Student barometer



Cramming together, going to student parties together, graduating together. Being together is an important part of being a student. And yet, our current society forces students to find alternatives for their lifestyle in the midst of university life. Sometimes that’s hard. STAN sees and hears students and sent the editorial team on the road to conduct some (virtual) research.

Facing the facts

Back in June, the petition ‘give us a voice’ in The Netherlands collected 25.000 signatures in two weeks, all from students stating they didn’t feel heard. Belgian students felt the same. The topic took the media by storm but was forgotten soon after, and student’s wellbeing ended up at the back of the line, overshadowed by all the other news related to the corona virus. Until the start of the academic year. The past few weeks, the spotlights once again shone on students, just not in a good way. “It’s the youth who is spreading the virus!” and “dorm parties, youngsters are so irresponsible”. Granted, dorm parties are out of the question right now and we all have to stick to the rules. But why do students break them? Those who think they’re breaking the rules as merely an act of rebellion, are wrong.

High time for someone to ask: “Hey, how are you guys really holding up?”. Good thing this happened, as some people started to wonder about it. Health institute Sciensano set up a survey asking the Flemish people about mental health and anxiety in times of corona, and turns out: 16-24 years olds belong to the ones who have been hit the hardest by this crisis (source: De Standaard).  Flo Windey, influencer and content creator at radio channel Studio Brussel, asked herself the same question in YouTube video FAQDA #05: How can young people deal with loneliness. On her Instagram story she posed the question ‘Do you feel lonely sometimes?’, and she got an overwhelming amount of reactions. Over half of young people feel lonelier now, than before the crisis. It’s not just a situation of biting the bullet, but a real problem we’re allowed to speak up about. The University of Antwerp is concerned about this issue that so many students are suffering under. That’s why they started Students for Students, where students talk to each other and help one another.

The students behind the numbers

WATWAT was one of the organisations who brought the problem of loneliness among students under the attention. WATWAT kicked off a campaign called donkere gedachten (dark thoughts), where young people who don’t know each other get to talk about how they really feel. Recently, VRT nieuws followed in WATWAT’s footsteps; through short videos giving students a voice about how they feel in these strange times. This way, the students behind the numbers are given a face which others can identify themselves with or find comfort in. In Antwerp there’s also numbers, and there’s faces as well.

Sophie, master student environmental science, answers the question whether she’s sometimes been feeling lonely, without a doubt on her mind: yes. She says that’s she’s someone who worries a lot, something which has only gotten worse since corona started: “Back in March/April, it was still okay. There was nothing to do and everyone had to stay inside. At the start I was very hard on myself and I really stuck to the rules. As the corona measures became les restrictive, I felt increasingly lonely. It felt as if I was the only one who was still following the rules. That’s why, at the end of September, I told myself that I could no longer lock myself in my room. I slowly started seeing people again, and that made me feel a little bit better. But now that measures have become stricter again, it’s once again become a lot harder.





Talk about it

On top of that, Sophie spends all her weeks – and weekends – by herself in her student room. A studio, without roommates. She describes the feeling of loneliness as if you’re locked in a tower: “I have a studio on the fifth floor, from where I can see the Antwerp skyline. On days I feel really alone, it seems I can look at the life in the city, but not take part in it. At times I felt a lot of anxiety and panic at the thought of not being part of my friends’ lives.” Talking about this, really helped Sophie: “I’m able to explain all this so easily because I go to a psychologist of STIP, which really helps me.”

Anton, a master student in sociology, had also been seeing his university’s psychologist since the first lockdown: “I’d never done that before. But during the first lockdown I suddenly got a lot of anxiety. Due to the lack of social contact I was constantly locked up inside my own head, and I was worrying a lot, especially during the exams. That’s why I started talking.” The lack of on-campus classes had a big impact on Anton’s mental wellbeing. “As a senior I barely had classes before the second wave. It would’ve been more bearable if I’d had more class, because then at least there’s some structure. Now you’re all alone, inside.” Remarkable is that Anton says that you can be happy and lonely at the same time: “Those moments of loneliness sometimes overtake me just as I’m the happiest I can be. I’m dancing to this really good son and suddenly I feel like sharing that moment with someone else, but I can’t.”

First time student

Colleges and universities really seem to be going all in when it comes to supporting freshmen. Limke is one of those students: “The change from high school to college was really exciting, but it put me at ease that I’m in a small class group with students I’d already got to know before the start of the academic year.” From the very beginning, Limke had online classes: “They thought up some kind of rotation system, but because of a cyber attack that didn’t happen. I’m having a really hard time with all that online stuff and I really miss the interaction.” Luckily Limke and her classmates find support in each other: “We have a group with everyone who’s in our class where we share things and support each other. In my dorm we have a similar group. Thanks to that, I’ve already met a lot of people. The atmosphere’s also great at my dorm.

Despite her great roommates, Limke sometimes feels lonely: “Throughout the day I’m often alone in my room, so I don’t want to be alone again at night. Then I start worrying about all sorts of things. I also find it really hard to deal with the not-knowing of this entire situation.” She notices that because of this, she loses motivation in school: “I find it very frustrating that I’m getting demotivated for school, because this is truly what I want to do later in life. And yet, last week I even thought about dropping out.” Despite everything, Limke tries to focus on the positives and keep her spirits up through social contact with her roommates: “What really helps is taking the initiative of getting to know your roommates and to go out and do things together, even if it’s just going to the store.”

How can STAN help you?

STAN doesn’t just see you, STAN wants to connect you, bring you in touch with us and each other and drag you through this period. That’s why we give you tips to deal with feelings of depression and loneliness. You can read them in this article, written by editor Eva.

Do you have a pressing need or problem that hasn’t been mentioned? Share it with us. This way we can see how we might be able to help. If you have questions about corona or the influence of the pandemic on your student life, make sure to check our FAQ.