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  • Annelie Wessels

My semester exchange abroad in the midst of Covid-19

What seemed to be only a shooting star wish, came true much quicker than I anticipated. I never considered studying abroad, but when the opportunity presented itself, I just could not say no. I did all the research, all the administration, filled in numerous forms and did all the planning with a lot of excitement, but never really thought of actually going.

I did a semester exchange in Tilburg, Netherlands. At Tilburg University I took Professional Business Analytical Skills, Supply Chain Dynamics, Statistics and Dutch. The classes itself were not that much different from what I am used to. The students are very interactive and the lecturers were always happy to assist. The timetables changed almost weekly and classes consisted of two periods of 45 minutes each with a 15 minute break in between.

The campus is really pretty with lots of trees, fountains, beautiful lawns and benches. And of course, an uncountable number of bike stands that were always full. Finding a space for your bike is like finding parking in Stellenbosch. Sadly, I did not experience much of campus life, as the university closed middle March and I only attended six weeks’ worth of classes. Luckily, Tilburg University has a orientation programme for international students in the beginning of the semester, so I was able to meet a lot of international students.

My favourite part of my studies (except for the Dutch classes which I absolutely loved) was the Professional Business Analytical Skills where we had to solve a capacity optimisation, together with financial output, for a Dutch company. Although the actual problem did not interest me that much, it was a group project and mostly about your presentation and selling your solution to the client with actual interviews and presentations with and for the firm. I do not think I have ever enjoyed group work as much as I did with that group. There were two Dutch students in my group and two students from Turkey.

I stayed on campus, one kilometre from the university and biked to campus every day. I lived with four other students, two Dutch and two German girls, which I really enjoyed. There was a bus stop one kilometre from our flat and a train station one and a half kilometres away, so transport was quite easily accessible and I could comfortably travel to any city in the Netherlands. Travelling to other countries required a bit more administration, but was also relatively easy.

During the semester, before lockdown started, I managed to visit Brussels and Antwerp in Belgium as well as a few cities in the Netherlands.

Our lockdown was not as strict as others and we called it a “smart lockdown”. We were not allowed to travel, trains only operated at 30% capacity and we were asked to only visit the shops when necessary. We were however allowed to move freely outside our houses. Most shops were closed and large gatherings and groups outside with more than five people were banned. For approximately two months, I was stuck inside my flat. All four my flatmates went home for that time as everything at the university was online.

After two months, I slowly started traveling again with only short day trips and hiking outings in the woods. In July I caught the first student trip after lockdown to Switzerland and we visited the Rhine Falls, Lucerne and Zürich.

After the semester ended, and my lease expired, I went on a 10 day trip with a Greek girl I met in orientation week, to Bratislava (Slovakia), Vienna and Salzburg (Austria), Prague (Czech Republic) and Frankfurt and Cologne (Germany). After my trip I stayed with friends (a Dutch family that lived in my town in South Africa for nine years) until I managed to get a repatriation flight back home.

Some of my highlights were our Switzerland trip as well as visiting Prague and Salzburg. I really enjoyed taking the train everywhere and I thoroughly enjoyed everything being clean, on time and always working. Altogether I visited seven countries, 28 cities in the Netherlands, 10 cities outside of the Netherlands.

During my whole exchange programme I felt like I was living in a dream. An above average dream, I would say. I would go back in a heartbeat.

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