A bench for chatting and making new friends

| Michaela Nesvarova

Kirill Svavolia (20), UT student of Business Information Technology, has started a petition for ‘chat benches’ in Enschede and on the UT campus. ‘Loneliness can be a serious issue, especially for foreign students. Chat benches could solve this situation and invite people to talk to each other and make new friends. Even if it only helps one person, I think that is worth it.’

First of all, what exactly are chat benches?

Kirill: ‘They are simply benches, where you can sit if you’d like to talk to someone. They are clearly marked with a sign, inviting people to sit if they want to chat.’

You have started a petition to install such benches on campus and throughout Enschede. What gave you the idea?

‘There is a lot of international students here who have to start a life in a new country, new culture, and they have no friends yet. They can suffer from loneliness and this could help them. I think it’s also a nice idea for elderly people, because they also report being very lonely. I was a part of a program focused on self-help and helping others. We discussed ways to do that and one day I saw an article about chat benches implemented in other cities. I thought: why not do it in Enschede?’

And then you started the petition?

‘First I reached out to the UT for help, but didn’t get any reply because I wasn’t officially a UT student yet - I studied at the Twente Pathway College last year. Then I contacted the University Innovation Fellows here, who wanted to help me. They advised me to start a petition to show there is an interest in this. So far, 125 people have signed the petition. In the coming weeks I plan to contact the municipality and the Student Union to discuss how to move forward.’

What do you hope this initiative will achieve?

‘I hope someone will find a friend this way. Even if it just helps one girl or boy, I think that is cool. If it works in Enschede, we could try it at other universities as well. I think now would be an ideal time to start these benches. There is a lot of new students coming in and many people have been in isolation due to the corona crisis. This has had a bad impact on their mental health. We will make sure that the benches are safe to use, maybe separated in the middle so people can keep distance. It’s important that people don’t get sick, but it’s also important that they are mentally healthy. I have noticed that many people need to talk things out, share their stories, so I hope it can make an impact and really help people.’

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