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How EL CID week can go ahead after all

When the government introduced its corona measures, the future of EL CID suddenly looked uncertain. But this annual introduction week will start on 5 August after all. How did the EL CID board pull this off? A glimpse behind the scenes through the eyes of chair Mirte Haanappel.

‘It’s a bit busy here,’ Mirte Haanappel says with some understatement. The 23-year-old chair of the EL CID board takes a seat in a meeting room at Plexus Student Centre for a short interview, one and a half weeks before the annual introduction week will burst into life. A huge amount of work has already been done to ensure everything runs smoothly, but new challenges continue to rear their heads on a daily basis. So the team is working almost non-stop. ‘But fire away. This interview will be a welcome interlude.’

When she joined the EL CID board in September 2019, Haanappel could never have guessed what would happen a year later. Now in the time of corona she has to introduce a record 3,892 first-year students (and counting) to the city, studying and student life. The schedules and roadmaps from previous years became redundant in one fell swoop, and the El Cid team had to scramble to come up with a plan B for the biggest party of the academic year. They look to have succeeded.

Mirte Haanappel

Mix of digital and in-person

The decision was made around two and a half months ago: this year’s EL CID will be a mixture of digital and in-person. From 5 August, the members of the mentor groups will get to know each other online and, as the cherry on the cake, will meet in person in Leiden for a day of city and faculty tours and an introduction to student life. A shared dinner should help seal the nascent friendships.

Time will tell whether this works, says Haanappel. An abridged and partly digital programme can never beat the ‘old’ EL CID week, which is bursting with big parties and fun. The revelry is the ideal way to break the ice and help the somewhat reticent first years form close friendships. Towards the end of the week – often at the Leiden Freshers Festival – friendships are struck up that are sometimes for life. Such mass parties are just not possible in this edition, which is a great shame.

Safety during EL CID

All first-year students will be able to come to Leiden for a day during this year’s EL CID for a personal introduction to their fellow students, the city, their faculty and student life. This will be in small groups over the course of ten days to make sure that town doesn’t get too busy. But it will still take some effort to make sure that everyone observes social distancing, Haanappel admits. ‘We are issuing the mentors with clear instructions, have appointed location managers and will make sure there is enough hand gel and face masks for the crew. We will also reiterate to all participants that they have to keep 1.5 metres away from others and follow the government measures.’

The EL CID crew hopes that the sequence of meeting first online and then in person will compensate to some extent for the lack of mass parties. Haanappel: ‘It’s a very conscious decision to have the first-years get to know each other online. Then that slight awkwardness will have gone before they meet in real life. The group members will already be somewhat acquainted on the day in Leiden, which will make it much easier for them to strike up a friendship. It’s bound to be fun!’

Almost stranded in Tenerife

For a long time it was uncertain whether EL CID would go ahead at all this year. The first doubts arose in March, when the six board members took a plane to Tenerife. They already knew that they would have to work their socks off in the summer, so had decided to take some time out. And where better to brainstorm than in the Canary sun? Two days later the government announced extra measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus and there were rumours about all flights being grounded.

‘It was mayhem at Tenerife airport,’ says Haanappel. ‘Everyone was trying to get home. Our flight on 17 March was cancelled, which was a shock. Fortunately, the same flight was used later to repatriate Dutch citizens, so we could board it after all. But it definitely wasn’t a relaxed holiday.’

The EL CID board’s office

But at that point the board didn’t think that EL CID was in danger. It felt as though that was still an eternity away. By then the disease would have burned itself out or would at least be under control. That didn’t prove to be the case and on 21 April the government announced that all large events would be cancelled until 1 September. That was a huge setback for the hard-working group. Haanappel: ‘To be honest, all six of us have had times when we’ve wondered what made us want to do this at all.’

Luckily, the board was somewhat prepared by then. The six had begun to come up with scenarios in April. They had a programme for if EL CID would go ahead as usual, but had also developed a fully digital scenario for if the pandemic were to continue. They’ve ended up with something in the middle, with a mixture of online and offline. ‘The past months have been a crash course in crisis management,’ says Haanappel. ‘Hectic, but extremely valuable for your personal development.’

Text: Merijn van Nuland
Banner photo: Simone Both (taken before the corona crisis)

Leiden student associations come together on online platform

It’s hard to find out about Leiden student associations this year. But don’t worry: the Leiden associations have recently united on an online platform, which makes it easy to compare them.

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