ResearchNed research shows that while online learning has little impact on students’ grades, it does have an impact on their motivation and mental health. The research agency, commissioned by the ISO student organisation, asked 11,500 students at universities and universities of applied sciences for their opinions on online learning during the corona crisis. The students reported that the most difficult aspect of online learning is the loneliness that it brings. More than 30% of the respondents said that they often feel lonely, have issues with motivation and find it hard to concentrate.
Twice last year, half way through and at the end of last year, TU Delft carried out a survey among TU Delft students. Strikingly, international students rated the quality of life a fair bit lower than Dutch students: 5.5 compared to 6.1. International students said that they felt lonelier too. Delta asked three TU Delft international students how they are faring.
‘Keep talking to the people around you’
Mechanical Engineering student Dhruv Gulhar is very aware that he functions best in a team. That is out of the question for him at the moment though. He has already spent a few months working on an individual graduation project and has little contact with his supervisor. “However good the supervision is, I need more input. I need to exchange ideas with fellow students. This used to happen as a matter of course when you stood around in a group after class. But not anymore. You do not just phone up a fellow student and start talking about your project.”
He has no online classes nor exams anymore. He only has deadlines for his graduation project. These dates are far away. “I am well underway, but the first couple of months of the crisis in particular were difficult. It was hard not to put things off.” Motivation is still a challenge. Before the corona crisis he had an outlet in football at the weekend. “Now there is no reward for having worked hard all week. There is no football, you don’t meet your friends in the bar, you hardly meet up anymore.”
He is now trying to find other ways to reward himself, such as enjoying a good meal after a day’s work. “But that is a temporary measure too. In a while, your brains will tell you that you’re fooling yourself.”
He has managed to gather a wonderful group of friends and acquaintances in Delft. However, this is hard for new students, as he knows. As a former Board Member of BEST Delft, he knows and talks to a lot of people. “I recently spoke to a student that only came to the Netherlands in September. She does not even know where her faculty is as she has never been there. It is hard to meet new people under these circumstances.”
Dhruv wants to encourage students to keep talking. “I see it myself that it is important that you share your story with someone once in a while.” If it is not with friends, then with a professional person such as a psychologist. He thinks it would be a good idea if the student psychologists at TU Delft proactively get in touch with students. One way to do this would be to send an email to all the students. “They could say that they are there for you and how you can contact them. A short chat with someone like that can help you enormously, but if you do not know that they are there, you will not think about contacting them.”
‘Every day is the same’
On a scale of one to 10, how are things with student Florian Wilkesmann? “A five,” he answers. He recently started living with his girlfriend in an apartment. It is small, but it does have three floors. Compared to others, he thinks he is lucky. The Transport, Infrastructure and Logistics master student says that “It is lovely living with my girlfriend, although sitting at home all day is not really motivating. When I still lived in a student room, I felt so constricted.”
There were hardly any exams and classes on the programme this semester. Florian’s degree programme mainly consisted of group projects and this made it hard for him to develop a routine. “I know that what works for me is having a nine to five routine. Though I want a routine like this, it is easier said than done. I do not have regular meetings or classes around which to arrange my days.” To keep up a routine and his motivation going, Florian is now making long to-do lists. He breaks up the big tasks into little ones.
For Florian, the corona crisis is causing the days to merge into one big indistinguishable fog. “There is no division between work and weekend, no division between day and night. It is stressful. It is already hard for students to turn ‘off’ their study in their heads. Now this is impossible.”
Florian tries to go for walks with a friend. He only sees other TU Delft students online and this is not the same as seeing them in person. “It is hard to have a real conversation online.”
He will start writing his master thesis soon. He is wondering if he even wants to live in Delft then. “A master thesis in my subject means hours at the computer. I can do this just as well from my parents’ house. It is not only cheaper to live with them, but I have more space there. I hear many international students struggling with this same question. It would be good if TU Delft would take a clear position on this.”
‘I don’t know one single teacher or student’
Given his high grades in India, Aerospace Engineering master student Mayukh Sarkar could choose from several international universities. He could have gone to the United States or to the United Kingdom, but he chose TU Delft. “Last August, it looked like the Netherlands would be the quickest to have the corona crisis under control and I thought that I would have the best college experience there.”
However, now he sits at his laptop in his student room in Delft all day. Even worse, Mayukh has not had one single lesson on campus. This means that he sees very few people. “I do not know one single classmate and I only see the initials of my professors. I do not know them and they do not know me.”
And this, while that college experience was the most important reason for Mayukh to go abroad. “For me, studying is more than just getting a piece of paper. It is going to campus, making new friends, chatting with classmates, seeing your teachers.” In fact, everything that happens outside the classroom. “I am hugely sociable and I was really looking forward to diving into a new life here.”
Mayukh was ambitious when he started at TU Delft. Now, however, he is finding it harder to stay motivated. “You normally see students around you studying, and on campus you are constantly reminded why you are there. But if you have to sit in your room all the time, there are no positive stimuli anymore.”
What would be a solution for him? “More days on campus,” he says resolutely. His former study mates in India, most of whom ended up in the United States, have a small number of classes on campus. Corona proof of course. He wonders why this cannot be done in the Netherlands. “I would then have a lot of positive stimuli from my classmates, the surroundings and the teachers.”
Do you need help?
- You can reach the TU Delft student psychologists at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. There is an 8 to 10 week waiting list, but there is also a daily walk-in hour.
- TU Delft’s psychologists have published some tips and tools for studying during the corona crisis. For example, there’s a web page on recognising psychological problems.
- Motiv organises support groups and individual consultation. They also have a student support line: 015 2006060. You can also call Victims Support Netherlands: 0900-0101.
- Is there a suicide risk? Mostly, 113 Suicide prevention can offer help in English.
- Are you worried about someone else? Please contact ‘Meldpunt Bezorgd’. You can call their number 0900 040 040 5. Or visit their website (in Dutch) for more information. This service is meant for people living in Delft. Does the person you are worried about not live in Delft? Please contact the general practitioner, 112 or 113 depending on the situation. In case of a crisis please always contact 112.
Marjolein van der Veldt/ Annebelle de Bruijn