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Adapting to a new life in isolation

‘The loneliness is suffocating’

The coronavirus has caused quite a bit of anxiety in people. But when you’re in another country, confined to your room with only four walls for company, the situation is even more stressful. Two UG students open up about how they’re coping with the loneliness.
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Door Anne de Vries

6 April om 15:24 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 22 November 2020
om 16:15 uur.
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By Anne de Vries

April 6 at 15:24 PM.
Last modified on November 22, 2020
at 16:15 PM.
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Anne de Vries

Studentredacteur Volledig bio Student editor Full bio

Aulia Fairuz Kuntjoro

During the first week of isolation, all she did was lounge around in her pyjamas. Indonesian educational sciences student Aulia Fairuz Kuntjoro (26) couldn’t find the motivation to do anything. She was tired all the time, and just so sad. The news told her the world was only getting worse, and she had no one to talk to about it. 

Aulia’s friends booked their tickets home the same evening the Dutch government first announced drastic measures and the UG cancelled all physical classes until April. Within four days, they were all gone. Now, Aulia goes on bike rides to nowhere, just to see other people. 

Before the corona crisis, she was only ever in her room to sleep and eat. She would meet one friend for coffee, and then go see another at the Forum. Or she’d spend whole days in the UB, just to feel part of the community. Now this has all fallen away. ‘I’m a people person, and this loneliness suffocates me.’ 

She tells her friends she’s fine when they text. They don’t understand why she didn’t go home like they did. She doesn’t want to tell them that if she goes home now, she might not be able to make it back to Groningen. She doesnt’ have the money. ‘I emptied my savings account to come here. And I have two younger brothers in school. It wouldn’t be right to ask my parents for money; I’m a masters student.’ 

Not fine

She’s been dreaming of improving the educational system in Indonesia since she was in primary school. She came to the Netherlands to get a good education and return home with the skills to help. She is telling herself not to waste this opportunity. But it’s hard, because she travelled so far from home, only to find herself studying alone. ‘I’m usually a chill person, but this consumes my soul.’ 

I emptied my savings account to come here

Aulia’s parents call her to ask how she’s doing. She tells them she’s okay, and the usual stuff: it’s hard work, but she’s in Holland, so of course she’s fine. She tells them facts about the Dutch system, the rules, the capacities in the hospitals, just so they don’t dig any further. 

If they did, they would know she isn’t fine. And she wants to avoid that at all costs. They would worry, and she doesn’t want them to be concerned about her. She doesn’t want to be a burden. 

Real person

She’s always been like this. She doesn’t want other people to feel like they have to do things for her. Under no circumstance would she want to add her problems to theirs. ‘I feel it’s wrong to make people worry about me if I can fix it myself.’ 

Other people seem fine. They don’t have the same problems, so she should be fine too. She quickly wipes away her tears. ‘I need someone to tell me it’s normal to feel this way.’  

She has reached out to a counsellor, but a counsellor gets paid to listen to your feelings, she says. She needs a real person to talk to. 

Talking to her friends and family is off the table, though. ‘People are dying, nurses and doctors are working so hard, and I don’t want to be a spoiled brat, so I tell myself to make the best of it.’ 

I don’t want to be a spoiled brat, so I tell myself to make the best of it

But the fact that she’s alone is a constant burden on her mind. It has made it extra difficult to focus on her work. On top of that, all the Nestor announcements only add to her anxiety. 

Laughing it off

She has two more classes to finish and her thesis submission has already been delayed by three weeks. To actually finish her thesis, she needs the schools to reopen. She wanted to interview high school teachers, but now she can’t collect any data. Her internship at a school in Leeuwarden has also been suspended. 

Aulia laughs it off. She says she laughs when she’s nervous. ‘I’ll just have to be more creative. Only I can control myself, so I will be very disappointed in myself if I don’t manage to finish the program. Who else is to blame?’ 

Step by step

In the past weeks she’s realised she couldn’t rely on anyone else to change how she feels. So she’s doing things she enjoys every day. She starts with taking a shower, just to feel good. She dresses up as if she has somewhere to go, and she has taken up connect-the-dots cat drawings. 

As for her university education, she takes it step by step: first she’ll read for classes, then focus on her thesis, then try to fix the internship. 

It helps a little. But she wonders how long this feeling will last. ‘Will it make me stronger, or make me crack? I don’t have a second opportunity.’ 

Ana Garcia Castillo

Argentinian chemistry student Ana Garcia Castillo (19) is also finding new ways to cope with isolation. She’s keeping busy. She’s studying as if her exams will actually happen, she found the time to catch up on several TV shows and books, and she’s experimenting in the kitchen. A new blender and many smoothies later, she has almost mastered the craft. 

Ana seems fine on the surface, but all this alone time is gnawing at her. Normally she values the privacy of her studio apartment, but being locked inside these four walls makes her feel a bit helpless. She’s never been home all day before. She doesn’t know her direct neighbours, so she can’t knock on their doors for company. 

‘I’m a very physical person and I always try to have people around. This is crucial for my mental health; my friends keep me sane.’ She finds comfort in just being with them, talking about things that worry them and then moving on, getting distracted from life. She used to see her friends every day, so now she feels extra lonely. 


Transitioning from a university routine to this is very difficult. Ana needs a strict schedule. ‘I’m a very big procrastinator. Now that I’m in my room all the time, I call my family, friends, or boyfriend.’ She takes forever to eat lunch and do the dishes. Then, in the evening, she feels bad about doing nothing all day. 

The pictures of her family that she’s set up all around her definitely don’t help. Lately, what distracts her most is the thought of being away from them. ‘That South American stereotype of big loving families is very true in my case.’ 

That South American stereotype of big loving families is very true 

She’s worried about her grandmother in Argentina and her parents, brother, and boyfriend in Ecuador. The situation there isn’t that much different from here, so it’s risky everywhere. She can’t go home anyway, because the borders are closed. There’s no way that she would risk exposing her parents or brother to the virus if she carries it. ‘I will only go home if the curve flattens before July.’ 

So she calls her parents at seven in the morning, just to have them with her. Sometimes, they don’t even talk. They just enjoy each other’s virtual company for hours.

Highlight of the week

When her parents say they are going outside for groceries, the roles are reversed and she feels like the parent. ‘I tell them they shouldn’t go outside that often, and repeat their own speech back to them.’ 

I can’t let this situation get the better of me

That doesn’t mean she doesn’t understand the need; her twenty-minute walk in the sun to the supermarket has become the highlight of her week. 

‘This situation really threw me off my game. I constantly feel this big cocktail of emotions: scared, nervous, sad. But I can’t let it get the better of me.’ 

No one knows how long this will last and Ana expects it to affect her even more in the future. ‘I remind myself I’m not alone in this. Everyone has their own things right now, so we have to try to make it as normal as possible.’ 

She’s made her own routine of getting up at eight thirty every morning, having a smoothie for breakfast, working out and calling friends to work on assignments together. Maybe she’ll even go knock on some of her neighbours’ doors.


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