‘If I learned anything this past year, it’s how to be alone’

09 Jun 2021

This year’s first-year students primarily know Radboud University from a computer screen. What’s it like to start your studies in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic? Three students share their experiences. ‘It will be difficult to let go of the new normal.’

Isabelle Geoffrey – Comparative European History

‘It’s definitely been an interesting year. When I moved from Copenhagen to Nijmegen, I knew there would be COVID-19 measures, but I had certainly not expected that we would be in lockdown this long. I haven’t seen my family in Denmark since Christmas. My parents haven’t been able to visit me yet – they have no idea what Nijmegen looks like.

I really missed my family during the winter. Luckily, I have a Dutch boyfriend, who also lives in Nijmegen. I spent a lot of time with him this past year. I also got to know his parents and even went to visit them without him. They really became a kind of bonus family for me.

To meet new people, I joined Bumble. It’s not only a dating app, but can also be used to meet new friends. I highly recommend it. Through Bumble, I met a British girl, with whom I went for a walk from time to time. She and I were in the same boat. And I’m going to move into a student house with four German girls, which I’m sure will be more fun than Hoogeveldt, where I live now.

I don’t really feel connected to the university yet. So far, most lectures I attended took place online. It’s hard for me to imagine what it will be like here once it gets busy. The prospect of all of us soon returning to campus is exciting. I think it will be fun, but also overwhelming after this past year. Before COVID-19 I didn’t really know how to be alone. If I learned anything this past year, it’s that.

Bjorn Spaan. Foto: Erik van ’t Hullenaar

Bjorn Spaan – Communication Science

‘I really had to get used to following classes online. It’s hard to stay focused and motivated. I attended a few lectures at De Vereeniging, and I got so much more out of what was said. It was just easier to remember. I hear from other students that they experience the same thing.

At home there are always distractions, which is why I don’t like to do exams from home either. In a lecture hall, it’s really quiet. You simply have more focus. I also dislike Proctorio (a system used to keep an eye on students doing exams at home, eds.). It’s such a hassle to set everything up and you often hear that the software has failed.

Luckily, I like my study programme. The lecturers are really doing their best. They often ask us how we’re doing and give us lots of opportunities to ask questions. I do have to take a couple of resits, but there’s still a chance that I will get all my course credits. As it happens, last week I went to the new Montessori building for the first time – it’s really beautiful.

I still live with my parents in Nijmegen, which has been a real bonus this past year. We live close to the city and for my financial situation it’s really nice that I don’t have to pay rent. I spend a lot of time in my room, but I also enjoy spending time in the garden or living room. My parents leave me really free to come and go as I please.

What did I miss most this past year? I think going out. This past year, you had to take COVID-19 into account in everything you did. Just spontaneously doing something, that’s what I look forward to most.’

Martijn Hendriks. Foto: Erik van ’t Hullenaar

Martijn Hendriks – Medicine

‘I started this year really enthusiastic about building a new life in Nijmegen. I joined student association MFVN, handball association Ha-Stu, strength training association Profectus and the Vegan Student Association. Very diverse, and lots of activities. But because of COVID-19, most of these activities were cancelled one by one. At the start of the academic year, I would often stay in Nijmegen over the weekend, but at some point it seemed to make little sense anymore.

I found it quite a challenge. I often felt lonely and I discovered how important social activities were for me. Having something to do every day is really important. In the weekends, I often went back to Meppel, where I come from. It felt a little bit like being thrown back into my old life.

I was lucky to have one on-campus lecture every week for a long time. These were really the highlights of my week, something to look forward to. I also took on various jobs to fill the time. I offered examination training, made summaries, went from door to door for good causes. I also did a lot of sports – I train about four times a week. In July, I’m taking part in the Dutch Powerlifting Championship. I’m not good at sitting still, as you can hear. I’m curious whether I can combine all my activities next year. Especially since I’m also planning to join the Honours Programme.

I try to be optimistic about the COVID-19 situation. By September, everyone should be vaccinated, and the problem will hopefully be largely solved. At the same time, it will be difficult to let go of the new normal. This past year has really imprinted on us to avoid contact – it will be difficult to flip that switch. I think it will cost some effort to make contact with new people once again.

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