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Archaeology student Grace left a lockdowned Leiden for her home country: ‘We jumped on one of the last remaining tickets’

International Archaeology student Grace Alonzo went back to her home country when the coronavirus situation developed. Now she is living at her parents place in the US, following Leiden lectures remotely, while juggling a tight schedule with a job, and the effect of time difference. ‘I have all my exams at night.’

Studying in Europe

Grace is a first year’s student, arriving in Leiden in September 2019. ‘For a long time, even before I knew what I wanted to study, I had decided that I wanted to study in Europe. When searching on Google for programmes in Archaeology, Leiden University was the first that came up.’ After closer inspection, it turned out to be pretty much what she was looking for.

And studying in Leiden turned out to be a good match. ‘Living in Europe, all the friends I have made, the city of Leiden itself, it all went above and beyond my expectations.’ Studying at University turned out to be something that she had to adapt to. ‘Initially I was hit a bit hard, regarding the level of difficulty and work load. However, at the start of the second semester I was better mentally prepared.’ That was the moment it clicked, and she started scoring better on exams and papers. ‘And then the coronavirus situation struck.’

Grace biking in Leiden before the coronavirus outbreak

Leaving Leiden

At first, Grace did not want to leave Leiden. ‘I was one  of the last ones of my house mates and friends to go back to my home country. I was set on staying because we expected it to all blow over in a couple of months.’ But Grace’s mom worried. ‘Like all moms do.’ When Grace experienced a short bout of sickness in February, Grace’s mother send a parcel with immune system boosting products to Leiden. ‘But due to the developing situation it was delayed. It only arrived after I had left. It is at my house in Leiden right now!’

For Grace did leave in the end. ‘I was preparing for self-isolation in my house situation in Leiden, but my family at some point just bought a plane ticket. It was canceled though.’ It was mid-March, and the lockdown in the Netherlands began. ‘Flights were dwindling, prices were getting higher. Traveling to the US would soon be impossible, so we jumped on one of the last remaining tickets. Three days later, I went home.’

Midnight exams

Now, Grace is not only studying remotely; she is studying, like many international students, from abroad. It was not a smooth transition. ‘In the first weeks, there was some confusion.’ Students as well as teaching staff had to adapt to the changing circumstances. ‘Things are improving though. For instance, I really liked the Landscape Dynamics class I just followed. The professor posted video lectures every week and we discussed them in Kaltura live rooms.’

But aside from the challenges of remote education, Grace had to find a job in the US, as well as take into account for the time difference with the Netherlands. ‘I have had all my exams at 2.00, 4.00, and 6.00 hours in the morning.’ 

Hectic schedule

Her hectic schedule makes studying online more difficult. ‘It hinders my focus a bit. I’m currently also working 40 hours a week to help support my family. They have a company that is not generating income right now.’ The online part, however, is less of an issue. ‘In a different situation, online school wouldn’t be a big problem for me. Though I do learn best when I am in a lecture hall and discussing topics with my friends.’ Grace got experience with online classes in the past. She is now studying at the family’s kitchen table. ‘While I have a desk in my room, my focus is better when there are background sounds, like my siblings and parents talking.’

What is Grace’s strategy in following online education? ‘First thing that pops in my head: keep a schedule! I feel like everyone says that, but it definitely helps. If you have lectures that are recorded, watch them as soon as they are posted. Do not skip watching all the lectures until a week before the exam.’  

Grace's study spot at the kitchen table
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