20 of 2020: Ragad has become completely fascinated by the wonders of vaccines

Ragad Haj Ali
16 December 2020 |

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.

Ragad Haj Ali is doing her first bachelor in pharmaceutical sciences, but has already been through a lot in her life. “In 2014, I fled to Belgium from Syria, because of the war. After just one year of Dutch lessons I started secondary school. My lessons always took me longer, because I still needed to master the language better.” Meanwhile, she is proud to have the opportunity to study at Ghent University. She remains positive, despite the many challenges. “Higher education has become extra challenging due to the epidemic. However, I try to keep my head up, and to focus on what I’ve already achieved.”

How was 2020 for you?

“A new chapter began for me in 2020: I went on to higher education. This meant that one of my dreams came true. I’m sure that this year has been more challenging than usual for first-year students, due to almost nothing but remote classes. To start with, I saw the benefits: more time to learn. However, it turned out to be harder than I imagined, without the motivation from fellow students in the class.”

Of which accomplishment are you most proud?

“The pandemic has changed my way of thinking tremendously. This year, I really learned to stay positive. This may not always be easy, but it is important. You’ll always encounter a few less good surprises in life. It’s up to you how you deal with them.”


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.

What do you hope for in 2021?

“I’m very optimistic about 2021, but you never know what will happen. It’s a shame that ‘code red’ has now been extended at Ghent University until March, although I do understand how essential that decision is. I hope that we’ll be able to live a normal life again, however long that takes. And that the forthcoming vaccines are effective in putting an end to the crisis – it’s not only about reducing the number of infections. I also hope that all poor countries will receive access to vaccines as well. I think that vaccines and the way they work is incredibly interesting, and it was exciting to follow the news all through the summer. That was one of the reasons why I chose pharmaceutical studies.”

Imagine you could return to 1 January 2020. Would you do something different?

“What a difficult question (laughs). I don’t think so, I’m sure that I did everything within my power. Maybe I would have done more to appreciate close contact. I used to take it for granted. It’s only now that I have to do without it, that I really realise its value. Social media is not enough on its own.”

Who do you most admire at Ghent University?

“The first person that comes to mind is visiting professor and virologist Steven Van Gucht. Thanks to him I have learned lots of the background behind Covid-19, and other epidemics and viruses. I have discovered some amazing people from Ghent University on television and on the internet. It makes me feel really privileged and proud to be a member of Ghent University myself.”

Ragad Haj Ali

What do you wish other people at Ghent University in 2021?

“I hope that we all emerge from this dark tunnel, however long it may be. It has been a difficult year, but we must never give up hope. The pandemic has had a major impact on many people’s mental health, mine included. I feel guilty when I take a break, because I want to make the most of every moment. Hopefully the pressure this year will only make us all stronger in 2021.”


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.

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