The new-found friends Vaamika and Balázs joined a buddy programme
‘The first meeting is always the hardest’
UKrant will be focusing on the topic of loneliness among students, in the form of articles and videos. Together with HanzeMag, we’ve also organised the unique matching project Friend-o-matic.
Nineteen-year-old Balázs Murguly was the first member of his family to leave home and study abroad. Born and raised in Hungary, he came to Groningen in September, ready to start his bachelor in international business. He drove here with his father, who helped him move into a student flat and then left Balázs to settle in his new place. ‘When he walked out, I thought, shit, I’m really alone now.’
Around the same time, Vaamika Budhiraja (20) left India, also to study international business at the UG. Determined to build a social life here, she joined an Erasmus Student Network (ESN) committee and participated in social activities with other first-year students. But as the corona restrictions soon became harsher, opportunities to meet new people dwindled. ‘Not being able to go to lectures or meet up with people regularly made me feel isolated and lonely at times’, she says.
To help students like Balázs and Vaamika, ESN has set up the Buddy-to-Buddy programme for anyone in Groningen who is looking for new friends. People are matched based on their shared interests and can do all sorts of activities together. Balázs and Vaamika both signed up and were matched with each other.
We could just hang out and talk about random stuff
They agreed to meet for a walk in the Noorderplantsoen and were surprised to discover they had already briefly met before as classmates. ‘Because I saw a familiar face, it didn’t feel awkward to meet Balázs for the first time’, Vaamika says. ‘It was chill; we could just hang out and talk about random stuff.’
During their walk, they found that they had matching personalities and clicked well. ‘Vaamika is talkative, really fun, and has an open personality’, Balázs says. ‘She isn’t shy, which was helpful for me. When I’m with people who are shy themselves, I tend to be more shy as well. But she immediately was really open. Everything came very naturally.’
It was an additional benefit that they were both doing the same bachelor programme. This allowed them to study together, discuss assignments and ask each other questions. It offered a solution to a problem they were both facing: they barely knew anyone from their studies.
‘We don’t have any offline classes at the moment’, Balázs says. ‘That makes it hard to connect to other students, even though we’re all in the same boat.’ Vaamika agrees: ‘Studying and having class together is an easy way to meet new people. You can work with others and make friends at the same time. But that’s tough at the moment.’
Even when they still had classes, early on, it was difficult to make friends, they say. ‘Because of the whole pandemic thing, everybody is just less inclined to hang out after class’, says Balázs.
International student experience
The two students have also bonded over their experiences as first-year internationals. They understand what it’s like to be surrounded by students who only speak Dutch to each other, and how isolated you can sometimes feel in your room. But they can also talk about what’s going on in their home countries.
You can get to know more people through your buddy
Both are glad they participated in the buddy-to-buddy programme. ‘It helps you to meet someone new’, says Vaamika. ‘If it works out, and you become friends, it will allow you to get to know more people through your buddy. That way, you can make all sorts of new connections.’
‘The first meeting is always the hardest part’, says Balázs. ‘But once you start off, and you have a nice time together, it has a good chance to last.’
They think it would be helpful to have on-campus classes again, when the restrictions allow for it. ‘It would be easier to meet others in an educational setting’, says Balázs. ‘Then you can come together in small groups and prepare stuff for the university together.’ And according to Vaamika, ‘more study spots would already be a big improvement’.
But for now, they’re making the best of their situation. ‘When I first came here, I was really scared’, says Vaamika. ‘I didn’t know anybody; I had never been here. The culture is entirely different. But I’m happy I’m here.’ In India, she says, ‘there are many new covid cases every day. Here, I’m safer, I get to be independent, and I have an opportunity to develop myself.’
Balázs has no regrets either. ‘In the beginning, I would never have dreamt that this situation would last this long. But I like where I am now; I enjoy the personal improvement I’m making’, he says. ‘Even though this isn’t ideal with regards to my social life, I know it will get better, and I’m not especially upset about it.’
They have connections with their housemates, and thanks to ESN, with each other. ‘Until the corona measures can be relaxed, the Buddy-to-Buddy programme is a good option’, says Balázs. ‘I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for new friends.’