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Moving to a different country during a pandemic

It’s been quite a while since I sent my last newsletter. And now the ferocious winter winds are storming outside. I’m looking at my screen wondering what to write and why write. Since August, I have been living in the Netherlands and I thought it would be a great ideas to talk a bit about the experience of moving during a pandemic.

The decision and the process

Even before I started my bachelor’s degree, I already wanted to study abroad. I even considered doing my bachelor’s abroad. However, that dream was never accomplished. In 2019, with the push of David, the idea to study abroad reignited. The arguments were the usual: new experiences, different culture, different mentalities, different people. It would be a decision that would forever shape me.

I applied for a few universities: some in the UK πŸ‡¬πŸ‡§, some in Switzerland πŸ‡¨πŸ‡­, one in the Netherlands πŸ‡³πŸ‡±. Switzerland simply rejected me. The UK accepted me. However, due to Brexit I decided it might’ve not been the best idea. I ended up selecting the only university I applied for in the Netherlands: the Eindhoven University of Technology, or TU/e.

For some brief moments after the pandemic erupted, I reconsidered my decision, but ended up choosing to go ahead with the hopes that the situation was going to improve. It didn’t.

The paperwork was slow - I don’t even have my diploma yet -, mainly from the side of my Portuguese university but it ended up being done and ready on time - I had to draw their attention dozens of times πŸ˜…. It was worth it!

The move

With all of that being said, I finished my bachelor’s around July 2020 and I moved in the Netherlands during August. The classes started the 31st of August and I needed to be here at least a week before for some “introduction” activities - more on that later.

Eindhoven train station.

Eindhoven train station.

As soon as I landed and got to the city center, I noticed something different. It felt way… too… normal. The Netherlands didn’t have a lot of restrictions in place regarding Covid. Masks? Except for a few people, they were nowhere to be seen. Everything was open and there was people everywhere, literally. Personally, I did not mind and the situation here has been pretty controlled since then even though the measures have been more restricted since December.

The university

This is going to be a long… long… section. If you don’t feel like reading everything I have to say about my experience with the university so far, please go ahead, I have a summary in the end.

During the last week of August we had our “Master’s Kick-off” week. I think I speak for more people than myself that this week was where we were supposed to meet people, which barely happened.

First of all, 4 out of the 5 days were online and I did not meet anyone there. It was mostly university staff talking about organizational matters and about the university itself. Yes, for 4 days. The schedule would have calls that were supposed to take 2 hours and they would just take 30 minutes. A lot of time was wasted.

The only “offline” day was weird. We were assigned groups. And then suddenly there were different groups for some sort of challenge that we had to solve. TU/e is very connected to the industry - to the extreme sense that it seems that everyone does a thesis/project with a company - so these challenges were given to us by companies, but they didn’t even seem interested.

I understand that the circumstances did not allow for very physical activities. But let’s be honest: any activity where we could simply talk to each other in a more broad group would’ve probably been better. I met some nice - from the few hours we spent together - people that day.

Another issue for me, and for some other friends, is the quartile system, for a few reasons:

  1. there are no breaks between quartiles because those “breaks” are, in fact, exam weeks;
  2. the courses feel too specific and rushed; too much to do and learn in too little time;
  3. really few vacation time when compared to a semester system.

For the most part, professors simply asked us to watch previous years' lectures. Instead of putting the effort to either give live lectures of record new videos, we were left with some 2 years old live lectures with barely audible audio.

Atlas at night.

Atlas at night.

In some courses, we never saw the professors in a live call and I never saw a professor in person. I have 0 offline classes and the feat of ending my master’s without even going to campus for classes is increasing.

With all of that being said, I must say that the facilities are very good! The university has been, for most of the time, open for people that want to reserve rooms or places in the library to study. I have been in some of the buildings quite a few times, namely Atlas and Metaforum and both are incredible.

tl;dr: barely met anyone; all classes online; I prefer the semester system over the quartile system.

Friends, traveling and the Netherlands

One of the most exciting arguments that people think of when studying abroad is the opportunity to travel in the new country and to the nearby countries, as well as meeting new people. Even though there are no strict policies regarding traveling inside the Netherlands, I have chosen not to do so that much.

Since August I’ve only been in two other cities: Rotterdam and Den Bosch. They were both nice travels and I had a good time. I hope that soon we will have less cases and I’ll be able to be more comfortable to travel more around the country.

I’m living in Eindhoven and I don’t know that much about the city. I’ve been in many places inside the city but it doesn’t “click” to me. Maybe it’s because I was already used to Lisbon and the big buildings and now I’m faced with a small city that is historically a collection of villages. Small houses everywhere, barely any tall buildings.

Nonetheless, there are many many many parks you can go to, as well as a forest and many lakes and rivers really close by. If you live close to some natural-kinda-space, I would highly recommend you to go for a stroll there.

I know very few Dutch people. However, despite the recent scandals and riots, I think they are friendly and welcoming for the most part. I don’t have big opinions in the country in general mostly because I haven’t been able to experience it.

Bike ride.

Bike ride.

I’m positive that soon we will be able to start going outside more and see more people on our daily lives.

Is it being worth it?

The pandemic has been the worst part of this whole experience. It simply suffocated almost all the arguments for me to come here. It has been more than four months. I only went back to Portugal for Christmas and I still managed to only get friends with less than a dozen people. Interestingly enough, most of them are internationals and we first met on group chats.

There is a long way to go before we can start living in a more “normal” fashion. I feel positive with the vaccines even though there’s been some unfortunate issues with the production and deliveries for the EU.

So the answer is yes, definitely. Sometimes I ask myself if I wouldn’t be better off in Lisbon in a university that I know surrounded by people that I know. Even though that would’ve been easier, it wouldn’t proportion me with this dystopian life I’m living right now. It’s quite interesting. I have mixed feelings about it but I wouldn’t change the decision.

I wonder the long term effects of this lockdowns and confinements in our health. Not just psychologically - for obvious reasons - but also the fact that the human body is made to be surrounded by others. We’re always in touch with other people, our immune system is always fighting viruses, bacterias and germes we get in touch it everyday. Now, that’s not happening. Is that going to be bad? If so, that would be ironic.

Well, other than that, I am grateful for this experience. It’s just the beginning I hope. There’s still one year and a half more to do and a lot to do. A lot can happen in this short amount of time!

Stay healthy and positive!

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