Two of the students are in Germany at the moment. Svenja Hessberg (19), who is German, is with her parents in Meinerzhagen. After her last exam, her mother came to Rotterdam. After a long weekend filled with kilometres-long walks through Rotterdam (‘how my legs hurt!’) and a day trip to Katwijk aan Zee, they drove back to Germany together.

The car to Germany was packed with stroopwafels (Dutch syrup cookies), fruity beers, jonge jenever (Dutch gin), garlic sauce, flowers, cheese and some great household items from boutique shops. “Germany is really lagging behind when it comes to cool decorations for the home”, says Svenja. “As for the rest, we only brought back clichéd knick-knacks and garlic sauce. It tastes so much better in the Netherlands.” Isn’t bringing beer to Germany tantamount to sacrilege? “No. You have a lot of ordinary beer here, and wheat beer, but not this delicious fruit beer. After a year in Rotterdam, I managed to help my mother pick out some really nice beers. That is in any case one skill that I have learned here. Plus, I really appreciated spending those days with my mum.”

The other student in Germany is the Spanish Nur Younis (20). Meeting up with her was only possible digitally as she is living in Berlin this summer. She wanted to improve her German and so she thought, where better to do that than in Germany?

‘It was very frightening, but well worth it'

Nur will not be returning to Rotterdam after the summer. The Spaniard is going home again. She stands firmly behind her decision, but it still doesn’t feel quite right to stop with her second course of studies even though she is going back to Madrid to resume her previous course of studies in Business and International Relations.

Nur Younis
Nur in Rotterdam, earlier this year Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

“I actually dared to come to Rotterdam”, Nur explains. “I took the plunge. People often say: ‘I’d like to do this’ or ‘I’d like to spend some time abroad’, but they don’t have the nerve to take the plunge. I did. It was very frightening, but well worth it. I got to know myself really well last year and discovered that I miss my studies a lot and really want to work in that world.”

Of course, she could also do Business Administration in the Netherlands, but Nur is keen to finish what she started. She will never forget what she learned in Rotterdam. Which is why she would not call it a lost year at all because she says that this will shape her future. “For example, I really like the work atmosphere in the Netherlands. It is much less hierarchical than in Spain. Managers ask for their employees’ opinions, input and suggestions. That’s how you work together.”

Lost year or not - it was all worth it

The feeling of ‘a lost year’ is something that Alexandra Pop (20) does recognise. The psychology major is quitting her studies, even though that has been her dream for years. “Maybe I can still do a masters in that direction”, she says. She is going to study International Studies in Leiden next year.

Alexandra Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

“I just couldn’t get used to the multiple-choice questions,” Alexandra says when she explains why she didn’t get enough credits to move on to the second year of study. “It was actually a tough year”, she says looking back. She has not had a single minute of offline lectures, has also had mild symptoms of depression since the pandemic began, is far away from family and friends in Romania, and the fact that she was not in favour of big parties in Xior during the lockdown was not applauded by her partying fellow residents there. “A lot of students had finished their exams and deadlines, but I still had another week to knock out.”

Yet this difficult year has also brought her plenty of good things. Her Dutch boyfriend is one big plus point, but Alexandra is really in love with her baby brother too who was born in December. “I will see him again soon. He is so cute; he’s growing so fast and smiles so much. Once I go back to Romania, my mother won’t get him back for a while.”

From friends to housemates

While Alexandra is still looking for a place to live for next year, Paul Hartwig (20) has managed to find something. Both have to leave the living quarters on campus, because Xior (where Alexandra lives) and Hatta (Paul’s place) are for first-year students. Paul is going to rent a flat in Rotterdam with his friends.

Paul and his brand new bike. Together they explore the area around Rotterdam Image credit: Aysha Gasanova

Having friends in Hatta has helped him through the corona period. Paul and his friends don’t need to be told twice that they can now venture out again, and even go out socially. The Saturday after his birthday, clubs were allowed to reopen. So, with a negative test in their pocket, they headed for Annabel. “A friend of mine is from Dubai, where you can only go out when you reach 21. This was his first time in a club”, says Paul. Laughing, he adds, “He found it mostly really warm inside.” The guys also want to drop by ESN’s famous Tuesday Nights soon, which means another visit to the test lane awaits them.

“At the same time, I’m also still studying for the resits”, Paul adds. “If it’s wise to do a resit after an ESN night out? Maybe not, but I haven’t drunk alcohol for years and I managed to pass all my courses. I hope to get higher marks for the subjects I followed online. Let’s just say that my grades for the offline courses – that is up until December – were higher.”

Tips from our students for new students

The four of them also have some tips for new students: If you have a dream, pursue it and don’t get too worked up. “Don’t take studying too seriously”, says Svenja. “Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you keep telling yourself that university is too difficult, then that will turn out to be the case. You don’t need to put that pressure on yourself. Find a good study rhythm and see what works for you. I can’t study in silence so I always study with the TV on, British TV when I have to write stuff. Preferably series like The Crown; that posh British helps me to write correctly.”

Have the courage to go on an adventure – that’s the advice of all four. “And don’t worry too much about that first month”, says Nur. “You’ll get to know people as you go along. Also, enjoy the time you have alone. It’s a way to get to know yourself, both personally and professionally.”

If you do want to get to know people, go to meetings and events, Paul advises. “In the beginning, everyone is new, so then your chances are drastically higher for making new friends. Being able to make friends is essential for having a student life that’s memorable. But it’s also important to realise that there’s no point in wanting to be friends with everyone.”

Should you feel homesick, Alexandra has learned that talking to someone from the same country helps. “And if you are sad and lonely, call your family”, Nur concludes. “Or tell your new friends about home. That has always helped me a lot.”