GA English: What brought you to Bonn and how long do you plan to stay here (and how long have you been here already)?
Bonn · In this GA-English series, we talk to members of Bonn’s rich and engaging international community. Today, we talk to Dr Eleni Vardoulaki, who is an astrophysicist with a doctorate, DPhil, from the University of Oxford, works at the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie and is part of the Astronomy on Tap team in Bonn. The single mother was born in Greece and lives in Bonn since 2015.
The astrophysicist was born in Athens, Greece, travelled the world and lived in four countries, including the UK, Portugal, Greece and now Germany, as part of her studies and academic career. She loves hanging out with her friends and going on trips and excursions. „I love dancing, music and painting, and when I was younger I used to play a lot of basketball“, she says. „I am a passionate science communicator with my channel Rogue Astrophysics.“
The channel can be checked out at www.youtube.com/c/RogueAstrophysics. She writes articles for the general public (a8inea.com, scinews.eu), is a TEDx speaker, and the founder and manager of Astronomy on Tap in Bonn, see info panel at the end of this article.
My son and I moved to Bonn in October 2015 when I was offered a postdoctoral position at the Argelander-Institut für Astronomie. Now I am at the Max-Planck-Institut für Radioastronomie (MPIfR). We’ve been here since then and have experienced Bonn and surroundings as a beautiful city and area. It does help when the weather is sunnier, and lately we’ve been very lucky!
GA English: What part of the lifestyle here has been easiest or most challenging to adapt to?
I was pleasantly surprised by the city of Bonn from the very beginning. The first time I visited was in spring 2013 for a conference organised by the MPIfR. It captivated me. Such a beautiful place. And the Rhein! Magnificent! Thus moving here was fantastic. Bonn is so well connected with public transport, which for a city of its size is not usual. This is what makes our everyday lives easier and helps us maintain a lifestyle in which using a car is not necessary. This way we can also help protect our environment. The most difficult part of being in Bonn is rain! I don’t think I will ever adapt to that. I love sunshine!
GA-English: How has the coronavirus crisis affected you personally and how do you think it has impacted on?? other expats living in Bonn and the region?
This situation we are all experiencing is not common. It’s something new. Everyone is trying to cope in their own way and I do believe it is difficult for everyone. Our normality has vanished. From one day to the next we were asked to change our lifestyles, the way we work, the way we educate our kids, the way we shop, the way we interact with people. There was not enough time for anyone to adapt and I believe we did the best we could under the circumstances. We were asked to work from home during a pandemic, with so many unknown parameters and so much information to take in and process. We were asked to homeschool our kids, while having to care for them 24/7, having to maintain a working schedule, attend online meetings, and keep working on our projects. This current situation we are experiencing is not business as usual. And this has an impact on the mental health of people. Still, I believe the ones that can work from home are the lucky ones. We are grateful to those who do not have the option of staying at home and are exposed to the dangers of this virus. I am happy that in Bonn there is a wealth of information through official and trustworthy sites, in German and English, about Covid-19 and the steps we should all take to minimise the spread and to safeguard public health. I am also pleasantly surprised with the helplines that were set up to support and educate the population. It is reassuring to live in a city and country that has a system which wants to protect the health of the public as well as that of the individuals. But I do have a worry: This pandemic enhances inequalities and inequities at work and within families which we try hard to eliminate. Only the future will show the effects of these on our works and lives.
GA-English: How do you think the crisis is being handled here?
The statistics for Germany show that the social distancing measures have had an effect, but there are still a lot of things we do not know about this virus. Personally, I would have liked to see more testing and isolating, like the world health organisation WHO proposed. But I understand resources were not plentiful. I also agree with WHO who were asking European countries to be cautious in lifting the social distancing measures they have implemented. (…)
For Germany the results are positive. In Bonn measures were less strict than in my home country, where people were not allowed to go out (there are exceptions). These extreme measures for Greece have prevented the spread of the virus effectively. It is not clear what the best approach is as every country and society is different. I will repeat what I said before: I strongly believe we should be cautious. I don’t believe we will return to the way our lives were before the schools closed. This normality does not exist anymore. We are now learning to live in this new world. We should welcome this and take the opportunity to make our societies, our businesses, our education and communication better and more effective, while at the same time caring for our environment. For a long time now astrophysicists have been showing the world, through their discoveries, that working together united for a common cause, can take us far. Together we can make our world a better place.
GA-English: During this period of social distancing and #stay-at-home, do you have any insider tips for staying sane in Bonn?
It is not easy. We have all experienced how difficult it is. We need to find our own balance and what works for us. It is very important to preserve our mental health and for that you need a daily schedule. It might be difficult to force yourself to get our of bed and have a shower, have a structured day, but it has benefits. You feel like your life is filled with activities. You feel like you have accomplished something during the day. In Bonn we are fortunate that we can go out and have a walk, cycle, go running, all while at the same time following guidelines. Daily exercise helps. It helps me personally. Also starting a new hobby helps. For people living alone this will fill parts of their daily routine and they won’t feel so isolated. For families including mine, we feel that there are not enough hours in the day to do all we have to or want to do. So I would suggest to be kind to ourselves. We don’t have to give 100% during a pandemic. I can personally suggest these videos that were recently made available to the public, with techniques on how to cope with stress and productivity, by an award winning consulting clinical psychologist, PhD from University of Oxford, Dr Patapia Tzotzoli.
Talking to friends and family online is also important. We are lucky to have technology which brings us so close. Online concerts, talks, podcasts, movies, theatre. This is one of the reasons why we moved our Astronomy on Tap Bonn events online, to keep people connected and engaged. We still want to bring the Universe closer to the general public, and we do this from the comfort of their houses. The last one was on April 28th, it is available to re-watch on YouTube. This month, we will do another virtual event on May 26 at 7pm.
Interview: Mareike Graepel