After more than a year of lockdowns and bans on get-togethers, sometimes a student can’t help reverting to type. Almost every weekend, students party and dance the night away, ignoring the curfew. ‘A dozen people getting together is pretty normal these days.’
All names in this article have been changed for obvious reasons.
‘The change was very gradual. In the first few months, everyone kept strictly to the rules,’ stresses Lucia, who graduated last year. ‘At a certain point, I guess around New Year, people started getting together more often in bigger groups. Someone invites some friends round, puts on some music and before you know it everyone is dancing. Not like the student parties of old with packed living rooms — it’s more intimate now. You might have 20 or 30 people at most. But small parties like that have become a real habit. It’s common knowledge that there are parties nearly every week.’
The outcome of a social media poll by Resource confirms this. 58 per cent of the 200 or so respondents say there are parties somewhere in Wageningen every week. Master’s student Jonathan hardly keeps to the curfew at all in the weekend. ‘I have more sleepover parties now than during my secondary school days. A lot of international students are finding the situation really hard to deal with. There is a lot of loneliness. You’re a long way from home, in a lengthy lockdown… I haven’t seen my family for 18 months because I can’t travel home. All my lessons are online. If I kept to all the rules, I wouldn’t see anyone.’ Jonathan sticks to small gatherings. ‘Even the idea of a large party makes me nervous. But I think there are parties in virtually every student house.’
Understandable, say many students who responded to our poll. But also irresponsible and frustrating. Master’s student Mila: ‘It seems as if a lot of students have stopped social distancing completely. There are often parties in my building, sometimes with up to 50 people. I can understand the need: the situation has been going on so long and I’m fed up too. But it makes me so angry. I’m depressed, I miss my family hugely and this behaviour will only make it take even longer.’
Don’t the party-goers feel guilty? Felix (‘I go to more parties than the average student’): ‘Yes, sometimes. It’s hypocritical. I criticize other people for irresponsible behaviour, for example if they don’t wear a face mask or are negative about vaccines. But then I go to potential super-spreader events.My moral compass points in two directions sometimes.’ Elena, another student, doesn’t have a guilty conscience. ‘I don’t get the impression these parties are spreading the coronavirus in Wageningen. I don’t see the Covid numbers going up in the stats after January, when people started having more parties. I don’t know anyone who got ill after a party. I think it’s mainly the same people who get together. The bubble is quite small.’ Lucia also thinks her behaviour will have few consequences. ‘The rest of the week I stay at home, perhaps with one trip to buy groceries. I don’t see anyone from high-risk groups. But now I say this, I realize it’s probably an illusion and I’m trying to justify my irresponsible behaviour to myself.’
‘I think it’s important to point out that a party is more than getting drunk and flirting,’ says Felix. ‘It sounds superficial at first, but I do believe getting together with other people is an essential part of being human. Celebrating life in a social environment where you can be yourself. Lots of students were always able to do that, every week, and suddenly it’s no longer allowed. Does the government really think people can keep this up for more than a year? People aren’t robots you can program with a new law and change their behaviour without any complaints.’
Elena agrees. ‘I missed the parties a lot, and not because of the beer. If I’ve spent a few hours dancing in the weekend with some great people, my battery’s recharged for the rest of the week. I can’t speak for others, of course, but I reckon everyone needs to be able to let off steam.’