A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Guest blogger: Bianca Mannini, MA International Relations
This past semester has certainly been a challenge for all students and professors. For us, starting our masters in February 2020, the lock-down hit us as we were just starting to get used to a new, busy routine. Things changed so rapidly it almost felt like this new chapter of our academic lives never started.
Most of my new friends went back home and we all had to adapt to online teaching. It has been difficult; I’m not going to lie. It’s hard to be productive when you don’t have the opportunity to exchange views with your professors and peers on a regular basis. It’s hard to come up with good-quality papers when there’s nothing inspiring around you; when your house becomes your gym, your library, and your personal café all together. Overall, this semester has brought a lot of frustration to those of us who were looking forward to a fresh start: suddenly, we were no longer doing our best to achieve good results, but rather doing what we could given the circumstances.
Of course, one month of student life was not enough to fully grasp the local culture and benefit from all the curricular and extra-curricular activities that Leiden University has to offer. However, these months of lock-down in the Netherlands have been a unique experience for me. When you’re advised to “stay at home” in a place that is far away from your family, you have to find ways to make your new house feel like home. It takes a bit of creativity and patience. It involves taking care of yourself and the environment surrounding you in many different ways. It can start with rearranging your house to be a more inspiring place. It also involves finding a balance between work and leisure and building self-resilience. In my case, what made a huge difference was connecting with my flatmates, who became like family to me. More than anything, this experience made me realize how important it is to have a strong support system to rely on.
I must admit I wasn’t fully satisfied with online teaching, but I believe that through constructive feedback and communication, online education can and will be improved substantially. There is a lot to learn from this experience for both students and professors and I am looking forward to discovering what next semester will be like.
Being an International Relations student in these hectic times makes you put the things you’re studying in perspective and opens up new room for debates. For me, staying connected with my classmates during the lock-down was crucial to help me find the motivation I needed to push through. Sharing our views and struggles made me feel part of a class of “warriors” and helped me stay positive. I hope upcoming students don’t feel too discouraged about starting their masters. After all, our generation will have to deal with several global challenges, and providing ourselves with the best tools to analyze such challenges is the first step to come up with sustainable solutions.
Whether we’ll be able to physically attend our classes next semester is still uncertain, but I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunities to interact and strengthen Leiden’s student community.