First-years during corona #7

‘It wasn’t the greatest year, but everything worked out in the end’

The pandemic meant it was an unusual first year in Groningen for students Lotte, Machteld, and Kara. They look back on the past twelve months and talk about their plans for the next year.
By Fay van Odijk / Photos by Anouk Brekhof
7 July om 10:59 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 13 July 2021
om 23:54 uur.
July 7 at 10:59 AM.
Last modified on July 13, 2021
at 23:54 PM.

Lotte Benedictus (20)Arts, culture and media

When we call her, Lotte is preparing for a job interview. Now that society is reopening, she wants to get a job in a pub or restaurant. She’s also just returned from a trip to Belgium with a friend, where she went out for the first time since the start of the pandemic. 

While most of the restrictions in the Netherlands have been relaxed, Antwerp was a different story. ‘Everyone still has to wear a face mask, and there are enforcers everywhere telling people to put them on.’ Pubs and clubs closed at one in the morning. ‘But we found our way to an afterparty, so we had fun.’

The trip was completely carefree, as he finished her exams two weeks ago. ‘I passed the first year! I’m still waiting on one final result, but I’m not worried.’ 

She’s continuing her arts, culture and media studies. ‘The courses kept getting better. Everyone says the first year sucks but that it gets better afterwards because you end up specialising.’ 

Compared to the first article you wrote, I’m doing better.

She’s decided to specialise in film in the second year. She’ll continue making her own art, focusing on photography and film. She wants to create a portfolio. ‘Perhaps I’ll apply to film school when I’m done here.’

Lotte’s first year ‘didn’t go really smoothly’. Like most students, she spent a lot of time alone in her room, and she wasn’t sure she’d made the right choice in her studies. ‘Compared to the first article you wrote, I’m doing better. Moving out means becoming independent, but I was truly alone. It was hard on my mental health.’ 

It’s taught her a lot, she says. ‘How to get out of a funk, for instance.’ She’s happy that she persevered in her studies, and that she managed to meet fun new people in spite of everything. ‘It wasn’t the greatest year, but everything worked out in the end.’ 

What does she think next year will look like? ‘I hope it’s more fun! I’d like classes to be on campus again, and for Dizkartes to organise events again. I hope things can get back to normal.’

Machteld Stegenga (19)Biology

Machteld is still studying for resits, but her final exam is on Wednesday, after which she’ll finally have the summer off. If everything goes according to plan, she’ll finish the year with 55 ECTS. ‘The last mile is the longest, but I didn’t work hard enough last time. I had my driving exam as well and was also doing other things, so I was distracted. But this time, everything should work out.’ 

In between exams and resits, she visited Bernlef a few times, and she was able to organise the association’s first big event since the outbreak of the pandemic: the final barbecue. ‘The theme was Under the Sea and everyone had to dress up. Anyone who hadn’t got their face painted.’ 

She also saw her entire family at her grandmother’s birthday party. ‘It was a lot of fun, and it’s nice that my family isn’t panicking over the virus anymore. Most of us are just over it and want to go back to normal.’

Next year, Machteld will probably be sharing a house with two friends. ‘My room is great and the location is lovely, but I miss the fun of being near friends. Spontaneously having a beer at home or sharing a dinner, instead of having to make the effort to meet up. I’d like to have true roommates, not just live in a house with other people.’

Without student life, I would have been even lonelier this year

What are her academic plans? She’s decided to go for biomedical sciences. She still has to pick a learning line, and she wants to see if she can combine two: cancer and immunology and the nutrition learning line. ‘I have a lot of courses next year that I’m excited about’, she says. 

While her first year was a little disappointing, there were plenty of good things, too. ‘I became a stem cell and blood donor, I joined a student association, I met new people, and I met my boyfriend’, she sums up. 

She’s also gained confidence, not just in her studies, but also in herself. ‘I’ve learned how to better deal with setbacks and I proved to myself that I can get good grades.’ She’s glad she was a university student this past year. ‘Without student life, I would have been even lonelier.’

Kara Schotanus (18)Religious sciences

Kara has just finished her last day at work. After working at a restaurant near her parents’ house for 3.5 years, she’s resigned. She wants to get another hospitality job after the summer, but one in Groningen. ‘But I’ve decided to take the summer off.’

She’s worked a lot over the past few weeks; she finished her exams a while ago. ‘I passed the first year, which I’m happy with.’ It means she can start studying archaeology alongside her religious studies next year, and she’s really looking forward to it. ‘Religious studies is great, but it’s very theoretical. I’d love something a bit more hands-on.’

She’s also been to two Unitas pub nights. They were more intense and fun than she’d expected. ‘I’d heard so much about it and now I was finally able to experience it for myself. It was something else.’ 

Afterwards, she and a group of friends went out on the town. ‘I’d never really gone out in Groningen, so I kind of went overboard. But it was my first pub night, so it’s okay.’ 

I’m excited to have the next year surprise me with new experiences

This week, she’ll be attending the Unitas ‘pub marathon’; the pub will be open twenty-four hours a day from Monday to Thursday, and everyone has to organise an event. ‘Our year club is doing a cheese tasting.’

Things took longer to get back to normal than she’d thought they would, she says. ‘I think student life always turns out different than you might have thought, because you completely leave your old life behind: you move out, become responsible for yourself, and your parents stop doing everything for you. You can never really picture what that looks like. But it was even more different than that for this generation of first-years.’ 

But, she says: ‘In spite of the situation, I had a pretty good first year. I won’t be looking back in regret.’ She feels it’s ultimately made her ‘stronger’. ‘I now know that it’s important to me to have people around me that I can do things with. And that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.’

Now that she’s formed an idea of what student life is, she’s looking forward to next year. ‘I’m excited to have the next year surprise me with new experiences.’