Moving to a new country can be especially daunting during the pandemic. These soon-to-be first-years made new friends before even arriving in Groningen, by connecting through a Facebook group one of them set up.
Abby Shanahan (17), United States
International and European law
Facebook groups for incoming freshmen are very common in the US, so when Abby got accepted to the UG and couldn’t find one, she created one herself: University of Groningen Incoming Students.
‘I’m a go-getter’, she says. ‘After having seen future students in housing groups, I thought Facebook would be a good place to consolidate everyone.’
In her home state of New Jersey, Abby – former class president and an active volunteer – has a lot of friends. Moving abroad alone and then having to make new friends is nerve-wracking, she says, but ‘that mutual feeling of nervousness also bonds freshers’.
Still, it positively surprised her that the group has attracted over four hundred members within a few months. While some of them introduce themselves with a blurb and photos, others prefer to share their Instagram accounts or invite future classmates into WhatsApp group chats.
Regardless of what platform they choose, Abby says, ‘it’s good to know that we’re all in the same boat, so we’re not having these individual struggles alone.’
She’s keeping in touch with five others – one of them a fellow Taylor Swift fan – which has made her feel more at ease about starting her life in Groningen during a pandemic. ‘It’s harder to meet people due to the lockdown restrictions’, she says. ‘But thanks to the group, I won’t be completely alone once my parents drop me off.’
Veronika Synáková (20), Slovakia
Veronika had hoped to visit Groningen for the Bachelor’s Open Day last year, but that was cancelled. Connecting with other prospective students through the Facebook group was a nice alternative. ‘It didn’t just help me get answers to some practical questions about admission, but I could also talk to the others about my feelings about studying abroad.’
On the one hand, she’s excited and eager to start a new life on her own. On the other, ‘I’m a bit nervous about how it will all turn out and about meeting new people.’
Even though she’s usually shy at first, Veronika has found three friends that she’s in touch with every day, before even setting foot on campus. ‘Since I connected with them, I’ve felt better about my student life in Groningen’, she says. ‘And I hope that I’ll be able to move in with one of my friends.’
Lara Avila (17), Panama
Communication and information studies
Originally from Spain, Lara has spent the last nine years in Panama City. Because she’s used to living in an international environment where people are always coming and going, she’s not really scared of moving to Groningen alone. Instead, she tries to look at it as an opportunity for new experiences. ‘Not everyone in Panama has the chance to move and learn to live in a new country.’
Settling in a new country entails dealing with practical issues, however. ‘Housing in the Netherlands is quite challenging’, she says. So now that she’s connected with six prospective students, this topic pops up all the time. ‘We always talk about all the options we have and try to help each other out.’
Thanks to those conversations, Lara has not only booked a room in a residential building, but also got in touch with her future neighbours. ‘I feel calmer because I can call them if something happens, or if I just want to have fun and go out with them.’ And it should make it easier to find someone to rent an apartment with later on, she hopes.
Rayhaan Pais (20), India
Master in biomedical sciences
Even though Rayhaan is excited about starting his master’s programme, ‘it’s scary to be moving away from my family and friends for the first time ever’, he admits. He’s never been to Europe.
When he talked to other soon-to-be students from the group, though, he realised that they’re all in the same boat. ‘I asked several people about what they think will be different and they had similar answers’, he says. ‘From changing one’s routine to being around new people alone.’
To have familiar faces at the uni, Rayhaan usually gets in touch with prospective master students at the Faculty of Science and Engineering who’ve joined the Facebook group. And he’s been texting with students who play music – he’s a drummer himself – or have pets. ‘I posted a picture with my dog, so someone contacted me saying that my dog is really cute’, he says, laughing.
‘If I didn’t have access to the Facebook group, I would have been extremely worried because it’s just me going into a new city alone and meeting people who probably already have made friends’, he says. ‘Even though my course hasn’t started, it’s good to know that I already have a few friends.’