Coronacrisis: International Groningen approach
Edited on08 May 2020
My name is Anastasija Zihareva. I am a former international student from Latvia, currently working within the internationalisation policy projects of Groningen. One of my main project is the cultural agenda for internationals Here & Now in Groningen (www.hereandnow.nl).
The current corona crisis has obviously influenced the way we work and live. And even though it is, of course, too early to assess the full impact it has had on the city of Groningen, it is interesting to have an overview on how the internationals in Groningen have been experiencing the situation so far.
Navigation phase: what is going on?
Starting from the second part of February, the coronavirus situation has been developing dynamically. On March 15 the “intelligent lockdown” was officially introduced in The Netherlands. Universities and public places were closed, only “vital workers” were asked to show up to work, the rest of the country’s population were asked to study, work and entertain from home.
What did it mean for Groningen?
In the first two to three weeks it was important for the parties involved in the internationalisation to make an assessment of the situation and understand:
- How many internationals are still in Groningen?
- What questions do they have?
- How to make sure they understand the situation correctly and follow all the rules?
In the first weeks even we, the cultural event agenda Here & Now, were receiving concerned messages from the local internationals. Most common were:
- “Where can I find what’s going on? How many people are infected/dead? Will the Netherlands go on a full lockdown?”
- “I’ve heard the borders are closed, how can I go back to my country? Will there be special planes arranged by the university?”
- “I have lost my job in a cafe, but I still need to pay my rent, can my landlord kick me out of my student room?”
To address these and other most common questions we were actively forwarding them to the local English newspaper The Northern Times. They, in their turn, were collecting and translating all the relevant links and information channels. These summaries were via all channels accessible (international student associations, social media pages of international-related projects, informal Facebook groups for international students and expats). University of Groningen and Hanze University of Applied Sciences were also actively sharing all the relevant information with their students, parallelly adapting to the digital education process. As a result, two weeks later the ‘active questioning’ has stopped, so we could judge that the internationals have found their source of information and are kept up to date.
Lonely and bored: online culture and new socialisation approaches
After all the practical topics were more or less clear, the city’s internationals remembered about their social and cultural needs:
In response to that the local cultural organisations started to adapt their products to the digital environment, offering a wide spectrum of events and activities accessible from home.
- City Central offering online Dutch practicing sessions and Bookaholics Book Club meetups
- Local theatre group Club Guy & Roni organising dancing, acting and voice Zoom workshops provided by their actors
- Expat network Connect International setting up online yoga mornings and virtual day trips in the province of Groningen, Drenthe and Friesland
Within Here & Now we are collecting all the online activities of such kind within a new category ‘Livestream’. According to the growing social media response and website visits, Groningen internationals are really enjoying these digital ways of staying connected!
The Dutch Liberation Day is traditionally celebrated on May 5. Normally a large festival is taking place in Groningen and other big cities across the country. This year it obviously had to be cancelled. To keep the local international community free and connected, we have decided to organise a livestreamed discussion with diverse internationals about the interpretation of freedom in their lives and cultures. The event was organised considering all the safety measures required and was shared by Hanze University of Applied Sciences University of Groningen, the Liberation Day festival and Here & Now in Groningen. Click here for more information.
It is, of course, not clear how long the current limitations will still be in place, so Groningen is preparing to welcome its new internationals digitally. The city’s marketing organisation together with all parties involved within the internationalisation policy are currently developing a virtual game ‘Become a Virtual Groninger’. Within the game, prospective students can virtually experience the core aspects of studying in the city: living in a student house, going to the lectures, enjoying the sports and cultural activities, getting a full experience of living in Groningen even before they physically arrive here.
To sum up...
We all hope the current corona crisis will end as soon as possible, however we can also conclude that it has intensified international Groningen’s collaboration and motivated us to become an even more digital city.
Submitted by Evite van Winkoop on