We are nearing the end of this strange and special year, 2020. Time to reflect on the status quo. 20 people with links to Ghent University were selected at random. They tell us what 2020 meant to them, what they will carry over to next year and above all: what they hope for in 2021.
For the last two years, Annelies Van Isacker has been a job coach at Divergent, an organisation within Ghent University which helps to guide people with their reintegration in the workplace.
What did 2020 mean to you?
“Corona, of course (laughs). What struck me was how it felt to experience a sense of threat. I felt something over which I had no control. I notice how much our society struggles with such a threat. I never really felt afraid, and fortunately, I only suffered a short bout of paranoia. I’ve heard my godmother talk about the war, and it seems quite similar to what we’re now experiencing as a society. People from Ghent University want to know exactly what’s going on. We’re not used to not knowing. Other than a ‘cuddle contact’ we have had no one to visit since March. It’s becoming quite a strain. When I see friends I usually give them a kiss and a cuddle. I miss that so much. A little gesture like that gives you such energy, don’t you think? That’s the first thing I’ll do once I’m vaccinated, hand out cuddles ‘à volonté’ (laughs).”
Who do you most admire at Ghent University?
“For me, it’s the first-year students. The launch of the academic year and their new life was really a false start, despite all the university’s efforts. This should be a time to explore the world. I remember that I made friends for life during my first candidacy. We did crazy things, went to the lessons together, shared notes, stayed over at each other’s place, ... There’s none of that now. I feel such compassion. At the same time, I admire their guts to embark on the next step in their lives under these circumstances.”
What did you personally achieve this year?
“I am proud to be the reintegration and return coach for people who have been off sick for a long period, had an accident or recovered from cancer. Before doing this, I spent one year combining my job with training one day a week. I still need to do the exam, because it was naturally postponed. It has enhanced my professional career. I’m delighted that I now have the expertise required to give people better assistance.”
Last year was like no other, but it was also filled with warmth. We supported each other and shared in each other’s ups and downs. Now this is your chance to thank everyone who was there for you. Not in the usual way, but with a virtual projection of your best wishes onto the Book Tower.
Of which accomplishment are you most proud?
“I have not really achieved any great accomplishments. It was a year that ticked over, without any particular highs or lows. Most of all, I’m pleased that I can do the coaching I mentioned. Every person who is happy with my help to return to work gives me a great feeling.”
What will you carry over to 2021?
“I hope that people continue to take care of each other. We’ve seen how important it is to think of others. It would be a shame to lose that sense of ‘we’ once we return to our hectic lives. If I take something positive from this year it’s the fact I have realised just how important the people around me are.”
What do you hope for in 2021?
“I hope we have a year of recovery and healing. The past year will have left its mark on many people. Many people have been very lonely and need to be restored. I hope we’ll give each other the time to recover from what has been a pretty traumatic experience. Personally, I hope that my children in secondary school have not lagged too far behind, because remote education has not been an easy process for us. Hopefully the necessary measures will be taken to catch up on again.”
Imagine you could return to 1 January 2020. What would you do?
“Nothing. I wouldn’t want to look in a crystal ball and know what was coming. On 1 January I was with my family, celebrating the New Year and it was a very happy moment for me. I wouldn’t want to ruin it by being afraid.”
What do you wish others in 2021?
“A new start with new opportunities. The courage to hang in there, and above all: plenty of cuddles (laughs).”
20 people with links to Ghent University were selected at random. They tell us what 2020 meant to them, what they will carry over to next year and above all: what they hope for in 2021.
20 of 2020: Miglena wrote a compilation of poems, which will soon be published
Miglena Dikova-Milanova teaches Bulgarian in the faculty of Language and Literature at Ghent University. She has Bulgarian roots, but has been living in Belgium since the 1990’s. “I have rediscovered nature and myself during this period.”
20 of 2020: Alex received a smartphone from his children
Alex Verhegge graduated from Ghent University in 1969 with a law degree. He launched his career as a lawyer and later combined this with an assistantship at the university. He then became a magistrate, and was ultimately employed at the prosecutor general’s office in the appeal court in Brussels, where he was forced to retire this year.
20 of 2020: Ko began writing letters to friends and family
Ko Delforge is in her last year of secondary school. She used the extra time that was suddenly available for all kinds of creative projects. However, she struggled with the lack of social contact. She compensated by writing lots of letters to friends and family. Little pleasures in a strange year.
20 of 2020: Lennert dreams of a carefree summer full of parties
Lennert Camp is in his third year of a bachelor’s degree in Dutch-Swedish. He was always going to study Swedish, he says, as not does he like Ikea, but also because he particularly appreciates Sweden, which he discovered while travelling. He thinks the whole country is cool!