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.
Liessa Engels has been a counsellor at Ghent University for two years. She is there to help students and those who are choosing a course. Fortunately they are finding their way to the online alternatives that Liessa and her colleagues have established this year.
How was 2020 for you?
“It’s been a crazy year, you know. A true test of collective resilience. Like so many others, I had to find my way in dealing with the restrictions of our freedom. What I did enjoy was the compulsory slower pace in daily life. The alarm clock that didn’t wake me up with the birds, the many moments together with my daughter, although it was sometimes a real challenge. It gave me a new sense of what’s really important, of the essence of togetherness.”
Who do you most admire at Ghent University?
“For me, that would be the students. We expect so much of them: following classes all day behind the computer, without being able to go out for a drink with friends afterwards. That is not be underestimated. Especially when your time as a student is usually a period of such freedom. We are currently putting so much on hold, while there’s no sign of freedom or frivolity. I admire them for keeping it up. Having said that, we are receiving many indications from students that they are no longer ok.”
What did you personally achieve this year?
“In fact, I think it’s quite an achievement just to survived the year (laughs). I think that it’s been so bizarre and brutal that it doesn’t need to be the year of the big achievements. There were moments during the first lockdown when I sat on my knees assembling a train set for my toddler, while trying to follow a Teams meeting. I am just delighted to have survived such things.”
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 am proud of the online transition that we’ve made. My colleagues sometimes jokingly call me 'Anuna', because I consider the paper mountain that we produce each year and search for effective digital alternatives. Despite the challenges, I think that what we have meanwhile managed to organise online is a real achievement. It has been successful. For example, we organised online events for those choosing a course, where more pupils participated than in the normal physical event.”
What will you carry over to 2021?
“The slower pace of daily life which brings us back to the essence: being together with the people you love. I’m quite happy to continue working from home more often, but not that much (laughs). A good balance between focused work at home and regular contact with colleagues in the workplace. And I would like to hold on to some of our online initiatives, because, for some students, they make it easier to come and talk to us.”
What do you hope for in 2021?
“I hope that I can lose the sense of unease that I currently feel when I come into close proximity with other people. I even experience it when I watch a film where lots of people are in the same room. It would be that we’re able to keep less of a physical distance. That we can just potter around outside and see where we end up. That, once again, we can go out to a restaurant, the cinema, a play, or enjoy a concert ... The first thing I’ll do is to go out for a good meal (laughs). And stay late at the pub, watching the evening become night, without having to consider the curfew.”
Imagine you could return to 1 January 2020. What would you do?
“I thought it was quite enough to experience 2020 once, so I’d really rather not (laughs). If I did go back to 1 January 2020, then I’d spend the day really going for it. Doing everything that is now forbidden. That’s probably not the right answer, as it’s such behaviour that got us into this situation in the first place, but even so …”
What do you wish other people at Ghent University in 2021?
“That they keep that open mind and creativity that we needed this year to find alternative solutions. More than ever, we were forced to think out of the box and stray from the well-trodden path. I am really delighted to see the initiatives that have emerged because of that. That includes the students, who have organised all kinds of initiatives to support one another. It’s so lovely to see that they are there for each other.”
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.