Because of the pandemic, international students have been stuck in their home countries. Due to the swift shift to online education, they’re able to continue their programmes safely. My home country Suriname (UTC -3) is four hours behind the Netherlands (UTC +1), which means that waking up at 8 am for a normal school day isn’t going to cut it. While I’ve only been in Suriname for six weeks, Amanda and Kushan have been in their home countries for almost a year.

Class at 4 in the morning

Amanda in Brazilie 2000

Just south of Suriname lies Brazil, where IBCoM student Amanda Barreto do Medeiros is back in her old bedroom. Being in the same time zone as me, I thought she would perhaps have some good advice on how to deal with the time difference. But when we start the Zoom call at 2 pm in our shared time zone, she tells me she’s been up for about 26 hours, with small powernaps in between. “I had a 4 am class today. It’s horrible!”, she exclaims. “Usually, we get to choose a fitting time, but that just wasn’t the case for this elective. So I decided it was best to just stay awake instead of waking up at 3 in the morning.”

Amanda, whose first year abroad was interrupted by the pandemic, decided in March that it would be best to move back home, partly because her mum was quite insistent on that. “And thank God I did, because I was able to help my parents too. My father and grandmother just got Covid-19, so I took care of them. At the same time, I had to protect my mother as well, so I was wearing masks and face covers. Fortunately, they’re okay now.”

It’s not just Covid that can be a challenge when you’re back at your parents’ house. Even though my parents are quite considerate of privacy, there have been a few instances where I was in the middle of a tutorial and someone (not saying it’s my sister) walked in. Amanda recognizes that problem, she tells me. “Some of my friends who are also studying from home told me that even if they tell their parents not to come into their room because they’re studying, they’ll still just come in.”

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Not too inconvenient

On the other side of the world, Economics student Kushan Divecha, is in his home country of India. The state that he’s in, Maharashtra (UTC +5.5), is four and a half hours ahead of the Netherlands, so when we start our Zoom call, it’s 7am for me and 3.30pm for him. I wonder if he’s having difficulties with online lectures as well. Contrary to the early classes Amanda and I have, Kushan’s classes are mostly in the evening. “Lectures and tutorials usually start around 7.30pm for me. That’s actually not too inconvenient. The latest I’ve been busy with school is around 11pm.”

Just like Amanda, Kushan moved back home in the beginning of the pandemic and his plans to move back to the Netherlands have been put on hold several times. “My original plan was to go back in the beginning of the academic year in September, but then the second wave hit the Netherlands and after that the lockdown became more strict. I didn’t see the point in moving, having to pay rent and cook food for myself. I’m practically living off of my parents now”, he says jokingly.

Sense of comfort

“I lived in university housing and my contract was nearing its end. Now I don’t have a home in Rotterdam. My stuff is with my old roommate, she’s an angel for doing that”, Amanda says. When the pandemic hit, both Kushan and Amanda were both able to terminate their housing contract, regulated by the university for freshmen.

When are they coming back? “I was supposed to go back in August, then December, now we’re thinking March, but if I’m honest, it’s probably going to be June”, Amanda says. “If I go back now, I’m just going to be sitting in my room, following online classes on my laptop. I would just be spending money that doesn’t have to be spent.”

Kushan doesn’t know when it’ll be, but he’s definitely planning on returning. “Being home with my family and friends, there’s a sense of comfort in a difficult time for everybody. But at some point I do plan on going back to the Netherlands, because I miss the entire experience of studying abroad. Not everyone gets the chance to do that.”