A summer abroad, but then virtually
For many students, a summer school abroad is a fun and useful way to spend the summer. This year, because of the travel restrictions, many summer schools were held online. There was no less interest from students though. What is it like to study in a different country, but digitally? Or to travel abroad when the other participants haven’t? Three students share their experiences.
Julius Cathalina, Master’s in Computer Science at Leiden University
‘I decided to do a summer school because I think it’s good to learn new things outside your usual curriculum. I chose the Leiden-Brazil Summer School on Data Science in Health and Disease, because I want to tackle complex issues in the life sciences and healthcare by using computational approaches. I learned a lot about different forms of data that can be used to improve research in healthcare and the life sciences in general. Some topics were new to me, while others were more of a refresher. The summers school has definitely given me some fresh ideas that might come in handy for any future research.'
‘It didn’t make much difference to me that the summer school was online. I got lucky with my group: we soon clicked and got along really well together! We definitely had our fair share of social online events. Those provided a great opportunity to not only get to know the other students, but also interact with the lecturers on a more personal level! A lot of the value of summer schools comes from the interactions with other students, especially the ones from other cultural backgrounds. Thankfully, that interaction remained possible even with the education being online, so it was a really worthwhile experience for me.’
Marnix Verhagen, Master’s in Industrial Ecology at Leiden University
‘I’d been looking to gain some experience abroad at another university for some time already, but a six-month exchange didn’t fit my schedule. Then I saw the EUniWell Summer School in Florence, which was going to be in person (between 28 June and 1 July, ed.). I didn’t doubt for a second whether I should go to Florence. It was clear that the summer school would switch to online if the situation were to change. And after all that time online, I was dying for in-person teaching, with a group of other students.
‘Some of the students followed the programme online and others, like me, were in Florence. Alongside the discussions in class on sustainability, the free time in Tuscany was obviously fantastic. Luckily the programme left enough time alongside studying to enjoy the Italian culture with the other students. I’m really glad that I went to Florence and didn’t decide to follow the summer school online. Interaction between the students on campus and those online proved difficult, although they did try by asking questions from the chats in the classes. For the future I would advise the summer school not to combine online and offline teaching, but to choose one or the other.’
Caroline Fernandes, doctoral student in Parasite biology at FIOCRUZ, Brazil
‘I’m currently studying the innate immune response to Chikungunya Virus infection. During the pandemic, I’ve focused on taking courses to improve my knowledge about my research and how to look at my data. Nowadays more and more papers are trying to collate the huge amount of information generated about health science. So the Leiden-Brazil Summer School on Data Science in Health and Disease, which focused on data analysis and public health, fitted my interests perfectly.’
‘For me it was a bonus that the summer school was online – I wouldn’t have been able to participate in person because I don’t have the budget for that. The online education was amazing! We were given good assignments, we met lots of people, I made friends and I had the opportunity to see my research from another perspective. And the online mode had another advantage for me personally. I’m very shy about speaking English, but online I can prepare myself, take a breath and say whatever I want. It’s easier to calm myself down than “in real life”. It’s funny because I’m a natural talker in my own language, but I’ve never had the chance to talk in English in a relaxed chat. The many group assignments helped. I got to meet Julius [interviewed above, ed.] and stopped worrying about being misunderstood in English. I think I can say that there are two Carolines: the one before the summer school and the one after.’