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Student Ivana Nagtegaal's coronavirus year: 'We can be proud of ourselves'

In mid-March 2020, the global coronavirus outbreak changed everything in the Netherlands. Staying at home as much as possible and the 1.5 metre rule became the standard. One year on, we reflect on the past year with four Leiden Law School ‘insiders’. What kind of year did they have? And what are their thoughts on the future? This week: criminology student Ivana Nagtegaal.

Ivana Nagtegaal

One big rollercoaster. That’s how Ivana (22) describes this past year. ‘From one day to the next we were told that the University was closing. Especially that first period was very hard mentally because we had no idea what to expect. The period between the University closing and the start of online teaching was really very tough.’

The new reality was an end to interactive lectures, and having to stare at a screen for 1.5 hours. ‘That was the biggest change. I found (and still find) it very difficult to concentrate looking at a screen for that long. You take in less information than when you attend a lecture in a physical setting. As the academic year progressed, adjustments were made so that lectures were shorter and more frequent so that we could concentrate better. That worked fine. As the year progressed, it was clear the University was better at setting up online teaching.’


The progression in her studies is not very different to before Covid, but Ivana has noticed that she has needed to make certain changes. ‘Students were used to a certain system for examinations and this suddenly changed to being open book and take-home exams. In the beginning I was unsure about what was expected of me. Insight was suddenly tested far more, whereas normally reproduction and applying knowledge would have been a big part of an exam.’

Those changes took a lot of energy. ‘In the beginning I was often mentally exhausted because of that. Luckily, I’ve always had good discipline and I really needed it now. Because you don’t physically have to go to lectures and tutorials, it sometimes feels like there’s less pressure to study. But by sticking to a routine during the week, the weeks do somehow feel like normal study weeks.’

'Those small things are what makes the days a bit more fun!''

It is still not clear what the future will hold with the coronavirus and all the measures. But Ivana is looking ahead positively. ‘This period is offering us a new perspective and making us more conscious of how resilient people are, and certainly students. And we can definitely be proud of how we have coped in these difficult times. When we get back to the “new normal” and I’m back sitting in a lecture hall thinking “wow, this is tough”, then I will think back to this Covid year and how I still manged to get through it. Then I’ll know that I can get through anything, even learning something really difficult.’

So be extra kind to yourself. That’s the advice Ivana would like to give her fellow students. ‘Accept that these are bizarre times, so if you have to get up early to switch on your laptop to go to a breakout room, have an extra cup of coffee with some chocolate, spend an afternoon at the beach or cook your favourite dish. These small things are what makes the days a bit more fun and easier to get through, and you’ve definitely earned it!’

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