Internationals at home struggle to keep up

Your new exam time: 2 a.m.

  • Illustration by René Lapoutre
An unreliable internet connection, suspicious neighbours, or an exam in the middle of the night: for some internationals who’ve gone home because of the corona crisis, keeping up with their studies is nearly impossible.
By Emily Zaal and Anne de Vries

When educational sciences student Niveen Reza (27) decided to return home to Bangladesh in March, she didn’t expect to become an outcast in her community. 

Her neighbours claim Niveen has corona because she was in Europe, and have been avoiding her and her family. ‘They want us to stay at home. They wouldn’t even allow my father to go to the mosque and stopped us from going to the pharmacy. It makes me feel terrible’, says  Niveen. ‘They treat me like a criminal, I’ve basically become a suspect.’ 

Here in Colombia it’s about survival

Having to do uni work in the midst of this is demanding a lot from her. She can’t concentrate and is constantly worried about herself and her family. Having her seven-year-old brother around loudly reciting the alphabet is not helping matters, either. ‘Working during a crisis is difficult.’ 

Hand to mouth

Carolina Quiñones Hoyos (33), who’s doing a master in environmental psychology, is grateful for the UG’s online classes now that she’s quarantined alone at her parents’ beach house in Colombia. ‘There is still this form of social contact, even if it isn’t that intense. Being with classmates keeps you motivated and connected’, she says. 

Carolina Quiñones Hoyos – Colombia

But she is concerned about her country. In the Netherlands, ‘people are worried about not being able to see their friends or go out into the sun’, she says. ‘Here in Colombia and other parts of the world, it’s about survival and making sure everyone has those basic needs.’

Luke Precious (19) is also worried about his native Zimbabwe. ‘We are a very poor country and live hand to mouth. Although this lockdown helps to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, there are millions of people who can’t afford to lose four weeks of work’, he says. ‘Luckily, I do not experience the struggles that a lot of people do here, but it’s still quite scary to see what will happen.’ 

No internet

For him, the biggest issue with online education is the internet connectivity. ‘My internet connection is good, better than most people’s in Zimbabwe’, he says. ‘But at times I have trouble working on assignments and watching online videos.’ 

One of his friends, who also studies at the UG and lives close to him in Zimbabwe, lost his internet connection entirely. ‘He called the internet company and they said it would be out for a couple of days’, says Luke. ‘He has been at my house working on assignments and had to sneak out of lockdown just to do his work, which is not very good.’ 

What if the electricity is shut off during my exam?

For a friend of Niveen’s who went back home to China, the internet restrictions there have had severe consequences. He couldn’t load the Nestor page, or keep in contact with teachers via Gmail or WhatsApp. He’s had to drop out of his programme and suspend it until the corona troubles are over. 

Time differences

Niveen is glad it hasn’t come to that for her, but she is worried about her approaching exam. Her internet connection is feeble and can shut off for hours without warning, which she calls ‘load shedding’. ‘When everyone uses electricity, it gets overloaded and is shut off. What if this happens during my exam?’ she says. She has informed her study advisor, who said they would be flexible. 

Luke Precious – Zimbabwe

Carolina doesn’t think her professor will be very accepting of her situation. She has an exam this month, scheduled for 2 a.m. Colombian time, meaning she will have to get up in the middle of the night. 

Luke feels lucky there is no time difference between the Netherlands and Zimbabwe, which makes it easy for him to follow his international business classes at the scheduled times. Niveen is four hours ahead in Bangladesh, which also hasn’t presented any problems so far. 

Online classes work, she says, but education is made to be face-to-face. ‘I have always done exams in the Aletta Jacobs hall with teachers to help out if you have questions’, she says. ‘Now, I don’t know how I’ll deal with that.’ She has found her teachers to be very kind and helpful in all this, though. ‘They keep track of everything and reply to all our questions.’ 

Normal life

Niveen Reza (27) – Bangladesh

Still, she misses her life in Groningen. ‘I’m mourning every day for my normal life with friends and the library.’ Now, during lockdown, there is no real schedule she can stick to. She watches movies or studies until 6 a.m. before falling asleep. 

Carolina believes that all the restrictions on freedom are impacting people’s psychological well-being. Some international students at home have to process this stress before being able to delve into schoolwork, she says. ‘I am worried about my country. When I first got home, I couldn’t focus on school. I got the worst grade I have ever gotten because my mind was somewhere else.’ 

She hopes the university will take this into account. ‘And I hope that other students facing this can find help and support.’

Luke, meanwhile, is proud that the university has made all these efforts to keep classes going. ‘You have to look at the positive side as well’, he says. ‘As harsh as it is, we’re still getting our degrees.’


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