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Report — Life is slowly returning to the University of Copenhagen and a number of first-year students can now see each other in real life this week — for some it will be the first time.
Four economics students have clustered together in a courtyard of the CSS campus, the old municipal hospital’s historic buildings next to the botanical gardens in Copenhagen.
They have known each other since they started their studies this winter and ended up in the same study group. But this is the first time they can look each other in the eye without a screen as a filter between them.
The university has been shut down in the months they have been studying, and they have therefore only had meetings on Zoom.
This is, you might say, their first real day at university. But it doesn’t feel like that.
»I actually went to university once before, and I remember how big it was that first day. I was really looking forward to it for a long time. This morning I just packed my bag, hopped on my bike over here, and sat down for my lesson without really talking to anyone beforehand. There was no great welcoming,« says Nicoline Laraignou.
Rose Shirachini, who turned up late for the day’s instruction at the labyrinthine CSS campus because she couldn’t find the classroom, agrees:
»Yes, we have met each other, so there is nothing new in this way. It’s more like normal, everyday life.«
There are still probably a lot of people who are envious of this quartet of students.
They are part of only a select group who at time of writing are allowed to be on campus.
On 6 April, students with functional impairments were given the opportunity to return to the reading rooms, and on 12 April, master’s thesis students.
At the same time, a number of first-year students – i.e. students who have never experienced corona-free student life – have started to receive in-person classroom teaching.
Most students, however, will have to stay in their dorm rooms for the rest of the semester.
The University of Copenhagen has a quota, meaning that a maximum of 30 per cent of students are allowed to be on campus. This quota is allocated to master’s thesis students, first-year students, and students who need access to physical facilities at the university, like laboratories.
At CSS, it is primarily the clusters of first-year students that are the new buzz of life in the yard. They chat, laugh and drink free coffee under big ‘welcome back!’ banners on campus.
The two economics students Carl Simpson and Anders Gotfredsen have each been one of the fortunate ones. While they lean on their bikes they tell us that in the future they will have physical teaching four out of five weekdays.
They appreciate this:
»I mean, I find it hard to get up and get going. Today, we were supposed to be here at quarter past eight, and I was the last one to turn up for a class test. But it is, actually, really cool,« says Carl Simpson.
»It’s awesome,« says Anders Gotfredsen. »It is much more motivating. You really follow the teaching.«
»And people are nice and easy going,« says Carl Simpson. »It’s great to be able to sit with people and compare what you’re doing with others. You have really been sitting there on your own with yourself. We haven’t seen many people, so it’s nice.«
»It’s a bit like meeting them for the first time, again.«
»Yes, it’s a bit like the first day of school.«
At the other end of the old municipal hospital, close to the Sortedam lake, two social science students sit on a bench, lapping up the spring rays of sun while they have a break from classes.
It is their second day back on campus after the long haul of the winter shutdown.
»It has been a bit overwhelming, I think. I found it very socially stimulating yesterday,« says Anna de Crook. »It is, of course nice to be able to go to in-person class, but it is the social part of it that is the most important thing for me.«
»I don’t know,« says Anton Berthelsen.
»It’s great to be back, it’s great to see the others. But most important, I think the academic part of it will be so much easier. It is easier to keep your concentration. The teaching will be more exciting. I have only good things to say about it.«
Back in the yard, the four first-year economics students are pleased that the academics now also have a social aspect:
»I have to hand in an assignment this evening,« says Mads Pedersen. »But we are actually going to meet in-person in the study group Thursday where we have no classes scheduled.«
They may be able to forge closer ties than on Zoom.
»Right now we know each other without knowing each other,« says Nicoline Laraignou.