A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Guest blogger: Bianca Mannini, MA International Relations
As my last semester at Leiden University wraps up, and I wait for my thesis grade, I look back at my experience in the MAIR programme and think of all the challenges I’ve overcome this year.
When I moved to Leiden in February 2020, I was determined to make the best out of my last student experience and ready to take on all the extra-curricular opportunities that Leiden University had to offer. This desire became even stronger after the first lockdown and all the frustrations that came with it, which made me want to hit the “refresh” button at the start of the new academic year in September 2020.
So I did, I extended my studies one semester and I ended up having a super-packed schedule. I was spending way too much time in front of my laptop and to be honest, it hasn’t been easy to keep the motivation high at all times. Luckily, I have incredibly supportive friends and family – and a crazy ball of fur – who helped me to overcome the most stressful months. The small rituals, like ordering pizza once a week with my flatmate or spending the entire Sunday outdoors with my boyfriend, made it slightly easier to be consistent with my work. They allowed me to release some stress and take things one step at a time until the end of the semester.
In the meantime, working as a Social Media Ambassador for the Faculty of Humanities helped me to stay connected with my peers, and even provided me with an opportunity to make some new friends despite the online setting. I enjoyed collecting the unique stories of some humanities students, taking photos around the city, and helping prospective students getting a grasp of what it’s like to study in Leiden, sharing my own experience of it with them.
OWL Week, September 2020
From December to June, I also had the opportunity to work part-time for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), as part of a great communications team. Working remotely while writing my thesis on the side was a real challenge, but it was also an extremely rewarding experience on many levels. I have always wanted to work in the field of sustainable development and discovering the diversity of projects related to nature, climate, and energy that the organization is conducting in over 170 countries inspired me to give a practical turn to my studies. Thanks to this experience, I realized how complex it is to translate the idea of environmental sustainability into effective development projects in different local settings, and that I want to play my part in protecting our planet. For this reason, I will be starting a second master’s in environmental resource management at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam this coming Fall!
As the cherry on the cake of this crazy busy year, I took a Dutch course (well, two in a row, actually) offered by the University Language Centre. I love learning new languages, and I thought studying Dutch would allow me to understand the local culture and traditions a bit more in detail. Although this is most certainly true, I must admit that learning Dutch turned out to be harder than I expected it to be, especially since I didn’t have much time to dedicate to revising my homework in between classes and because of the online format. But I won’t give up on this!
However rewarding and interesting all these (online) adventures have been, they have taken so much energy from me that I have dedicated little to no time to myself and my friends in the past six months. I hope that the next academic year will allow us to go back to on-campus lectures/seminars, but in case we have to continue studying remotely, I want to give a piece of advice to those starting or continuing their studies: do not overburden yourself. It’s exhausting to look at a screen the whole day. Make sure to take breaks, enjoy some time offline, and value your support system, as these are the things keeping us sane in challenging times.