“The beginning of the crisis was a huge blow to me. I was supposed to board a plane on the 22nd of March to visit my family in Argentina, but my flight was cancelled on the 18th. That was a big disappointment. I felt powerless and I was very worried about the situation in my homeland.”

Putting things into perspective

“I knew from the beginning that the crisis would last a long time. At the start of the lockdown, I really couldn’t function properly. I still had to teach for another week, but I canceled my two lectures and asked my students to do self-studies.

Sometime after the first few weeks, someone within an international network of researchers, of which I am a member, asked everyone the question: how are you all doing? The answers flooded in. People from all corners of the world told us what they had been through. That’s when I started to put things into perspective and appreciate what I have here. People were in worse situations with stricter measures than what we were dealing with in the Netherlands.”

Three video sessions per day

Georgina Mercedes Gómez in one of her shorts videos

“Fortunately, I didn’t have to give a lecture from April until the summer holidays. So, I had time to prepare my lectures for the new academic year. I took online training courses to be able to produce my own educational videos. I completely transformed my lectures. For a two-hour lecture, I now make three 10-minute videos. I put a lot of effort into these videos. I pay a lot of attention to details, such as lighting, location, facial expressions and how I come across in general. For a series of videos from the same module, for instance, I wore the same clothes and stood in the same place, even though I recorded them on different days.

I think recording short videos is the best method for my courses. I don’t feel like delivering a two-hour lecture live via Zoom. How long can you hold the attention? Most students don’t even turn their cameras on, so you end up talking to icons. Once I asked a student to turn her camera on during an online session, but it turned out that she was driving a car. How much attention can you pay to a lecture at such a time?

After the students have watched the videos, I do a Q&A session with them via Zoom. Because our students are spread all over the world at the moment, I have to arrange the same session at three different times: 9 am for Asia, 2 pm for Africa and Europe and 5 pm for America.”

Mental health

“I have almost thirty years of teaching experience, but online education is a new thing. After the crisis, I definitely want to continue with a hybrid form of teaching. Recently I assessed my students, and it turns out that they have actually performed better during the crisis. When I told them that, they said: ‘Well, we’ve got nothing else to do but study.’

“Although we do have to deal with students’ mental health issues every year at the ISS, this year was worse than previous years. Some of them are so lonely that they are suffering from depression. Fortunately, the ISS is a close-knit community and most of the students live in the same building, so that’s good for their social contact. However, we do need to pay very close attention to how the new students are doing now, because they don’t have a support system around them yet.”

New pandemic ritual

“In the meantime, I have traded in my ‘nervous breakdown’ from the first few weeks for a positive approach. I have noticed that I am taking better care of myself: I cook more often, I exercise more. I now use the travel time that I lost commuting each day between Rotterdam and The Hague for other activities.

“My partner and I have come up with a new pandemic ritual: every Saturday, we make a toast to having survived another week in good health. I’m not someone who cares that much about Christmas decorations, but this year I’m certainly going to go all out, as a reminder that life is still pretty wonderful in spite of all the hardships.”