Bart, Sanne, Isabeau, and Veerle using new formats for their study programme. Photo sources: from the interviewees.

Going to class in your underwear, and procrastinating in ‘quarnaval’


Now that in-person classes are forbidden, students receive their education in different ways. Whether you’re taking courses, working on your thesis, or should actually be taking classes in Sydney – everything is different now. And of course, there’s always a bright side. Unless, perhaps, you’re in Australia.

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'I attend classes in my underwear'

Bart Blokland (22), Master’s student of Ancient Medieval Renaissance Studies

For Bart, student life has changed dramatically. “I was supposed to be in Rome now.” He was going to take an in-depth course about early Roman imperialism at the Royal Institute in Rome. After the course, the plan was to stay there for a weekend with his girlfriend, as tourists. “It became obvious early on that I wouldn’t be able to go to Italy anymore, but other elements of my normal life seemed to still be possible.”

Aside from the Rome course, Bart is also taking three other courses. Even before the university closed, Bart already had to use Skype for his education. “My teacher felt a little ill, and rather safe than sorry, so the work group got together with our teacher on the background via Skype. That actually worked really well.” After the university closed, his classes continue via Skype. Bart is satisfied: “I can get out of bed five minutes before class starts, and just attend classes in my underwear.” For his other course, an assignment replaced the lecture, and he hasn’t heard a thing about his third course (outside the UU). “The UU courses all have satisfactory solutions, but I’m curious about how to complete my third course,” Bart says.

Bart’s extracurricular activities have mostly come to a halt, except for his position as council member in the co-determination board of the Humanities faculty. “This crisis has its impact on students, of course. As faculty council, we make sure things go smoothly.” They’ve created a list of corona-related questions for the faculty board, which will be answered online. “For the Bachelor’s programme German Language & Culture, there’s a track that includes a mandatory semester abroad – we want to know the solution for cases like that.” Usually, questions are asked and answered in the council meetings, but those are cancelled for now. The preparation meetings with student members did run as scheduled, via Skype, of course. “My life consists of a surprisingly high number of Skype sessions now,” Bart laughs. He doesn’t mind, except when they’re from 9 am to 2.30pm. “That gives me square eyes.”

Bart isn’t too worried. His study programme is going all right, and with the many hours spent behind is computer, his social distancing is going fine as well. The only downside is that so many things he’d been looking forward to are cancelled now. Bart was supposed to run the Rotterdam marathon on April 5, or instance, and he’d been planning to attend the Manchester City – Arsenal match. His own training sessions and matches are also called off. “I definitely miss football right now.”

'Quarnaval distracts from writing my thesis'

Veerle van Dijke (26), student of Global Criminology

Veerle doesn’t have any online classes, but that doesn’t mean all is sunshine and rainbows. The Master’s student of Global Criminology is currently writing her thesis, which means she wouldn’t have had any in-person classes anyway. The contact she has with her supervisor has been moved to online channels. “She emailed me a while back, saying that she hadn’t heard from me for a while. She was right.” Veerle wanted to conduct interviews for her thesis. All the corona measures have made that impossible to do. Skype wouldn’t be ideal either. “It’s a fairly sensitive topic that I can’t say much about because it could mess up my research. Face to face contact is necessary for building trust during the interviews.” But the biggest challenge for Veerle lies in self-discipline. She had planned to write her thesis in a strict schedule. “I wanted to go to the library a lot. The social pressure, silence, and boring environment are useful to me – sorry library.” None of those things are possible right now. “These are strange times,” Veerle sighs.

Veerle lives in a large student house with 13 others. There’s a lot of activity right now, and those activities tend to be more fun than writing a thesis. “On Friday, I was working on my computer when my housemates entered with cases of beer. ‘It’s time for drinks now’.” Dressed up in weird outfits dug up from the depths of everyone’s closets, the spontaneous Friday afternoon drinks turned into ‘quarnaval’ (quarantine carnival). Veerle’s room and the kitchen were torn down. “At some point, we wanted to take the drinks to a higher level (literally) by standing on the kitchen countertop. One housemate tried it, but it was too difficult after all – the result was that one of the kitchen cabinets was demolished.”

