Report Freedom in Lockdown session 1: how do students experience this time of lockdown?

On March 22 the Faculty of Religion and Theology organised the first session for students to make space for reflection and conversation during this time of lockdown.

04/01/2021 | 3:51 PM

On March 22 the Faculty of Religion and Theology organised an event with and for students to make space for reflection and conversation during this time of lockdown. Despite good news about vaccines, the end of lockdown is not yet in sight. This event aimed to inspire and hearten students in this difficult time, with live music, words of wisdom, and much more.

Sharing experiences of the last year
After lighting a candle, acknowledging how just a little bit of light is needed to defeat the darkness, Mirjam van Praag, president of the Vrije Universiteit, interviewed two students about their experiences of the last year. The students shared how particularly for international students the lack of social contact has been difficult, not being able to socialise and meet fellow students here in Amsterdam. The activities organised by the VU such as online game nights were very much appreciated and has helped a great deal. As all activities take place online – both for work and relaxation – both students experience little distinction between studying and private life. There is a tendency to work more than you normally might, which can have a positive effect on your study outcome but can also have harmful effects on your mental health. Having extra time and slowing down has created the opportunity for students to self-reflect, to pause for a moment and make space for personal development. If there is one lesson to be taken away from the covid crisis, it would be how important it is to put your mental health first. Looking forward, Mirjam van Praag acknowledged how the VU is evolving towards becoming a meeting place: while some lectures may stay online, the VU campus will become a space for working groups, social activities, and studying together. She also sensed that students have become stronger through this experience and will be eager to go out there and make a contribution to society, changing the world for the better. 

Prayers and words of wisdom
Next, Milan Mendez sang a prayer from the Baháʼí-tradition. Myra Koomen shared a few words of wisdom around the recent celebration of Naw-Rúz, which marks the beginning of a new year in the calendar of the Baháʼí. This day follows a month of fasting: a practice we see also in other traditions around this time. Fasting can be conducive to spiritual awareness: reflecting on what is important and being grateful for what we have. Our past year in lockdown can also be seen as a type of fasting, having to give up things we enjoy such as seeing a movie or gathering with friends. Just like the spiritual tradition, lockdown has also created more room for personal reflection, as we heard from the students.

The session ended with conversation in smaller groups, to share our experiences and reflections on this past year and this current lockdown. Also here we heard students sharing their appreciation for slowing down, making space for mental health, and wanting to hold on to that in the future. Moving forward, we need specific attention for international students, organising activities to bring students together.  

Two students from the VU orchestra closed the session with Hungarian folk songs, sending us home with hope and inspiration.

Session 2, with Vinod Subramaniam (Rector Magnificus VU Amsterdam), including words of wisdom for all inspired by Passover and Easter, takes place on April 9th. Register via this form.