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Studying abroad during a pandemic

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July 15, 2021

For many students from the LUMC’s academic programmes, studying abroad is an indispensable experience. Doing part of your studies abroad is a special experience, not only because of the sense of adventure of being abroad, also to develop a broader perspective on Life Sciences & Health, a highly international field. So, you can imagine the LUMC’s International Office’s struggle to have to tell students ‘no’ for a study experience abroad in the midst of the corona pandemic. In addition, the many lockdowns worldwide increased the workload dramatically for the International Office. Evelien Hack, Head of the International Office and Sandra van Deursen, senior administrative assistant, share how corona has impacted studying abroad.

About the LUMC’s International Office

The International Office supports incoming and outgoing students, and colleagues with all enquiries surrounding studying abroad, for instance by managing contacts with students and colleagues locally and abroad. The Office helps students arrange an experience abroad during their studies by providing information about the possibilities for internships, clinical rotations, projects and following courses. The Office consults students on housing, visa requests, deadlines and procedures, among others; basically all matters related to a study experience abroad.

A storm was coming

It was hardly surprising that the International Office felt a storm coming when the first lockdowns across the world were announced. “Even before the Netherlands went into lockdown, we already created several lists containing the whereabout of our students abroad”, says Sandra, to which Evelien adds: “The color codes per country changed rapidly and it was essential to get students back to the Netherlands as quickly as possible. This was also the central policy at Leiden University.”

But not only was it crucial to call back over 80 students spread across the world, the pandemic also meant having to disappoint students who were about to embark on their study journey abroad. “It was very difficult to have to tell students that the study abroad experience they prepared for well in advance and eagerly awaited for so long, had to be canceled. Obviously a lot of students tried to find ways to stay anyway, because they didn’t want to see their dream go up in flames. The same goes for students about to leave for their study abroad experience who hoped to be some sort of exception, but that simply wasn’t possible”, says Evelien.

The latter marks an important lesson for both Sandra and Evelien during this hectic period of continually being in touch with students, their personal situation and their stay in countries all over the world, all of which maintaining their own policies and regulations. “We had to be strict. We didn’t do it because it was fun. On the contrary, it broke our hearts having to disappoint students. The reason we’re in this role is to help students realize their dream of studying abroad, but their personal safety came before anything else.” Thankfully the students understood this. “We’ve received messages from many grateful students thanking us for our efforts and involvement in getting them back to the Netherlands”, the colleagues of the International Office mention.

Workload during corona

And even though students were unable to go abroad and foreign student couldn’t come to the LUMC, the workload at the International Office didn’t shrink one bit, quite the opposite. “Due to the uncertainty about what would be possible in the coming semesters, students continued to apply for study abroad possibilities and we frequently communicated with partners abroad, other University Medical Centers and colleagues at the Leiden University about what we could offer students. Unfortunately, we were obliged to continue spreading bad news to students”, say Sandra and Evelien. Moreover, during these strange times, the International Office contributed to solutions for students unable to travel abroad to receive their credits with other activities, such as online education. “Improvising like that went really well. Together with teachers, colleagues from Leiden University and supporting staff we were still able to offer ‘study abroad experiences’ either online or by replacing practical assignments on campus with assignments that could be done at home”, says Evelien.

Takeaways from these unique times

Thus, the corona pandemic has been a tense and hectic experience for both Sandra and Evelien. But it has also been an experience with many positives. Evelien: “The connection and togetherness between us and the colleagues of other faculties of Leiden University and online education are only two of many things we hope to keep post-corona. But the best thing by far is that the number of students who want to go abroad hasn’t changed one bit. The desire to go abroad is so thoroughly instilled in students that even a global health crisis won’t discourage them in pursuing that dream. For many students, internationalization is an essential part of their studies.”

With an expansion of the team with colleagues Marlijn van der Wal and Eoin Hennekam, and the support of Sandra Uiterdijk, the International Office hopes to contribute to the LUMC’s goals for internationalization even further and encourage even more students to embark on study adventures abroad.


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