All these people still need groceries, of course. That, too, is influenced by the corona crisis. “There are 14 of us. That means a lot of shitting happens in our house.” When they wanted to order the amount of toilet paper they needed from the Jumbo, that proved to be impossible. They then had to go out and buy huge amounts of toilet paper themselves – receiving loads of suspicious while doing so. In Veerle’s house, no one’s stockpiling anything. One housemate did suggest buying more beer in case they ran out, but Veerle and her housemates didn’t think that was a realistic scenario.

The good thing is that Veerle is not bored at all, and doesn’t feel alone either, despite the fact that she’s not seeing anyone except for her boyfriend and housemates. Still, though, that thesis is eating away at her. She’s considering camping out at her grandparents’ former house. It seems like the best alternative, and not just for her study’s sake. “So many people come and go here, and you’re so close to each other. There’s a much bigger risk of infection.”

'Shoot we're going home.....if we're lucky'

Sanne Leenders (21) and Isabeau Prins (22), students of Cultural Anthropology

Two people who are definitely experiencing the impact of the corona crisis are Sanne and Isabeau. Five weeks ago, the students of Cultural Anthropology travelled to Australia, with the intention to stay there for six months. The plan was to study for four months, and travel for two, and the two had been looking forward to their time down under a lot. Isabeau says she’s been excited about the plan for a year and a half, studying and saving money for the adventure. The abrupt end of their plans is is a bitter pill to swallow. “When we decided to return to the Netherlands, I must’ve sad 38 times ‘Shoot, we’re going home’.” Sanne adds: “And nearly cried 38 times as well.”

The decision to return was not taken lightly. When the number of corona infections and deaths rose in the Netherlands, Australia was still relatively safe. For that reason, Sanne and Isabeau wondered whether they might actually be safer in Sydney. Things were also awfully quiet from the UU’s side of things, and by the time they did hear something, it was a general email sent to all UU students abroad. There were quite some points for improvement in that email, Sanne and Isabeau think. “The situation varied widely in different areas, and couldn’t be compared. And Australia is much farther away than England. So we wondered: does this apply to us as well?” Sanne says. Other UU students in Sydney shared these feelings of uncertainty. In their group chat, most people initially wanted to stay. Now, the students are going home one by one. Sanne: “The group chat went from ‘where do I pick up my student card’ to ‘Which flight home are you on?’.”

Now, the two have decided they’d rather go home after all. Not because they’re scared per se, but because they don’t want to end up getting stuck in Australia for a long time. “This is a country that has very strict rules – almost obsessively so,” Isabeau says. What if something happens to a loved one, and there’s no way to return? So, the two planned their journey back for Wednesday, March 25. Whether they’ll be able to actually leave remains uncertain. They were planning to fly today, but that flight has been cancelled. Every morning, more and more borders are closing, and the chances of making it home diminish. That’s what the two are most preoccupied with: what if the borders close when they’re at a layover? To be safe, they arranged their carry-on luggage in such a way that they could survive a few days of being stranded at an airport.

If they do manage to reach the Netherlands, they’ll spend 14 days in self-isolation at their parents’ houses. “At an airport and in a plane, you’re in close quarters with a lot of people. The risk of catching the virus is just a lot bigger,” Isabeau reasons. And they can’t return to their own rooms anyway, as they’ve been sublet. They both feel that kicking out their tenants would be mean. “For now, I’ll stay with my parents. If things go on like this for a long time, that may change – I mean, we love each other, but at a certain point, you’re just living on top of each other too much,” Sanne laughs. The two will continue their classes at the University of Sydney, online. They probably won’t have to get out of bed at ungodly hours, thankfully: most classes have already been recorded, and although the two feel the regulations down under are strict, the university isn’t as tough about online attendance.

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