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Surpassing small talk to make connections

As a NewConnective programme maker, Selma Boulmalf (25) reaches out to students on the subject of life issues. Being open and authentic are important conditions for having deeper conversations, she found.

Between the student council, VU Campus Radio, TEDx events and now NewConnective, you have quite a resume for someone who just got her master’s degree. Is there a recurring theme in your activities? “What I like about VU is that as a student you can join so many activities or start organizing things yourself. In my second year I was in the student council. After that, a world of possibilities opened itself to me. I saw things at other universities that VU at that time didn’t have, like TEDx.”

Selma Boulmalf

2022 – present
programme maker at NewConnective
2021 – 2023
Master Peace, Trauma and Religion
2017 – 2021
Bachelor Religious Studies
2018 – 2019
Communication coordinator at the Student Council

You introduced TEDx at VU. “I went to a TEDx event at Amsterdam University College and there was a VU student speaking. It made me think: why don’t we have this at my university? I started asking around and people said: we already have speaking events. I had to convince them it’s not the same. TEDx has a name, you know exactly what to expect when you go there.

“We were preparing for the first TEDxVU when Covid hit, so the first edition was online with the speakers in the studio. I think it connected the VU community during Covid, just like the campus radio did.”

So connecting people is important for you. Isn’t that also what you do with NewConnective? “Exactly. In the introduction week we organize a friendshipping event – a kind of speed date for finding new friends. People get ten minutes and ask questions that go a bit deeper than the usual conversations you have with people you don’t know. Things like: Which experience has shaped you in life? How would you deal with losing someone important in your life?”

And students like to talk to strangers about these subjects? “They love it. We always get very enthusiastic responses at friendshipping events. Students long for meaningful conversations, but a lot of times it is not easy to start such a talk after a lecture.”

What do you focus on at NewConnective? “I like to connect more personal subjects with societal issues. It made me happy that we organized the iftar with students from all kinds of different backgrounds: Muslim, Christian, atheist. We worked together with the Worldhouse, an organization that helps undocumented people. They did the cooking and it was delicious, it also attracted students with a refugee background. I aspire to work together with the Worldhouse more.”


NewConnective organizes events for students around life questions. Students can join their meditation groups, mourning groups (for students who lost a loved one) and other events. Check NewConnective on Instagram, or their website

In what way does you being a Muslim determine your perspective at NewConnective? “I think sometimes I offer a different one. I notice at how many VU events alcohol is served. I am not saying VU should ban alcohol entirely, but a bit more awareness could be helpful for people who don’t drink for various reasons or who have a problematic relationship with alcohol. The perspective on alcohol has been shifting these last five years though, the norms are slowly changing. At NewConnective, our team is diverse. We have Christians, atheists, and a colleague who has a more spiritual philosophy of life. Being open to all perspectives is important in our approach of students and being a diverse team helps.”

What did you learn during your first year at NewConnective? “How important it is to be open and authentic yourself when you organize events for students about the meaning and philosophy of life. I think I was a bit more reserved when I started – I found it easier sometimes to say ‘all is well’, even when it wasn’t. Now I share my doubts and lows more, I think that is important for getting a real connection with others.”

Which NewConnective events for this year are you looking forward to? “The close reading groups, they were a real discovery for me last year. This year we will be reading bell hooks: an American black feminist and political activist, and Dorothee Sölle: a German theologist and activist. It is so nice to read a text with a group and hear everybody’s thoughts.”

‘Students long for meaningful conversations, but it’s not always easy’


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