by Michel Koudijs

The seventh student to share his story is a Facility Management student from the Netherlands who was doing an internship in Brisbane, Australia, when COVID-19 started.

Michel making new friends in Australia. Picture provided by Michel Koudijs.

What’s your personal situation like during this pandemic?

The situation in the Netherlands changed before it did in Australia; there were already lockdowns in the Netherlands while people here were still going out. When they did implement measures, it was done very quickly; in one week everything changed. Initially I worried about whether I should go home or not, but in the end I decided to stay.

The first few weeks were very difficult. There was a lot of uncertainty, and I felt very bored, being stuck at home in self-isolation. My internship did continue, and I could work both from home and in the office, but there was nothing to do in my spare time so it was very boring.

At the beginning of May, they began reducing some of the measures, and the restrictions were lowered even more this past weekend, in mid-May. Before that point, you were only allowed to go outside to get groceries, go to work, or for exercise.

Right now what I’m looking forward to the most is being able to drive to a beach again with some friends, and spend the weekend there, just relaxing and enjoying things.

What has your experience with the university and at your internship been like so far?

Most departments are now working from home. That means I can still work in the office – there is plenty of distance between the desks, and the office is really empty anyway. Working with my colleagues has not changed much. The main difference is that I now cannot travel to other locations where my organisation has offices; I’m stuck in their main office. I cannot travel for work or for fun.

The corona crisis made it really difficult for me to stay motivated. I had my job during the weekdays, but then there was nothing to do. It became hard to motivate myself even to go to work, and really difficult for a while to not feel completely dragged down by the situation. I found my balance again through exercise and reading, but it was definitely difficult.

What also helped was getting into contact with other Dutch students all over Australia. We all had a very similar mindset, and there was a lot of positive energy to help each other through.

Why did you decide to stay in Australia?

When I went here, I had several expectations: I wanted to explore a new country, meet new people, and really live life to the fullest. But when the pandemic hit, most people I had met thus far went back home.

I discussed the situation with a lot of people to get input – my teachers, friends, parents, and people at my internship. My internship could continue, and if I would go back to the Netherlands, I’d have to move back in with my parents, which I did not want. I also felt and feel safer in Australia than in the Netherlands, because the number of corona patients and deaths are much lower here. Australia was not hit nearly as hard as the Netherlands has been. All these discussions and considerations made me decide to stay in Australia.

I have also decided to take a gap-year at the end of my internship, to travel around Australia as a backpacker, which I first intended to do during my internship. I accept that this will cause study delay, but I want to have this experience. I can work in ‘backpacker jobs’ at farms, supermarkets, and so on. I did initially sign up for a repatriating service, but since I’ve taken the decision to take a gap-year, I’ve not checked my status on that anymore.

What was or is the biggest challenge you are facing because of the pandemic, and what is the most positive experience you’ve had because of it?

The biggest challenge was being stuck in Australia on my own; I had only met a few people when the pandemic started, and only knew them very briefly. Many of them left the country, and it was very difficult to feel so stuck and lonely. I definitely felt a lot of stress because of that. Exercise and reading helped me work through that stress and start to feel better again.

The most positive experience is that this challenge helped me find my own strength. I learned to rely on myself more, and find my independence. I also had and have a lot of time for reading. One of my goals this year was to read more, and that has definitely happened. I have been reading a lot recently!

What would you like to say to other students who are preparing for an international experience?

I would say definitely go abroad. It helps your personal development so much, even if you’re abroad during a crisis like this. It is very scary at first to leave your comfort zone, but you discover so much, and get so many opportunities for development and growth.

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