This is evident from a survey conducted by Erasmus Magazine among almost 500 students at Erasmus University. Students see this stage of life as a time when they would normally meet loads of new people. This is precisely what is not possible at the moment, something that they feel they are missing out on. More than half miss their classmates, meeting new people, going to pubs and (student house) parties. This proportion is higher in all these categories amongst students living in Rotterdam compared to those living elsewhere. International students miss meeting new people, fellow students and cultural activities more than Dutch students.
Students think they are wasting ‘valuable time’ on account of corona and that they have come to a standstill in their social development. Plus, they miss spontaneity in their social interactions. “I miss those chance encounters or situations that I used to have. All contact is planned nowadays, and just don’t feel so relaxed anymore,” writes a first-year philosophy student.
Around 40 per cent of all students have never met up with their classmates ‘in real life’ since the start of the academic year. A 24-year-old master’s student at the Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB) says he hasn’t made any new friends yet. “I try not to think about the people I could have met during my time at uni. All the interesting conversations I could have had, all the different characters I could have met before and after my lectures. It’s almost impossible to build friendships these days. Online contact is too superficial.”
Students see these youthful years as a time when they can let their hair down. “Every now and then you just want to go completely wild and see new faces,” says a master’s student (24) from the Erasmus School of Law, who misses parties and house parties.
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Love life 'ready for the scrap heap'
More than half of the respondents say that corona influences their love lives. Students are making more use of dating apps in times of corona, but they actually tend to date less and have less sex, according to the survey. “My love life was already tragic, but now it really is ready for the scrap heap,” writes a 29-year-old ESSB student with a flair for drama. One frequently mentioned reason among single students: The lack of random social contacts. “I hardly meet any new people and get to see people I already knew far less often. That’s why I don’t date at all anymore,” says a 20-year-old student. An RSM student (21), who went looking for love: “I went on Tinder out of boredom, but it didn’t lead to anything.”
The common thread running through the answers of those who do, or did, have a relationship seems to be that things become a pressure cooker during corona. Students started living together more quickly or ended relationships simply because things didn’t work out when they spent a lot of time together. Or they broke up because they were no longer able to see each other.
Groups of friends are falling apart
The social lives that students have now are unfolding in smaller circles than usual. Around 25 per cent see their friends several times a week, while another 26 per cent meet up with each other no more than once a week. And 10 per cent of students say they never see any friends at all. The students surveyed hardly ever go to illegal parties, but drink (tea, although alcohol is often mentioned too) with each other mainly in small circles at home. Or they go for walks, play games, have ‘deeper’ conversations or play games online.
This is not an ideal situation in the eyes of some people. An RSM master’s student (23) writes: “Although the evenings are fun together, they are not the moments that we will be talking about in ten years’ time. The fun part is actually doing things with friends.” A 20-year-old bachelor’s student from the Erasmus School of Economics adds: “Normally we would be at the pub, seeing other people and getting inspired. Now it’s mostly a case of debauched drinking, which is starting to feel more and more empty.”
Another thing that resonates in students’ open answers is that corona is threatening the survival of larger groups of friends. “In Rotterdam, there is no club life anymore and my group of friends has kind of broken up because of corona,” says a 19-year-old ESE student. An ESSB student (23) says: “I don’t really see any larger groups of friends in real life anymore and zooming doesn’t work very well either, so that’s all on the back burner. I find that a real shame.”
A master’s student at Erasmus MC says: “I haven’t seen my whole group of friends all together since March. I miss them very much. And I especially miss the people who you enjoy having a chat with, but who you don’t specifically meet up with.”
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EM also asked the students about their concerns and how they envisage the future. More than half think that corona adversely affects their vision of the future, compared to almost three-quarters of international students who feel this way. Some of the students’ concerns are about their own lives. This includes trips they had planned for after the student term that have been cancelled and the difficulty in finding or carrying out internships. They also feel insecure about their job opportunities and are afraid that they are the ones who will suffer the blows from all the costs that the government is currently incurring.
Nevertheless, students are less worried about the quality of education and the delays in completing their studies than they were before the summer. International students are more worried about delays and job opportunities than Dutch students are.
Two-thirds of the respondents are concerned about their own mental health. “Since there is no clear end date to this pandemic, it is psychologically debilitating. I am trying to stay positive, but especially now with the winter months here and the fact that it is getting dark so early, I notice that I am finding it more and more difficult,” writes a 19-year-old bachelor’s student at the RSM who is worried about her own mental health. A male classmate adds: “I have noticed that corona is having a significant impact on my mental health. I struggle to get through the day and am much less productive.” A first-year student (18) at the ESSB says: “This is partly due to the fact that I don’t have much freedom of movement.”
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Forget the Ivy League
Moreover, Rotterdam students are worried about developments in society as a whole. A master’s student at the Erasmus School of Health Policy and Management writes: “The corona crisis is putting a great deal of pressure on society in general and that is what worries me most. I belong to the group of highly educated people and will probably also start working in the healthcare sector. If anything, this crisis makes it extremely relevant now. So I am not afraid for my future, but I am worried about people in vulnerable groups.” Students also cite polarisation and the rise of conspiracy zealots as causes for concern.
But students also see these times as enlightening. A 20-year-old bachelor’s student says: “It has made me realise that nothing is certain. An ESSB student (19) comments: “The corona crisis has been a clear reminder to me that the highest standards of education and the greatest ambitions do not make me happy – structure, stability and a connection with others do. I no longer want to aspire to an Ivy League institution that is all about prestige and ambition, but instead I want to be at a university where I can simply explore what makes me happy in a welcoming environment.”
About this survey
A total of 498 students took part in the Erasmus Magazine survey. The survey could be taken from Thursday, 3 December to Monday, 14 December (only the results that were received before the new lockdown was announced were included). Respondents answered questions about their experiences with online education and exams, social lives, love lives, concerns and how they view the future. The female/male ratio, distribution across faculties, years of study and the ratio between international and Dutch students amongst the respondents is comparable to the total population of EUR students.
With cooperation from Wouter Sterrenburg.