Updated: Dec 28, 2020
After a few hectic years, I promised myself that 2020 would become a stable year without too many rollercoaster moments. Just doing my work, being with my girlfriend, thinking about my future, but nothing spectacular. Basic adult-life. Plottwist: 2020 turned out to be the opposite.
February In February we gathered in Prague for a meetup with our (friend)group of fellow people who stutter. At this meeting, we decided to become an association, such that we could make a bigger impact for everyone who stutters around the globe. Our main goal is to raise awareness about stuttering and tell people who stutter that it is 'OK to stutter'. In this way, people who stutter don't have to feel bad about their stutter because they just need more time and understanding when they speak instead of searching for non-existing cures. At the same time, Stamily functions as a community where people feel safe to be who they want to be. The beauty from these meetings with other people who stutter is to see how easy it is to connect with people who understand you from the first moment.
March I don't have to tell anyone of you that all our lives and our perceptions of freedom changed suddenly at the beginning of 2020. Covid-19 started already December last year in China, but in March it reached in full force Europe.. Things I only could imagine in movies became reality. The border was about to close with my 2nd home, Belgium. We were almost forced to stay home 24-7 and work remotely. People started hoarding toilet paper. People wearing facemasks. And it seemed that our safety (health-wise) wasn't guaranteed anymore when we saw on the news how hospitals were overrun by Covid-patients. Was this unreal situation proof that we are living in a simulation?
I started to stress out with my girlfriend as she was living in Iceland (the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean) and we were afraid we couldn't see each other for a long time (a month, multiple months, or longer..). The only solution was to escape the Netherlands, as I was most flexible job-wise. So, on the 16th of March, I decided to try to take the last flight to Iceland. I called my work if it was OK if I would go to Iceland and work from there. When I got a 'yes', I clicked directly on the flight reservation and paid for my ticket 4 hours before departure (another thing I thought I would never do...). When I came at the gate at Schiphol, a few KLM employees stopped me and said that they just heard 5 minutes ago from the government that it wasn't allowed anymore to leave the country if you were not going home. I explained to them that I was going to my girlfriend and that it was all fine for me to stay away for a long time as I could work remotely from there. Still, they didn't want to let me go through, but then one of them proposed to let me speak with a KLM manager. So, I went there and I explained my situation again. The manager understood it and when I told her that I didn't want to miss my girlfriend for a long uncertain time, she told me that I could go 'on my own risk'. It seemed that I was the last Dutchie who left the country until the borders opened up again. I slept the entire flight in an almost empty plane because I was mentally exhausted. When I finally arrived at my girlfriend's place our adventure for the coming 4 months in Iceland started.
When I arrived in Iceland I had no idea how long it would be. It could be 1 month, maybe 2 months, but probably not more. However, I ended up spending 4 months. From arriving in Iceland covered in snow, to leaving Iceland on flip-flops. No, I wasn't just stuck on an island. I was stuck on one of the most alien-like beautiful islands with my girlfriend, without any other tourists around. Every morning I had to wake up at 6.30 in the morning because the time difference with the Netherlands was 2 hours and I still had to work every day with my colleagues. However, that also meant that I finished work at around 15.30, which was when I went outside to perform my new hobby: calisthenics. On the weekends I traveled around with my girlfriend and I took a few weeks off to travel around, with the highlight: going to the most northern city of Iceland, Akureyri. We felt VIPS there because it used to be crowded with tourists, but now we were the only ones. So, we did some awesome private tours and saw a lot of beautiful nature. Note also that Iceland didn't have many restrictions, as the number of cases was very low here. Of course, our luck came at a high price because Iceland itself relies on tourism, which meant that a lot of Icelandic citizens lost their job and were living in uncertainty... Also for them, I hope there will soon be an end to this Covid-drama.
August In July I left Iceland without Satu (my girlfriend) and we had to miss each other for 5 weeks, knowing this time that we would see each other for sure after these weeks. This was because Satu got into the university in Leiden to study psychology. In August she arrived in the Netherlands and after a few days, we went to Finland to visit her family and spend a week in her family's summer cottage. This was a very calm and lovely week where we saw a lot of beautiful Finnish nature (reindeers and bears included).
Another thing I did in August was something I already wanted to do for a long time: lasering my eyes. I have been hating my glasses and suffering from dry eyes, due to lenses. So, it became time to make a change. I can tell you, it was a horrible experience. I am not used to crying much, but after the surgery, I have been crying non-stop for 6 hours. It also didn't help when during the surgery the guy who was lasering my eyes was whispering a bit too loud to his colleague that he wasn't sure if it was going well... Luckily, the day after it was all much better and I can see now 100% with my own eyes again!
After Finland, Satu moved in with me in Haarlem.
October In October I finally obtained my driver's license. My exam was originally planned for March, but due to Covid-19 and me being in Iceland, it was postponed for 7 months. Luckily I got it directly from the first time.
Another highlight in October was my first publication in a scientific journal as the first writer! You can find the article here. I am really thankful that I got so much help from my supervisor Jos from ESA, who did a lot of work and deserved to be the first writer as well.
In this same month, I was accepted to start a PhD at the University of Leiden. One of my ex-colleagues at ESA was telling me that her supervisor was looking for someone with a data science, astronomy, and math background. So, I contacted him and we had a good click. After speaking with a few more people involved and my future-supervisor with my referees, I got in! So, I will start in 2021 in Leiden. The main goal of the PhD is to improve the connection between the incoming data from a radio telescope and the outcoming scientific output, such that we can improve our understanding of the deep universe (galaxies, black holes, universe evolution, and other awesome stuff) and therefore also our place within it. Pretty exciting and a great honor to be a part of this.
November Satu and I moved in November from Haarlem to the city center of Leiden. We were very lucky because we ended up in a spacious apartment, close to the central station, with a beautiful view.
December In December I finished my time at Matrixian Group, where I had been working for almost 2 years. I am grateful that I have been part of a team where we accomplished so many things in a short time. I will definitely miss these guys!
Another exciting highlight of December was our registration of Stamily as an official international association. This was one of the goals of 2020 after the meeting in Prague from last February. In the meantime, we created a board, statutes, and worked on the setup of our association. Now we can really start and make a change! Definitely keep on following us: www.stamily.org. Besides being the chair of Stamily, I also started a project to write about the lives of people who stuttered who made a real impact on our world (so not the actors and television VIPS, but the leaders, philosophers, and so on) and how stuttering impacted their lives. You can find the current status here.