Three people are standing in front of the Guesthouse, talking. They seem a little dejected. Two of them are dressed in loungewear; their conversation partner is all packed and ready to go (see photo). The young man with the bags and the suitcase is heading home to the United States today. “Ninety per cent of all Americans are leaving or have already left”, says his friend from Spain, herself an exchange student. People of other nationalities are leaving as well. “The building will be half empty by the end of the week”, she predicts. She’s leaving the country this Saturday. “Family members of mine are ill. The last flight to Spain is leaving on Monday. If anything happens, I’d rather be home. I can continue my studies online.”
“People are constantly saying goodbye to each other”, says Dan Martin, a Finance student on exchange from Australia. His floor is more or less deserted. “Security even stopped making their rounds.” He himself is planning to stay, just like his flatmate, Law student Maria Marcote from Spain. “People have more freedom here than in Spain. You’re only allowed to go outside to walk your dog there. Police are fining people who are out on the streets ‘illegally’.” Marcote is from the north of Spain, but she goes to university in Madrid. Friends of hers are infected with coronavirus. “They say that it’s not too bad for young people. That it’s kind of like the flu.”
Not only the exchange students are leaving, also the regular internationals. In another part of the city, in front of The Student Hotel, UCM student Jack Jennings from Belgium is carrying the last of his books and clothes to his father’s car. Jennings already went home last Thursday, when the Dutch government announced more stringent measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the Netherlands. “I’d rather be at home than in my student room if we have to be quarantined.” His father adds: “We don’t know if they’re going to close the border between the Netherlands and Belgium.” Many of Jennings’s friends did the same thing. “Most of them have already left. Many of the people who are staying are Italian”, knows Jennings. They can’t go home even if they want to. The woman at the front desk won’t let us into the building. Only people who live here are allowed inside.