Daria is a third-year Chemistry student at HZ. Originally from Bulgaria, she has been living in Zeeland for three years. In the second year of her studies, she decided to take part in the Honours Programme, for which she flew to Bali with her friends Marju and Donika. There, they conducted research on the impact of plastic pollution on air quality and underwater life: "It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Why did you choose to move to the Netherlands and study at HZ?

"My sister had decided to do her minor in Amsterdam. That inspired me to see what the Netherlands had to offer. Chemistry and Biology were my main subjects in high school. That is why I decided to continue my bachelor's in the same direction and specialize in Life Sciences.

I chose HZ because of its personal approach. I contacted several colleges, but the communication with HZ was the smoothest. I got all the information I needed and the assurance that I would find a room. Vlissingen and Middelburg are similar in size to where I live in Bulgaria, so I also liked that familiarity."

What can you tell us about your project for the Honours Programme?

"Our project was about the impact of plastic pollution on air quality and underwater life. Donika initially suggested doing something with coral reefs, which are present in the sea around Bali. We eventually decided to go for plastic, because it is a huge problem. In Indonesia and worldwide.

During the preparations, we often worked until late in the evening. The Honours Programme ran simultaneously with our regular education programme. That was not always easy. Moreover, we all had different ideas, so it required a lot of planning and communication. It was also a big challenge to find an organisation that wanted to work with us, but in the end we succeeded. In July, we went to Bali for 16 days to implement the project."

Would you recommend doing such a project while studying?

"Yes, I can definitely recommend it. It is important to have perseverance, though. You have less free time and there will be difficult moments from time to time. You also have to mentally prepare yourself for working together and the different opinions involved.

For me, it was all worth it: I learned an enormous amount from the Honours Programme. It is very unique and really a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You decide what to do, when and with whom. That alone is very good for your personal development."

Why do you think it is important to contribute to a better world?

"In 2019, I had the opportunity to go to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. I found it inspiring to see how they are working on the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) at headquarters. I even recognise the SDG cubes at the HZ from there!

At headquarters, they told us how little progress has been made in achieving the SDGs. Mainly in third world country's, because there is less access to education. Then it dawned on me how far behind we are on something so important. I wanted to help achieve the SDGs, but I didn't know how. During the Honours Programme, I was able to do my bit."

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Have you always enjoyed travelling?

"Yes. I grew up in a family that travels a lot. At a young age, I went to many places, so that's where my passion for travelling started. I go back to my family in Bulgaria about twice a year. Fortunately, they also come here from time to time. It's a shame that I see them so little, but I'm grateful that they always encourage me."

What is your dream for the future?

"I have a lot of goals. I would like to work in science, but I would also like to do more with dancing. That has always been a passion of mine. My main goal is to eventually settle somewhere I like. I don't know where yet, but I have plenty of time to figure that out."

What is your message to other students thinking about joining the Honours Programme?

"Go for it! And try not to think about it too much. It's easy to overthink and scare yourself. Assume the positive outcome: what you will learn from it, the new friends you will make, the opportunities you will get, a new culture to explore and your personal development. I never thought I would go to Bali to do my own research. The universe has got your back, if you go for it!"

Read more about the HZ Honours Programme