Haruhi Sakaki (Psychology) has been back in Osaka (Japan) for two months now. Yushan Cho (Econometrics) went back to Taiwan at the beginning of May with one of her friends. They look forwarded to coming back for a fresh new start in September. After leaving the Netherlands for Curacao last November and having come back in May, Seajae Sambo (Law and Business Administration) is enjoying studying here after studying at home for six months.

‘There’s no point in staying here’

Yushan Cho
Yushan Cho in Taiwan Image credit: Own Archive

Haruhi Sakaki left Rotterdam two months ago. Besides having some issues with her landlady, online classes tired her. After hanging in there for almost the whole academic year, she felt that “there was no point in staying here.”

Yushan Cho made the same decision for similar reasons at around the same time, going back to Taoyuan (Taiwan) at the beginning of May. Seajae Sambo, who went back to Curaçao in November 2020, found the little-to-no social life under strict lockdown in the Netherlands demotivating for her as a social person. “I lived in Utrecht, where I don’t have any friends nearby. I needed to get away from being inside too much. It’s better back home in Curaçao. We couldn’t party there either, but at least eating in a restaurant was allowed.”

Way back home

Taking a flight was a challenge for Haruhi. Given that the Japanese government was strict on how the covid-test was taken and checking this before boarding, Haruhi took two PCR tests before the flight. “It was stressful.” Haruhi frowns. “The first test I took was not qualified. And I didn’t make it to the second appointment. The third time it finally worked.” After landing in Japan, she was tested again and quarantined in a designated hotel for two weeks.

Saejae and Yushan were relatively luckier. They didn’t encounter significant difficulties regarding the tests, flights and following quarantines.

Time difference and deadlines

Looking back, the three freshmen had different feelings about their lives at home. For Saejae, it was the retreat that she exactly needed. “Before I went back, I wasn’t depressed but already on the edge of it. I got much better at home with family and friends. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be if I were to stay in the Netherlands longer,” she says. But she returned to the Netherlands after six months, because “the time difference made it hard to keep up with the deadlines.”

Haruhi Sakaki
Haruhi Sakaki in Japan Image credit: Own Archive

Yushan shares the same struggles. Besides online classes scheduled as late as 11pm in her time zone, the feeling of disconnected continues. “I and my classmates only meet at online tutorials, or sometimes during study sessions. That’s it. And they are the closest friends I got in my program for the entire year, which is kinda sad.” Yushan sighs. She also found it hard to maintain communication with her professors. “When I had questions, I first turned to Google, then to fellow students, and only then to the professors,” she explains. But “the happy side” was that she could be with her family and more friends at home.

For Haruhi, staying at home felt like a vacation to her, which is, from her point of view, not necessarily the best for studying. “It’s chill. But I felt that my English-speaking skills decreased because I don’t have many chances to speak English outside the online classes.” Haruhi chuckles. “My routine is different from everyone else in the house. And with more distractions, I tend to procrastinate.”

‘I want to go back to Rotterdam’

The difficulties and problems didn’t keep the first-years from staying hopeful. Seajae returned to the Netherlands in April, which was “the right time”, according to her. “I have a goal to achieve as a student,” Seajae says firmly. After being mentally recharged from being surrounded by her support system, she was, once again, motivated to study. And the limited social activities then became an opportunity for her to stay focused. “After coming back to the Netherlands, my grades went up a lot,” she smiles.

Haruhi misses her friends and life here Rotterdam very much. “I stopped checking Instagram stories at some point because I get jealous of my friends’ life here. It also feels weird to study from so far away. If I were in Rotterdam, I could at least go to campus and be in the vibe of students.” She looks forward to a fresh new start after summer, not worrying, even about the seemingly hardest issue, housing. “In the worst-case scenario, I still have my friends’ place to stay at for a while,” Haruhi says, hopeful. “I want to go back to Rotterdam.”

Yushan also wants to come back to Rotterdam in September and turn her online friends into offline friends. Besides the fellow students she met in classes, she met a penpal online and has been exchanging letters and wishes to see him when she’s back. “We actually met once, weeks before I left. I plan to send him a letter from home. I hope to see him again in Rotterdam.”