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A warm virtual welcome to Leiden first years

No decorated signs on an overfull Lammermarkt but instead a video meeting that gradually fills up and the inevitable question of ‘Can everyone hear me?’ The 51st EL CID introduction week began online this week, on Wednesday 5 August. Because of the corona measures, most of the programme has been converted to livestreams and video meetings. It will take some getting used to, but the mentors and over 4,000 participants are in good spirits anyway.

EL CID mentors Mirthe and Anne meet the 19 freshers that they will be introducing – virtually – to the city and student life this week.
EL CID mentors Mirthe and Anne meet the 19 freshers that they will be introducing – virtually – to the city and student life this week.

It’s a bit of a squeeze in mentor Anne’s student room, but we just fit in at the right distance from her and fellow mentor Mirthe – who also needs to distance. Anne (21, Medicine) and Mirthe (also 21, Psychology) are mentors for group 185, comprising 19 Korean Studies students. Two laptops are ready and waiting on the table. Anne and Mirthe quickly go through what they are going to do to get to know the group. ‘I’m a bit nervous,’ says Anne.

Online programme

Coronavirus has meant that this year’s EL CID will be very different from previous years. In just a few months, the EL CID board had to come up with a new programme. The biggest change: a large part of the joint activities in the week are now online, from 5 to 7 August. Between 9 and19 August, each group will be allowed to come to Leiden for a day to explore the city and get to know the many associations in town. The programme for this day is corona-proof and the mayor and the Security Region (the Netherlands is divided into 25 regions that are responsible for the safety of their citizens; for Leiden this is Hollands Midden and for The Hague Haaglanden) have given their approval.

Virtual platform 

Almost the entire online programme will be delivered through EL CID’s extensive virtual platform. This will include livestreams of the opening, the Great Student Game Show, the sport block, the faculty morning and the Band Evening on Friday. But there are also videos about all the student associations, practical information about the University and faculties, games to play with your group and an interactive map that gives you the chance to explore Leiden already.

It’s a bit of a squeeze in Anne’s student room (left).
It’s a bit of a squeeze in Anne’s student room (left).

Online chats

One special feature of the EL CID platform is the Match page. When they register for the EL CID platform, first years create a profile with their degree programme and interests. They can then swipe to the left or right to find someone with similar interests. If there is a match, the two can chat together. This makes it possible to get to know people outside your group and maybe even make some friends for life.  

Video meeting with the group

At just after ten, 19 faces peer out from the screen, and Mirthe and Anne can start this online EL CID week. They begin with a round of introductions, just as they would have done ‘in real life’. All of the participants say they are looking forward to meeting each other. They’ll be attending lectures together for the next three years after all. After the introductions, the mentors up the tempo with a game. ‘First person… on-screen with a face mask!’ Mirthe cries. Nineteen people promptly dive out of view in the hunt for a face mask. They also have to track down a pair of scissors and a plant, before Anne takes a photo of the group brandishing the objects. 

Unique EL CID

Then it’s time for the official opening of the 51st EL CID. The mentors keep the video meeting open so that it still feels a bit like attending the opening together. EL CID chair Mirte Haanappel welcomes the new students to the city and explains a bit about this year’s special programme. ‘This will be the most unique EL CID ever, and you are part of that.’ 

‘First person on-screen with a face mask, plant and pair of scissors.’ The mentors manage get the group moving online too.
‘First person on-screen with a face mask, plant and pair of scissors.’ The mentors manage get the group moving online too.

Best days of your lives

Rector Carel Stolker also addresses the students. ‘You’re actually going to have a much more exciting EL CID than all the years that preceded you.’ He then looks ahead to the start of the academic year, on 31 August. ‘We’re going to try to come up with a good combination of online and in-person teaching; what can be in-person will be in-person, but we’ll sometimes have to turn to online alternatives. But rest assured, we’re doing all we can to ensure you first years will get a taste of University life.’ In time-honoured fashion, Mayor Henri Lenferink is also present at the opening. ‘Even though it might feel a bit odd at the moment, I know that you’ll look back on your student days as the best days of your lives.’

EL CID dance

Then music blares through the livestream. Mentors Mirthe and Anne exchange an apprehensive glance: ‘Will we be able to dance in this tiny space?’ But they soon jump up and demonstrate this year’s EL CID dance for their group. Their enthusiasm is contagious, even this early in the morning, and the first years are soon swaying along. Some even start to dance: Minou already discovered the dance on the virtual platform last night and effortlessly joins in the chorus. ‘Now for the rest of you– but don’t worry, we’re going to teach you it this evening,’ says Anne.

Anne and Mirthe demonstrate the annual EL CID dance to their mentor group on the webcam.
Anne and Mirthe demonstrate the annual EL CID dance to their mentor group on the webcam.

Find out about associations

At the end of the official opening Anne and Mirthe wave goodbye to their group before the lunch break, arranging to meet up again at one. ‘Then we want to do a kind of quiz with the Kahoot app, with questions about the city and University as well as about the associations and whether they are interested in them,’ says Mirthe. This year it’s more up to the students themselves to find out about the associations. One option is to use the information on the EL CID platform. On the in-person day you can also register for an individual tour of an association or go to the association market for more information. ‘Unfortunately, we can’t visit associations with the whole group, but hopefully this way will mean that everyone can discover what they like.’

Share enthusiasm

The two mentors have been really looking forward to this week. ‘As a mentor you are decisive for the week and how this group of first years get to know each other and the city. It’s such fun to be able to share your enthusiasm for the city, studying and all that student life has to offer.’ says Anne. Mirthe adds: ‘And it’s satisfying to see people enjoy themselves doing something that you’ve helped organise.’ Admittedly, it is a challenge now most of the programme is online. ‘As mentor the onus is much more on you to take the lead and say “now we’re going to be doing this and now that” or do a quiz, for instance. Otherwise nothing much happens in the video meeting,’ Anne explains. Fortunately, they’ve been able to practise in the mentor training sessions. Mirthe laughs: ‘And we’ve been able to try out a number of games and tricks, and discovered that some things just didn’t work at all!’ After these first few hours the two conclude: ‘It went quite well.’ Which looks promising for the rest of the week!

Text: Marieke Epping
Photos: Rob Dorresteijn

Mentor Anne: ‘It’s such fun to be able to get your enthusiasm across for the city, studying and all that student life has to offer.’
Mentor Anne: ‘It’s such fun to be able to get your enthusiasm across for the city, studying and all that student life has to offer.’
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