About the Author
Simon de Laat is a third-year History student who is currently doing a Psychology minor in Leiden. In his free time, he likes to play guitar, play volleyball, drink coffee all day long and try out new craft beers. This is the first year in which he is part of an ACE committee
Going on Exchange during a Pandemic
It was the fall of 2019. Two of my best friends had just left Rotterdam and were having the time of their lives abroad. One of them was traveling all around Taiwan and other parts of East Asia, while the other was living the American dream in the U.S.A. I myself was in my second year, living your typical student life, partying a lot, and studying just enough to comfortably pass my courses. During this period, I received plenty of interesting updates from both Taiwan and the U.S. and I knew that I had to experience such an adventure myself. Full of confidence, I applied for going on exchange, and at the very beginning of 2020, I received an email that confirmed that I would be going to Prague.
Immediately when I received the confirmation, I began planning what I wanted to do during the five months I would be in Prague. As a history student, I was (and still am) interested in the Cold War and I wanted to learn about the Prague Spring of 1968 and do a few courses on the Cold War. I wanted to learn a bit of Russian, learn about the historical heritage of the Czech Republic and do a course on the history of Rock Music. I wanted to explore every corner of the Old Town of Prague and immerse myself in the Czech way of living. I wanted to walk over the Charles Bridge and wander through the Prague Castle.
I also wanted to meet new friends and see people from all over the world. I wanted to try out as many different craft beers as possible and taste all the cereals out there. I wanted to travel through Central Europe and visit many different places in the region. I wanted to go to Brno and see the many different smaller, picturesque Czech towns all throughout the country. I wanted to experience the wonderful cities of Bratislava and Budapest and experience what it was like sitting in a Thermal Bath in the Hungarian Capital. I wanted to experience the Old Town of Krakow and experience the chilliness of Auschwitz. I wanted to live the life that felt right to me.
What is most baffling to me is that all of this was in my head just eighteen months ago. Things that only occurred a few years ago before the pandemic seems like an eternity ago and it is hard to believe that that I will be able to do all those things, given the state the world is in right now. Yet there is light at the end of the tunnel. If there is something that we as students have learned during the pandemic, it is that nothing should be taken for granted and all the little things that make life worth living should be cherished forever.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had my fair share of struggles during this pandemic. Just like any other student, I have spent countless hours behind a laptop following classes and doing all the things that before the pandemic, I was able to do on campus. I’ve had moments when I didn’t know how I would be able to continue to cope with the situation and everything was stressing me out. I’ve had many, many moments where I was sick of all the online socializing and there will still be times where I will feel that way. Just like for anybody else, this year has been a real bummer I wish I could do it all over again, without the pandemic.
But despite all the things that I haven’t been able to do, I have also begun to appreciate the things that I still have even more than before. I appreciate having a best friend for a roommate who has kept me company throughout this pandemic. I appreciate my amazing girlfriend whom I started dating just before the pandemic and who has been there for me all throughout the pandemic. I cherish the little moments that I have with friends far more than before since being able to see them is not as self-evident as it once was. From the moment that playing team sports outside was permitted again, I have enjoyed playing beach volleyball even more than before, simply because even that can be taken away from me in one fell swoop. I realize that I have been lucky, being unlucky, because of all the wonderful people around me
I would still love to on exchange, and I would be devastated if that would be taken away from me for a second time. I also still want to do all of those things that I mentioned before, traveling around the region and immersing in the Czech culture. However, the limits that have been set during the pandemic have taught me to be happier with the little things. Something as little as a chill session with one friend is able to cheer me up more than ever before and when I finally am in Prague, I know that something like a simple card game with a group of new friends will get me excited. As someone who doesn’t like sitting still and wants to continuously explore and see new things, just grabbing the train to Antwerp would be amazing right now.
And therefore, just being able to go to Prague would be enough for me right now. The idea of wandering through the Old Town and following online classes in a student dorm is plenty and anything more is a bonus. Because even though such a long pandemic drains the energy from people, the longer the pandemic goes on, the more exciting the little things get and the less it will take to be satisfied. I used to have such high expectations for exchange, but now, I just want to enjoy myself.