history and also the Dutch slang (that the teenagers used), I felt very much an outsider - even more than being a foreigner in another country. I was in this kind of identity limbo. Now add that to being a sixteen year old teenager.” To make it easier on Maaike, her parents agreed to allow her to continue going to an international school – even if it meant a commute of one and a half hours each way by train. “Cambodia had been the best four years of my life, so it was tricky to let that go. Eventually I got over it. In the end, it was useful to go through it. And if I hadn’t moved back, maybe I wouldn’t have learned some useful things about myself,” Maaike concludes. 

Maaike gets a huge send off at the airport on her last day in Cambodia in 2004.

Overall, she believes that her upbringing strengthened her ability to relate to others, to see other people’s point of view, and to understand them even if she did not agree with them. She was able to draw upon this experience of self-reflection during her Masters studies. Applying the tools and perspectives she gained at university, she wrote her thesis on “The Social Psychology of Practicing International Development: Exploring the Reflections of Dutch Development Practitioners.”

Maaike does not forget the teachers at ISPP that shaped much of her academic and social development: “Mr. Preece, Mr. Baughn, Mr. Pulger-Frame, Ms. St. John, of course Ms. Atkinson and Ms. Taylor – I loved them all. I owe them quite a lot. It’s very encouraging to have teachers you get along with. For example, through our classes, we would touch upon things we were going through as teenagers. I felt there was a lot of self-awareness taught through all those teachers – even Maths. One day I’ll dedicate a speech to them.”

In addition to the teachers, what Maaike remembers most about ISPP is the dynamic nature of the student body. Thinking back to break time between classes, she recalls so many people mingling with each other, never in separate groups. “Even if I am romanticizing it, I feel that even if we had our own set of friends, we weren’t exclusive. We would mix with each other talking to different people of different grade levels and backgrounds.”

Maaike and her classmates during a courtyard assembly at ISPP.