I am an international student at Utrecht University who just started the new academic year. When the global pandemic forced Dutch universities to suspend physical activities last March, like many international students I decided to go back to my home country. I followed the last block online and then spent the summer in Italy.
One of my favourite hobbies is kayaking, so when the situation got better, I took the opportunity not only to jump back on my old boat but also to earn some money and experience by coaching children. A month later, the kayak club offered me to keep the job for the entire year. However, as irresistible as the opportunity was, I couldn’t accept it because something else was troubling my mind.
What is going to be of my next year at Utrecht University? Will lessons take place online or in-person? Am I going to live in Italy or in the Netherlands?
At that time, I was still waiting for my faculty to communicate which education modality the two courses I registered for would have. Although I am more than enthusiastic about this experience in the Netherlands, without a physical motivation to be here, I would rather save the significant amount of money that Utrecht’s housing and living require. So, I decided that if both my courses would be online, I would follow them from Italy, take the job, save some money and then wait patiently and excitedly to come back to my life in Utrecht.
On the 17th of July, an email popped up on my university account. It was from the Student Information Desk of the Faculty of Humanities. “From 20 July, you will be able to check the CoursePlanner to see whether classes will be online or partially online (what we refer to as ‘bimodal’). If a course is bimodal, we assume that you will attend the sessions at the university if your lecturer invites you to do so.” A smile appeared on my face. I was officially going back to the Netherlands.
The following week, I told the kayak team that I couldn’t accept the job and desperately hunted for a place in the wild housing market of Utrecht. I enjoyed a nice summer, albeit constantly monitoring the university channels to check if there were any news about my courses – until, on August 29, one week before my departure to the Netherlands, an e-mail from a course coordinator popped in: “Due to Covid-19 regulations all lectures and seminar sessions will be taught online.”
Confused and disappointed, I thought at least my second course would be physical. However, the course coordinators hadn’t decided about that as late as two days before my departure. The reasons for these choices are understandable. It is difficult to organise a class for 120 students in a 1,5 metre-society. Even so, I was furious: these problems were known since June, when the university opened again.
I’ve now been in Utrecht for over two months and, during this time, I only went to one physical class. Despite regretting the missed opportunity in Italy, I’m happy to be back. But readers should bear in mind that I have a family who supports me in case things change last minute. Not everyone has the same safety net.