First-years in the time of corona

‘I can’t wait for everything to truly go back to normal’

They’ve been looking forward to leaving home and going to university, but the coronavirus pandemic has changed everything. What does their first year at the UG look like? UKrant follows three new students.
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Door Fay van Odijk

15 September om 15:58 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:16 uur.
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By Fay van Odijk

September 15 at 15:58 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:16 PM.

Lotte Benedictus (19)

Arts, culture and media

She spent the first six months of her gap year working hard in a restaurant so she could spend the second half of the year travelling. ‘I found out I have family in Australia, so I wanted to visit them. After that, I was going to travel through Europe by train.’ But then the coronavirus struck.

No, Lotte Benedictus didn’t have the greatest luck. Now, she’s had to start her studies in arts, culture and media in what might just be the weirdest academic year ever.

Nevertheless, it’s all been pretty good so far. ‘I expected everything to be online, but it’s been a fifty-fifty mix of online and on-campus classes’, she says. ‘I’m glad. Going to campus is a lot more fun than sitting in your room all alone.’

Lotte, who is originally from Leeuwarden, has been renting a room in Groningen since May. She has only recently moved in, though. ‘With all the uncertainty around corona I wasn’t sure what to expect. I figured I’d better make sure I had a place.’

With all the uncertainty I wasn’t sure what to expect

She has four roommates, but to make sure she has a social life she also joined student association Dizkartes. ‘My brother was already a member. He always had great stories to tell, so I was already familiar with the club. I checked out other associations, but the atmosphere and the people at Dizkartes felt right for me: I immediately felt at home.’

The pandemic didn’t impact her choice much, she says. ‘Other people said they’d joined a student association so they could still meet new people. But I’ve always wanted to join a club. My studies leave plenty of time to socialise.’

A record number of students wanted to join Dizkartes this year: three hundred. They even had to draw lots. The introduction week was also different: the regular three-day camp had been shortened to a one-day event, and the inauguration took place at the Martini church. ‘But we were switching groups throughout the week so we could meet as many people as possible’, says Lotte.

She has good memories of the first few weeks. ‘I thought there would be way more activities online, but it hasn’t been too bad. I’ve really enjoyed that in spite of all the limitations, so much was still done in real life. But I can’t wait for everything to truly go back to normal.’

Machteld Stegenga (18)


This isn’t Machteld Stegenga’s first year at a university, but it is her first year in Groningen. Last year, she studied nutrition and health in Wageningen, and now she has switched to biology. ‘Nutrition and health didn’t really match my plans for the future. I’m a big idealist and I’d like to be able to improve the world, even if it’s just a little. I want to be a part of something bigger and I think biology is a better fit.’

Machteld doesn’t mind that part of her studies are online. ‘It’s easy to plan around it. If I don’t have time or I want to go to the city centre, I can watch the recordings whenever I want to.’

Her first year has not been quite what she expected, though. ‘I thought I’d be socialising a lot more. Hanging out on campus with people and going out on the town, going to house parties and attending class still hungover. But alas.’

Nevertheless, she feels right at home in Groningen. She moved here halfway through June and lives in the city centre with five roommates, although she doesn’t socialise with them much.

I like that I’m able to watch the recording of classes whenever I want to

In Wageningen, she was a member of Sint Franciscus Xaverius, Albertus’ affiliate association. She wasn’t sure whether she wanted to join another club in Groningen. ‘All those traditions were pretty intense and it was fairly time-consuming. In Wageningen, I had to get thirty-six ECTS to pass the first year, while here it’s forty-five. This programme requires more work.’

She ended up joining an association after all: Bernlef, for Frisian students. It’s smaller than Albertus and she feels more at home here, as she’s from the Frisian town of Wijckel. ‘I missed being able to talk in Frisian in Wageningen. Frisians are a specific kind of people, a specific kind of fun. I already knew about the club and three of my friends were members as well. The moment I walked in I just had a good feeling about it.’

How does social distancing work at student associations? She’s yet to find out. ‘I haven’t had much time to drop by Bernlef yet. But I’m glad not everything during the KEI week was online. It wouldn’t have been the same.’

The Bernlef inauguration is scheduled for late September. ‘It’s this big secret, so I have no idea what to expect. But everyone is saying it’ll be great!’

Kara Schotanus (18)

Religious sciences

Is Groningen a boring place to be for first-year students during a pandemic? Definitely not, says Kara Schotanus. ‘I love it so much I’d like to move here right now.’ She currently still lives with her parents in Grou, Friesland and hadn’t planned on moving to Groningen until next year, but she’s already started looking for a room. In the meantime, she occasionally stays with friends.

Not everything is a bed of roses, though: the virus means student life so far has been different than what she’d pictured. ‘Everything is much slower than I thought it would be. Not that I’m not meeting new people, but if corona wasn’t a thing I’d be spending a lot more time in Groningen than I am. It would have been easier for me to get to know new people.’

‘Going to university means entering a whole new phase in your life, so different to high school’, she says. ‘You make new friends, start studying, move out on your own. Everything in your world changes. But corona means things have changed even more.’

She didn’t enjoy the KEI week as much as she’d hoped because of all the measures, but it did introduce her to all the student associations. ‘I wanted to join a club. Partially because classes are online and I wouldn’t be meeting my classmates, but also because my programme only has twenty-five students. If I don’t get along with any of them I’ll still have the club.’

Everything is much slower than I thought

She’d initially registered with Dizkartes but changed her mind after the information market. ‘I heard they were handing out grilled cheese sandwiches at Unitas, so I went to them’, she says, laughing. ‘They gave me a personal tour and I just immediately felt at home. I like that it’s a smaller association. Unitas only has sixty people in each year and everyone just seemed closer to each other.’

The ten-day introduction period was different than it usually is: she only spent approximately two hours a day at the club. ‘They’d divided everything in shifts and kept rotating us, which meant we met everyone who was in the same year.’

‘It was a great way of meeting people’, says Kara. ‘In spite of all the limitations, the committee managed to make everything fun. Because we weren’t there the whole day we had a lot of time left over. So they’d organise things like a scavenger hunt where you’d be paired up with a buddy.’

She also enjoyed her first week of classes. ‘I’m glad I have two on-campus classes a week. So far it’s been really interesting. I still need to get used to the system here at the university, but I feel good about it.’


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