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Being a student during COVID-19

I remember the first time we talked about COVID quite well. It was somewhere in January of 2020, and I was sitting on the couch with my mother watching the news when we saw this item about a new virus that was spreading in China. The both of us laughed it off a bit. Surely this wouldn’t influence us. 

Against our expectations, it really did start to affect us in the following months. I was in my final year of high school, and I was preparing to take my final exams; the exams that were hopefully going to earn me my diploma. 

Weeks of staying at home turned into months. Those months eventually even turned into years. Freshly graduated, nineteen, and already tired of this supposed ‘new way of life’, I decided that I wanted to study law at the University of Groningen. So that is exactly what I did. What I did not expect, however, were the absolute life-changing months that would soon follow. 

Now, it is important that you have a bit of background information on the study itself. Dutch Law is one of the bachelors with the most students at the RUG, with over 700 first-year students starting annually (of which I got to know around fourteen). Whenever I talk to people about that time in my life, I realise how absolutely insane the whole thing sounds. 

In the first year, the students are divided into certain groups in the hopes of making it easier for them to socialise and connect with fellow students. The one I was enrolled in consisted of fourteen other students, making me number fifteen.

Everything was online from day one. It actually took one and a half years before I finally had the chance to attend a lecture in person. In my opinion, there is no worse way to follow an education than online. The majority of the students were inactive during class, and no one even bothered to turn on their cameras. 

Imagine this: it’s nine in the morning, you just rolled out of bed and are groggily sitting in front of your laptop with a fresh cup of coffee. When a question is asked, a painstakingly long silence follows. You want to speak up, but have done so three times already. You can tell the teacher is getting annoyed, and it becomes more and more apparent how few people actually want to be there. Not only was it awkward, the whole thing was downright boring.

Freshly graduated me had to muster up every ounce of discipline in her body to try and keep up with the relentless pace of this study. In a ‘normal’ student life, there is usually a balance between studying hard, and enjoying your time with the new friends you made. For me the latter simply did not exist. There were no friends to be made because of how hard it was to connect virtually, and when you finally did, there were no places to meet besides your own house. Stranger danger much?

Being cooped up like that probably made all of us go a bit crazy, as it most definitely made me. With my parents working from home in the living room, there was no space for me to be, other than my room. It became so much worse when I started living on my own in March of 2021. 

Suddenly, these 22 square metres became my bedroom, my living room, my dining area, my kitchen, my home-office, and more. Somehow I had to find a way to separate my studies and my time to relax in this compact space. 

I would get out of bed, take three steps and be in my kitchen. One step and I’d be in the place where I would eat. I was in a place that was usually reserved for relaxation, that I unexpectedly had to be productive in. When you’re not able to separate these different parts of your life physically, you most certainly won’t be able to mentally. 

‘When did the tide turn?’, you might be thinking. Truth is it kind of did, but it took me quitting my studies to actually get it to turn. The connection with what I was studying became so damaged that it was hard for me to enjoy what I was doing. I associated everything in that study programme with being cooped up in my room. Although I did not really enjoy this period of my life, I do realise how important it was for me. Without it I would have never found my new studies that I enjoy so much, or my amazing friends that came along with it. 

There really are two sides of the same coin.