‘Long-distance’ socializing: the needs of internationals far from home

Social distancing doesn’t mean people have to face these times alone. But especially internationals are often physically alone in the Netherlands and mostly rely on friends. Friends they can’t meet up with now. So Cursor asked: what do you need (from the university) to make the coming weeks easier for you?

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That the topic is booming, is clear: in no time we had a lot of likes and private messages in Cursor’s inbox after posting the question into the international student team Facebook group. We all dislike this situation and at the same time know we can’t change it, so we have to accept it. But the worries of Dutch people are often a bit different than those of internationals. For now it seems that international have two types of worries and needs: educational-related issues and social challenges.


“Good planning can prevent stress and uncertainty” - Salma Abdelsamie

Cosmos secretary Salma Abdelsamie discussed the topic with many members of the international student association and noticed that the main challange for now seems to be the carrying on with education. Which does not just apply to internationals. Abdelsamie: “Architecture students are still expected to hand-in models, which are normally made in the workshop, regardless of the new restrictions on access. Deadlines are not adjusted (yet).”

“Professors are slow with replying to emails which makes it very difficult to plan your schedule and it ends up being very overwhelming and confusing due to a constant stream of updates on conference calls, etc. There's a lack of organisation structure here. The key point here is that the courses are being organised without any regard to other courses and student obligations. Professors really need to consider planning within appropriate time slots and communicating efficiently when and how online learning will be done rather than just giving one-day and same-day notices. That way, students can actually plan accordingly and not be in a constant state of confusion or stress”, Abdelsamie concludes.


“It takes energy to work in a place not made for working” – Sareh Heydari

Sareh Heydari from Iran, PDEng trainee, is working on her final project at the moment in collaboration with a German company. “I haven’t been to university since last Wednesday. People ask me ‘what is the difference working from home? You have a laptop’ but that’s not all. Normally I wake up, have breakfast, cycle to the university, work there, go to the sports center and go home. That’s a nice schedule that makes me happy. Now everything has to happen at home, in my bedroom, as I live in a shared house. It takes energy to work in a place not made for working. And it gets worse when I constantly worry about the delay that can happen in my project due to less productivity at home and also because I don’t know how I will prototype my design with the university being closed. What could help me is if TU/e can consider an extension period for our final projects. That would relieve my stress a bit.

I normally do a lot of activities every week including some activism. The feeling that now all those hobbies I can’t do anymore, is a real pressure and disappointment. It makes working more difficult if you don’t have those fun things for a balance. If I have stress I normally relieve it by spending time on my hobbies or seeing my friends, which I can’t now. I was thinking of maybe doing voluntary work instead, like in the hospitals, or getting groceries for the elderly. Things like that, if I didn’t have to work now. I want to do something that is important in this situation.


“I really believe in the power of conversation” - Henrique Freire

Henrique Freire, student of the PIXNET program, a combined international master at TU/e and other European universities, has quite some ideas to improve the situation. “I’d like a scheme to be set up where you can see when other people are available for a chat. It really makes a difference for me when I have real communication and can give and receive attention to/from others. I already contacted my family and friends in my home country Brazil, as well as friends in Europe. But I think it would also be nice to be in contact with people from TU/e and maybe even make new friends. I have quite a nice level of Dutch that I can’t practice now, unfortunately because I’m isolated. So that would be a bonus if I could find a person through such a scheme with whom I can speak Dutch as well.”

“I really believe in the power of conversation. Whether it’s chit-chat or something more serious: I like to talk with others. For some around here it might be interesting to talk about their research project with a fellow researcher, for others to use it as a mini language cafe to practice a specific language. I see a lot of options. I have felt lonely before sometimes and this situation doesn’t make that easier but I have always made sure to do interesting things and talk to people. And I meditate and do mindfulness, to stay calm. That’s something we can all easily do from home of course. “We just have to accept the situation. Be calm and wait patiently.”

Other concerns : applying for the master’s program

In the Facebook group some of the replies were more on a humorous note, sharing funny GIFs to have a good laugh, but there were also more serious concerns. Like on applying for the master’s program, which requires a proof of your level of English. Concerns in the group regard the fact that a lot of test centers have been closed in many countries because of the virus. A suggestion made is accepting people conditionally, allowing them to show the proof later when they are here. Or allowing previous theses or papers written in English as proof.

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