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Stranded: students and PhD candidates affected by the corona crisis

The travel ban and closed borders have had a big impact on our students and staff. Some are stranded abroad, while others are stranded here in the Netherlands. Others again have returned early to their home country. Three personal stories from Wuhan, Leiden and The Hague.

Stuck in Wuhan

Alarming reports of a new virus began to emerge from China at the beginning of January. Several Leiden PhD candidates and students would soon be directly affected. China went into lockdown and public life came to an abrupt halt. Danyi Liu, a PhD candidate at the Leiden Institute of Advanced Computer Science, is still stranded in China. She had returned to her former home of Wuhan, where her family still lives, to celebrate Chinese New Year. Soon after she arrived, coronavirus struck and Wuhan was hermetically sealed. Although Liu is not infected, she has now spent over two months inside her mother’s home. In an email she says that given the circumstances she is doing well. ‘At the beginning, I was really desperate and stressed, but I’m feeling a lot better now. We have enough to eat and just have to wait and see what happens.’

Still from NOS news broadcast, just before lockdown in Wuhan. Liu didn’t want to be pictured herself.

Research delayed

The compulsory quarantine has delayed Liu’s PhD research. ‘I discussed it with my supervisor and am continuing my research from home. But to complete my research, I have to carry out more experiments in Leiden.’ China plans to end the lockdown in Wuhan on 8 April and Liu hopes she will be able to return to Leiden after that. ‘But I may have to stay in China for longer if the corona situation worsens in the Netherlands.’ She is trying to use her time indoors as wisely as possible: ‘I'm even learning Dutch here.’ Fortunately, the end of her quarantine is now in sight.

Rosalynn Hoogeveen. Photo by Melissa Schriek

Period of study in Japan cancelled

Rosalyn Hoogeveen is studying for a bachelor’s degree in Japanese Studies. She should now be spending three months in Japan but instead is still here in the Netherlands. She is extremely disappointed. ‘The stay in Japan was one of the main reasons why I chose this programme and I’ve spent the past one and a half years working my socks off for this.’ She and 60 other students were supposed to be following an intensive programme at Okayama University that would rapidly improve their Japanese and help them get to know the country properly.

Students have many questions

Hoogeveen understands the decision to cancel the trip, but she and other students still have many questions. ‘Can the trip go ahead at another time? What is the alternative for the coming months? How will we be compensated?’ The degree programme is looking into whether the group will be able to travel to Japan at another time, once the risk is over. It is also working on an alternative programme for at home, as are many other language programmes with a period of study abroad. Hoogeveen understands that there isn’t a ready-made solution, but says this is causing a lot of uncertainty.

Switching to online teaching

All students are now following online lessons. That was a bit chaotic to begin with but is now improving, says Hoogeveen. ‘My first joint lesson via video chat went quite well. The lecturer had clearly done lots of preparation and knew how it all works, which was nice. I still have to get used to it all.’ She can’t see how she will be able to learn the finer points of Japanese online, let alone everyday conversation. ‘I hope our trip will be able to go ahead at a later date.’ 


What is helping her in these difficult times? Luckily, she has a whole list: ‘Dressing as if I’m going to university, so not loafing around in pyjamas; drinking coffee with my parents; chatting with friends, above all about things that aren’t related to corona; setting one study-related goal per day, such as doing homework, and then doing fun things alongside that, such as gaming with my brother and taking the dog for a walk.’

Konrád Ferenczy

Stay in The Hague or return to Budapest?

Hungarian student Konrád Ferenczy is studying Public Administration in The Hague. How is he doing? ‘I’m calm but I’m finding the situation very hard. It’s a real emotional drain. My social life is very limited now and doing things with others is what usually gives me energy. Luckily, I’m in having a lot of contact with my friends online.’ Over the past few weeks, Ferenczy has been wondering whether to return to Hungary, where the number of confirmed corona cases has been fairly low thus far. His parents have told him he should return. He initially wanted to stay, but after much humming and hawing he has just reached a decision: he will return to Budapest and finish his studies there.

Konrád (second from left) with his Orientation Week Leiden board back in the days when the members could still meet in person.

Orientation Week Leiden

How has Ferenczy been these past few weeks? ‘My master’s programme in the Netherlands only takes one year, which is why I didn’t want to return early at first. What is more, I’m on the board of Orientation Week Leiden, the introduction week for international students. It’s now a question of what we can still organise, but I still feel very involved with OWL and get on really well with the other board members.’

Noisy flat in Laakkwartier 

Ferenczy is sharing a flat with two others in the usually very lively Laakkwartier neighbourhood in The Hague. ‘I was scared of a lockdown because it’s a small flat.’ The three housemates have converted their sitting room into a study area. ‘I really have to do my best to focus. The residents of the entire block of flats are all at home now, which makes it much noisier.’ Over the past few days he was able to stay with his boyfriend. The online teaching went much better now he had found a quiet place to study. But given the turbulent developments, Ferenczy would prefer to return to Budapest while it is still possible to travel. ‘As I won’t have any obligations or social activities, I would rather spend this emotionally difficult time with my loved ones at home instead of alone in quarantine in my flat in The Hague.’

If you are here on an exchange as an international student and have any questions, please contact your exchange coordinator. If you are feeling anxious, stressed or alone in these difficult times, you can contact the ‘Listening Phone’, which has been set up by Student Support Services. Call 071 527 1132 or send an email to studentsupport@leidenuniv.nl and they will call you back. The Listening Phone is available from Monday to Friday from 9:00 to 17:00.

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