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Foto: Mella Fuchs

'We want to have a Christmas dinner with all the lonely students'

Mella Fuchs,
24 december 2021 - 10:39
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During Operation Santa, the Erasmus Student Network (ESN) is handing out chocolates to internationals in various student complexes. We walked along in a student complex in Amsterdam-New-West, to see how the internationals are doing during these corona holidays. ‘Everyone is going home, except me. I have no family here. That's very lonely.’

The walk with the motto ‘Don't be chocolonely’ was initiated by ESN, the UvA and the University of Applied Sciences (HvA) to ease the difficult year and to stir up the holiday spirit. Although 2021 was not easy for anyone, international students have an extra hard time. They are far away from home and family, and often rely on their small student rooms.

‘At the beginning of the year a lot of friend groups were made. They support each other a lot’

Martijn Nieland is resident-assistant in a student flat in the Maassluisstraat where mainly internationals live. He is the person to contact when things are broken in student rooms or when students have problems. He is not very busy. In general it is quiet, the students are quite sociable in this building. ‘At the beginning of the year a lot of friend groups were made. They support each other a lot.’ Especially since the corona crisis, more things are organized in the building. ‘Students keep meeting each other, they go for a drink together or sit in the common rooms to watch soccer, Formula 1, or just a movie, or they play Fifa.’


Still, he thinks it's good that Operation Santa is there. ‘Maybe we are missing something, and then it's nice for the students to know that they are being looked after. I think they have enough places to go, but it might be difficult to really take a step like that.’

Foto: Mella Fuchs
Zarah Noorani

Although Martijn is not allowed to bring the chocolate bars to the doors because that would not be coronaproof, a few students come to the mailboxes. Mediastudies student Zarah Noorani (22) says that she does feel lonely around this time of year. ‘Everyone goes home except me. I have no family here. That's very lonely. Facetime can't make up for everything.’


Although she could go home, she would consider it weak of herself to go back home after only four months in the Netherlands. Her family would also wonder why she is coming home already, she thinks. ‘But on the positive side: I am now forced to create a home in a new place and meet new people I feel comfortable with. Actually, you should be able to find a home anywhere.’


Fortunately, Zarah isn't the only one in the building who doesn't go home for Christmas. ‘Surprisingly, there are more! Now the plan is to form a circle of the lonely, connect through our loneliness and have dinner together.’


English Language & Culture student Giogo Costa (20) from Luxembourg does go home for Christmas. That plan was almost cancelled because an on-campus exam was scheduled for December 24, but fortunately – due to student pressure – it was rescheduled. Giogo sometimes feels lonely. ‘It's quite a challenge to make friends here when you're from another country. Sometimes it feels better to stay inside than to go outside.’ He has now lived in the Netherlands for five months and has made some friends. ‘I'm friends with my neighbor, and in this building we have a lot of events, so I don't feel as lonely as I did in the beginning.’

Foto: Mella Fuchs
Giogo Costa

Giogo feels supported by his teachers. ‘I am very fond of them. In the last three weeks, both my grandmothers passed away. I then contacted one of my teachers to talk about it. They have been so supportive that I feel less lonely than I expected.’


Loneliness does pose a problem among international students, Giogo believes. ‘Maybe not as big as I think, but it's really very different when you get home and have no one to talk to. With the corona measures, it's even worse. If I have college until 5 or until 7 I can't even go out for a drink with someone. Making friends is very difficult now.’


Not every international student has a tough time. Communication student Maria Alejandro (19) from Peru came to the Netherlands together with a good friend. ‘We are neighbours. Furthermore, many fellow students live in this building, we have large kitchens where we see each other and there are sometimes parties. Even if you don't feel like running into anyone, you will have to at some point if you have to go to the kitchen. So I don't feel that lonely. Some days I do, but not very much.’


Maria does think that the UvA could do more to prevent international students from being lonely. ‘More social gatherings that people can go to. Maybe a Christmas buffet. And it would also be nice if lecturers were more involved and interacted more with students.’