Life in Lockdown – Internationals at the VUB (2/2) ENG

While the current health crisis poses severe limitations for VUB students and staff alike, the world has not stood still. The same counts for international students, many of whom do not have the social safety net so many students can fall back on. In the Life in Lockdown series, we zoom in on the international community at the VUB. In this second instalment of the portrait series: Sophie, Jakob and Ottone share their experiences of life in Brussels and at the VUB in the unusual circumstances of the present.

By: Ima Algra & Filip Lismont

Follow this link to view the first instalment (1/2)

Sophie Widrig (Seattle, USA)

Bachelor student Social Sciences

Sophie Widrig

“I moved to Brussels at the beginning of September. Getting my visa was quite the challenge, it was such a long and tedious process. I had to change my flight because I would have to go into quarantine upon arrival. If I would have arrived later, I would have not been able to attend the first week of school.”

“This is my first time living on my own, and it has been extra challenging because I am isolated and in an entirely different place. Not being able to take the classes on campus has made that even harder. The only people I know here are the people I met when we still had physical classes. I assume that under normal circumstances my social circle would have grown by now, but it hasn’t. There are just not many opportunities to really get to know people.”

“I feel very fortunate to have met some cool people and to have nice roommates, so I haven’t really felt lonely. “

“Me and my friends try to do things but there are only so many activities that we can do, and they are much different than the things I would be doing if there was no pandemic. Normally, I’d be partying rather than social distancing. Now I go for walks and keep my bubble as small as possible. I like to go for walks and discover the many parks Brussels has to offer. My favourite park thus far is Tenbosch since it reminds me of a tropical jungle. And the canaries add a nice touch!”

“I think the teachers are trying to the best of their abilities to make sure the long online lectures are do-able, it is nice that they are so well organised. It makes it possible for people to go home where they normally would not have been able to. I can take a lecture at any given time and really take my time with the subjects that are not typically my strong suit. To pause and rewind a teacher is awesome. The university in general is also doing a good job in my opinion; I have seen some information sessions being offered and heard that they also offer help for those who need it. I feel very fortunate to have met some cool people and to have nice roommates, so I haven’t really felt lonely. It is a tough situation, and it is never going to be ideal, but I feel that they handled it pretty well.”

Jakob Waite (Germany, United Kingdom and Belgium)

Master student European and International Governance

Jakob Waite

“Unluckily, I actually caught corona throughout the summer. I woke up next to my girlfriend and had basically all the symptoms that would make you worried about being infected. Shortly after I had tested positive, my girlfriend developed symptoms and got the same result. We spent ten days in quarantine, which obviously wasn’t easy, but ended up being a blessing. I had it far worse than she did, and without her care I probably would’ve had to go to the hospital. It isn’t straightforward spending such a long time sick and isolated with one person, but it went really well all things considered. Working or studying was not really possible throughout this period, so it was not a very productive situation for either of us. But due to having corona, productivity was not top priority.”

“Since then we’ve reached the second lockdown period, and I kind of knew what to expect this time around. I’m not willing to say I’m used to it, but it is easier to navigate now. School work is always present, and it’s a big task to stay in a good working rhythm. And just like in the first lockdown I’ve been trying to go on walks and runs, but really only to maintain fitness. I would normally play football or volleyball nearly every day of the week, and usually play as goalkeeper in the first football league in the province. I’m very much looking forward to getting back to that, but for now I’m just trying to keep the routine of exercise. The ‘Zonienwoud’ is quite close to my house, so that has been handy in terms of having somewhere to go run whenever I want to go outside.”

“Bars and restaurants made a big difference compared to the current measures. I look forward to having that kind of freedom again.”

“The lack of social contact is probably the hardest part. I really miss going out, meeting friends and new people. It’s been quite a while since that has been properly possible, but even when bars were open it was very nice to see friends and go sit down somewhere together. I’m an Erasmus Student Network (ESN) member, so I usually go to the Erasmus parties. I’ve been able to keep contact with some Spanish buddies, but the very restrictive guidelines at the moment make it difficult to arrange anything. The weather is more constraining now than in the summer so meeting outside safely is also less likely. Even with a limit of four, face-masks and social distancing, bars and restaurants made a big difference compared to the current measures. I look forward to having that kind of freedom again.”

Ottone Berselli (Italy)

Bachelor student in Social Sciences

Ottone Berselli

“I moved to Brussels four weeks after the year had started, when I finally got accepted into the programme. Another four weeks later, I moved back to Italy because Brussels went into lockdown. My overall experience as a student at a university is completely different than what I had imagined. A lot of things I would like to be doing as a ‘typical’ student, I can’t. I only went to three physical lessons, which is not much, but I liked them. During those lessons I met a few students who had already been here a while , and that helped me a lot; giving advice, tips and tricks. I haven’t made actual friendships yet though, and that feels really strange.”

“I hope to experience the ‘typical’ student lifestyle soon”

“The positive thing about COVID-19 and being in lockdown to me, is that it really helped me to become more organised. I made sure I had a routine: doing fixed things at a fixed time. Also, all my distractions were eliminated. Normally I would hang out with friends a lot or lose time watching YouTube-videos. I think I did my fair share of self-improvement; I am more efficient in what I do now. I became more appreciative of the little things that I do as well. I am not that reliant anymore on things that give me a rush, being already content with going for a walk outside. I also became more appreciative of the little things that I do. I am not that reliant anymore on things that give me a rush, being already content with going for a walk outside.”

“I hope to get back to Brussels before the exams start. I will start looking for a real kot because I was temporarily staying with someone else. In hopefully not too long a time, we will all be able to live our lives like we used to. I hope to make some real friends and get to experience the ‘typical’ student lifestyle.”


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