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Returning Home: an International Student's Experience

Date:25 March 2020
Our attempt at a social distancing selfie
Our attempt at a social distancing selfie

The past twelve days have felt like a whirlwind for me. So much has changed in such little time. On Thursday, March 12th, I was walking through the halls of the Harmonie Complex following my normal life. Fast forward to today, and I’m back in my home country, more than 9000 kilometers away from Groningen.

For us international students, a crisis like this can be extra tough as there are simply too many things to take into consideration if you’re away from home. What happens if you get sick? Would I be safer in the Netherlands or in my own home country? Is it safe to travel? If I leave, will I be able to return?

I recently made the very difficult choice of travelling back to my home country, Costa Rica. Here is my experience:

Why I decided to leave:

As soon as the Netherlands had its first corona case, I told my parents I wanted to return back home. Of course, it was mostly as a joke then. Returning home always seemed like a last resort in my head and in fact, up until the 18th, my plan was still to stay in Groningen. The main reason why I returned was because my parents wanted us to be together as a family during these confusing times. I thought about this decision a lot, but with the fear of borders potentially closing, I had to act quickly. I knew I would be absolutely safe and sane if I stayed in Groningen, but the thought of returning to a comforting environment won me over. 

Oh my God, I’m leaving. Now what?

Before even buying a flight back home, the first thing I did was contact my study advisor and she recommended that I email all my lecturers to make them aware of the situation. I made sure that my travels would not conflict with any of my deadlines, and packed all of my study supplies. Next, I went on the hunt for what I felt were the essentials: gloves and hand sanitizer. These are currently scarce in Groningen, so here’s a good tip: ask around to see if your friends have some! Luckily, Danique (you know her from our blogs) was kind enough to give me some gloves. However, there was one thing I had completely forgotten about: what if I can’t travel back to the Netherlands for a long time once I leave? That’s probably one of the biggest questions in any international student’s mind. I called the Costa Rican Embassy in the Netherlands in order to verify. Once that was done, I was ready to leave.

What if I get infected while traveling?

I won’t lie, this question had me panicking for a good while. The truth is, there will always be a risk. All I could do was try to minimize that risk as much as possible, so I followed all of the precautionary measures as if my life depended on it (and it technically did). Wash your hands often and don’t touch your face! On the train, I made sure to avoid any contact with any surfaces as much as possible; I sanitized regularly and avoided sitting close to other people. Next was the airport, and Schiphol was a mess. Only four counters were open for baggage drop-off, so the lines were pretty long, and no one seemed to respect the 1.5m distance. If I could give any advice to anyone: get there early, sanitize, and wear gloves! Luckily, my flight was pretty empty, and everyone travelling was following the precautionary measures as well.

Arriving home, a new experience:

At the immigration post in Costa Rica, I was greeted with an isolation warrant. Everyone who arrives here now is required (by law) to remain in quarantine for 14 days. Breaching this could mean up to 3 years in prison, so that was super scary to begin with. My parents were extra careful with my arrival. We avoided any physical contact until I had changed my clothes and taken a shower. I’m used to being greeted with warm hugs and excitement from family and friends at the airport, so the coldness of this return made me quite sad. Now at home, I have chosen to use separate plates, cups, and cutlery as well as having a separate sponge for cleaning the dishes. This is not one of the formal advisories but my mom is a germaphobe and wants to go the extra mile, just to have peace of mind. My parents and I also try to avoid physical contact when possible as, to be honest, one of my biggest concerns was being a potential risk to them, so I gladly do all of this in order to put everyone’s safety first. We disinfect everything regularly, and wash our hands often. We even made some cute sanitizing stations around the house!

Being home is not a vacation:

Returning home is just as confusing as if I had stayed in Groningen - even more so, I would say. The tropical weather and the comfort of my home sometimes make me forget that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. I did not travel home for vacation this time, I travelled home for safety and family reasons. It’s stressful, I won’t lie. I have been very adamant with myself in creating a routine. Now that I am on a seven-hour time difference, I need to make sure that I still hand in all of my assignments and exams on time. This means sacrificing a normal schedule, and waking up at 3 or 4am every day. Also, I have to put extra effort into staying focused, as it’s extremely easy to get distracted by these confusing changes happening around us. Being home makes me incredibly happy, but it also raises its challenges that I am learning to deal with day by day.

Do I miss Groningen? Absolutely. I miss my roommate, my house, my friends, and I also miss my normal sleep schedule! However, I am also absolutely grateful that I had the opportunity to travel back home and stay safe with my family.

Deciding whether or not to return home is a tough choice for any international student. We need to understand the extremely serious situation that we are all in, and weigh up our options sensibly. It’s never going to be easy, and just like for everyone else, new challenges will arise every day. However, whatever you decide, know that you are not alone in this! Study advisors will always be there to help guide you. If you have any concerns, you can contact your Study Advisor, the UG's Confidential Advisor (Marjolein Renker, on 050 363 5435 or email m.h.j.renker or the Student Service Centre (SSC) by appointment at 

Stay home (whether in Groningen or home, home) and stay safe!

About the author

Hey! I’m Ariana and I’m a Costa Rican student with a passion for photography, dancing, and cute dogs. Aside from writing blogs, I’m doing my Bachelor’s in Media Studies. If you see me around smiling at my phone, I’m probably looking at memes (or cute dogs).


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