Internationals have returned home

‘I want my uni and I want my friends’

Hundreds of international students have fled Groningen to return to their home countries. ‘I packed books and notes for my thesis, but I did not have time to pack anything else.’
By Emily Zaal

Even before all classes were suspended, UG lecturers saw a decline in the number of students attending. International students decided not to wait for the inevitable and fled back home to their families. And now that the university board has announced that all physical lectures will be switched to online until the end of August, they have little reason to return to Groningen.  International student houses are empty and the housing market, once so crowded, has opened up. 

‘I have forgotten what the outside world looks like’

Giriraj Goenka ‣ International business ‣ Ludhiana, India

When Giriraj Goenka, originally from India, was travelling in the Netherlands, he was sold from the start. ‘I fell in love with the people and the country’, says Giriraj. But he had only been living in Groningen for a couple of months, when his time was cut short. 

‘Within two hours of the announcement that there were two cases of the virus in the UMCG, I got a call from my parents. They said “Raj, it’s going to get worse and we need you to come home as soon as possible”. So I booked the next day and was home shortly after.’

He has been self-quarantining ever since. ‘I was told that if I did not comply with the order to stay inside, I would be put in prison for six months. The municipality inspector visited our house and put a notice on our door that if anyone sees me outside, they have to report it.’

Although he is in a difficult situation, Giriraj seems to be looking at things in a positive way. ‘I’m trying to find an alternative and don’t want to get stuck or cry about it’, he says. He, like many other students, has taken up new activities like yoga – ‘God bless YouTube’, he exclaims. 

Positivity remains a strong factor, but Giriaj says, ‘I have forgotten what the outside world looks like. I want to go back. I want my uni, and I want my friends.’  

‘I left like a person escaping prison’

Xristina Zatka ‣ Master’s in law ‣ Retziki, Greece

One moment Xristina was hanging out with friends, the next she was hastily packing stuff to go back to her home country of Greece. ‘Booking the flight was the quickest decision I have ever made’, she says. ‘I packed books and notes for my thesis, but I did not have time to pack anything else. I left like a person escaping prison.’ 

Xristina has been in quarantine with her mother and father and is happy to be home with family instead of alone. She is generally positive about the situation, but is shocked at the number of victims from the virus. ‘I am also really mad at the immunity policy that some countries are following, the Netherlands included’, she states. ‘I hope at the least that people will protect themselves. We do not want more victims.’

‘I didn’t want to be alone in Groningen’

Panni Ajtony ‣ Arts, culture and media ‣ Budapest, Hungary

For many internationals, the decision to go back home was difficult. Panni Ajtony is in the last year of her bachelor arts, culture and media and is currently working on her thesis. ‘At first, I wanted to stay in the Netherlands. But after thinking about it and talking with my parents, I decided the right thing to do was go home to Hungary.’ 

Her decision was made right after the UG cancelled all physical classes. ‘It is my last year, which means I was planning on leaving Groningen anyway. But this is not how I imagined leaving. Now I just want to go back and end it on a good note’, she says. 

Panni is staying with her father, as she does not want to risk the chance of possibly transferring anything to her mother and sister. ‘It’s hard that I can’t just go outside. The first day I came back, my sister and mom came here, and I could only talk to them through the window. It was really hard, I just wanted to go over there and hug them, but I couldn’t’, says Panni. But as soon as her quarantine is over, she will go and stay with them.

She is keeping busy by working on her thesis, but she finds it hard to discipline herself to study.  ‘Usually when I am home, I would be seeing friends and doing fun activities. Now none of that is possible. It’s depressing. But it’s still better being with my family’, says Panni.

‘For one week I was here, but not really here’

Raisa Andrade ‣ Pre-master cognitive and psychophysiology ‣ Mexico City, Mexico

It was the empty SSH building and the vulnerability she felt there that pushed her to want to go home, says Raisa, a pre-master student at UG. ‘Everyone was panicking and in one weekend the building was practically empty. The building holds around eighty people, so it was like a ghost town. After I realised everyone was leaving, I decided to leave too.’ 

As seen on world news, every country has different rules and regulations when it comes to the coronavirus. Her journey from the Netherlands to Mexico was really strange, says Raisa. ‘First of all, the plane was almost full. In the plane they told us if we had symptoms to come up and tell them, but that was stupid because what would they have done? Throw us off of the plane?’ 

She also says that when she got to Mexico, nobody checked her. They basically welcomed her with open arms.  

Raisa is having difficulties focusing on school now that her whole life has changed from one minute to the next. ‘I just started studying yesterday’, she says. ‘For one week I was here, but not really here.’ 

‘For many others, hard times are still to come’

Beretta An Mo Wang ‣ European languages and cultures ‣ Beijing, China

Beretta An Mo Wang was one of the first students to decide to go back home. She arrived in China on March 9. ‘My mom called me every ten minutes until I booked a flight. She was worried sick, because she saw how bad the situation was in Wuhan’, says Beretta.  

After completing a fourteen-day home isolation with her mom, she is now finally able to go outside again. However, she still has to carry a card stating that she is allowed to go outside freely. With this pass she is allowed to go in and out of the community, once her temperature has been checked at a checkpoint.

The situation in China has been getting better. ‘The cinemas are open, but most of the public entertainment is not. Everyone is excited to be able to go outside, but people are still worried about being in an enclosed area with others’, says Beretta. 

A friend of a friend has contracted the coronavirus. ‘I don’t know that person personally, but it still becomes real and scary when you hear someone in your circle has it. You don’t take it as seriously when it’s not about people you know’, she says. ‘Now I get this revelation, that for some people it’s a lot worse and people really do die. The hard times have passed for many, but for others they will still come.’


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