First-years during corona #2

‘Sometimes it’s like I’m taking an online course’

At the start of the academic year, UKrant talked to three first-year students. They couldn’t wait for things to go back to normal. Unfortunately, the corona restrictions have only been tightened further since we talked to them. What was their first month in Groningen like?

Door Fay van Odijk

20 October om 17:27 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:16 uur.

By Fay van Odijk

October 20 at 17:27 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:16 PM.

Fay van Odijk

Lotte Benedictus (19)

Arts, culture and media

Lotte spent the first few weeks of this academic year in the city centre and at the Dizkartes pub. ‘It was amazing’, she sighs. ‘Just for a little while, it felt like corona didn’t exist.’ Those precious few moments may have been the closest to what she expected student life to be: going to class every day, to ‘Diz’ every week, home every weekend. 

But after the tightened rules that prime minister Rutte announced last week, the hospitality business has had to close down, which means she can no longer visit Diz. Classes will be mainly online, with an in-person seminar every once in a while. On the weekends, she mainly stays in Groningen. 

Lotte has started doubting whether she picked the right major. Her studies take up a lot of time and she’s having difficulties, in part because the online classes don’t really motivate her. ‘When you’ve had enough, you can just close your laptop. That’s not as difficult as leaving a classroom’, she explains. 

She also feels the online classes create a distance between lecturers and students, which makes them less engaging. ‘It’s really easy to forgo giving any kind of input, since you’re safe in front of your computer screen. The lecturers can’t directly look at you to ask you a question.’ 

I’ll see how I feel after my first year

She’s not entirely sure whether her doubts stem from the online classes or the programme itself. But she’ll keep going for now, she says. ‘I’ll see how I feel after my first year.’

She has been glad of the virtual alternatives presented by Dizkartes now that the club can’t host any live events. ‘The other day, they had an online pub quiz where you could assign people questions’, she says. Members could watch in groups of three or four people and vote on the participants. It was particularly fun for Lotte, since her brother was one of the people she could nominate. ‘He was blindfolded and had to guess objects by touch. It was really funny.’

Right now, her brother is the only person from her family she regularly sees. Lotte’s mum is particularly at risk of complications if she gets Covid-19. ‘I prefer to wait for the incubation time to pass before I visit my parents if I’ve been around any other people’, she says. When she does go, she always keeps her distance. 

Reality has thus far not lived up to her expectations of her first year in university, so she’s since let go of them. ‘It’s best to just accept things. There’s no use in complaining.’

Machteld Stegenga (18)


‘Obviously it would have been nice if everything was in person. I sometimes feel like I’m taking an online course’, says Machteld. Nevertheless, she’s still happy with her decision to switch programmes and move to Groningen. ‘I feel really at home here, and I’ve already successfully completed two courses.’

She only has to travel to campus for practical classes, and the difference with online classes is striking. ‘You actually get to know people during practical classes. They’re the people you end up hanging out with. If the other classes had been on campus as well, I would’ve got to know so many more people.’ 

I finally felt like a normal student

She has made many friends at Bernlef, the student association she joined during the KEI week. During the first few weeks of the year, she was able to visit the club in person. First-years were assigned a ‘family’ of approximately twenty students. Four senior students served as ‘parents’, organising fun events for the group. ‘Ten of us had dinner with our Bernlef parents and then we all went to the club house. It was so much fun. I finally felt like a normal student for a bit. There was that collegiate atmosphere you’d expect.’

Machteld was even able to participate in the inauguration in early September. ‘It was a really fun, but exhausting night. I’m not allowed to say much else about it, apart from the fact that I’m happy I’m no longer a hampel’, she says, laughing. A hampel is a first-year student who hasn’t been officially inaugurated. 

She’d hoped that she’d be able to continue going out while socially distancing. ‘But the new restrictions put an end to that, unfortunately.’ She mainly talks to her friends on FaceTime. 

She and her housemates have also had to quarantine themselves once already. ‘Someone in the house had a fever, so everyone withdrew to their room to wait for the test results’, she says. ‘It was negative, but it shocked all of us. I immediately downloaded the corona app after that.’

Kara Schotanus (18)

Religious sciences

With the hospitality business closing its doors due to the new restrictions, Kara has lost her job. ‘I was hoping we’d continue the upward trend, but instead we’re seeing this awful decline’, she says.

Fortunately, she quickly found a new gig. ‘I’ll be tutoring kids at my old high school, so hopefully that will pay the bills for a while.’ She’ll need the money, since she has found a room in Groningen. She’s very happy. She can move in on 1 November. Until then, she’ll continue to commute from Grou. ‘I heard that a lot of people are still looking for a place to live, so I’m very happy that I succeeded.’

She’s also still happy with her major and gladly goes to all the on-campus meetings. ‘You just miss out on so much otherwise. My classes involve a lot of discussion, and it’s harder to do online.’ 

My classes involve a lot of discussion, and it’s harder to do online

To her surprise, some of her fellow students don’t feel the same way she does. ‘The other day, we had to take a test on campus. There was someone sitting behind me who I’d never seen before. It’s a shame, because I make the effort of travelling for ninety minutes to attend. People are so focused on everything being online that they forget that it’s a temporary solution rather than the new normal.’

When the academic year started, Kara spent a lot of time at Unitas. ‘We were allowed to go to the pub for the first few weeks, and everyone was really good at following the rules. We hated that everything was closing at 10 p.m. at first, but we got used to it. We just started a little earlier’, she says, laughing. ‘The last train to Grou leaves a little after 10 p.m. and I spent many a train trip being slightly tipsy.’ 

She’s also started setting up a year club. Corona has slowed down the process a little, though. ‘We were only allowed to sit at a table with four people at a time. It meant I didn’t get to know people as much as I wanted to.’ But the association is organising a lot of online get-togethers and other activities. ‘We play games on our Discord server. You can pick a room, and each room has a different game’, Kara explains. ‘It’s a really great set-up!’


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