(Ex)changing times – studying abroad during Corona

Laptop? Check. Notebook? Check. Face mask and hand sanitizer? Check. Our schoolbag checklist has changed significantly over the last year. Not only our schoolbags, but our whole educational experience. Regular classes, internships, and perhaps most affected: Exchange programs.

Skribent: Mona El Ghadouini, udveklingsstuderende på DMJX

Udgivet den 10. december 2020

Does a study abroad even make sense in times of COVID-19? It would be hypocritical of me to say “no” given that I am at DMJX as an exchange student from Germany. But it does not mean I cannot be critical about it.

Travel because of COVID-19 barely exists anymore, most exchanges have been cancelled. And yet there are ones that do take place – like between Germany and Denmark.

What can you gain from an exchange, even now? New experiences, for one, whether they are positive or negative. Experiences shape us, and we have them in abundance on exchange in a foreign country. There is a reason many of us go abroad for a year after graduation: We look to find ourselves, and in a way, we do it through what we experience.

This makes an exchange semester so valuable – whether COVID-19 exists or not. We have the opportunity to gain new friends and establish an international network. And after months of restrictions and lockdown at home, there is nothing more refreshing for your mental health than a change of scenery.

But none of this is safely guaranteed: the country or city could go into lockdown, for who knows how long. What if instead of bar nights with friends we are suddenly faced with the solitude of our dorm room? What if we don’t get to meet any locals in person, only through our computer screens and Zoom classes? Regular fears of going on exchange, like “Will I be able to afford it?”, are suddenly drowned out by fears stemming from COVID-19. “What happens if I get sick? What happens if my family gets sick and I can’t get back to them?” are questions we’ve never had to ask ourselves before going abroad before.

As someone who is on exchange right now, I had those fears. I still have them. But the upsides outweigh the downsides for me. Yes – I am far away from home. Yes – the possibility of COVID-19 worsening is always lurking around the corner. But I made close friends here, I could attend class in person, I was able to dive into a whole new culture even though many big events and happenings could not take place.  

In times of COVID-19 it is important to realise that it does not take extravaganza to make an exchange into an experience. If you plan properly, you can take care of the fears and worries regarding COVID-19.

Work with what you have when you are on your exchange and it will become a memorable experience that will shape you for years to come even if you have to wear a face mask and keep 1,5 metres distance from everyone.

COVID-19 does not stop you from making new friends if you follow the rules. COVID-19 does not stop you from learning the language of your host country, if you want to.

COVID-19 does not stop you from learning and studying in a different school, from being taught in a different approach. At this point it is not enough anymore to say “When COVID is over”. We have been with the pandemic for nearly a year and we learned to work with it, around it, and make the best of it. A year – for many of us that is a third of our whole studies. A third many of us have found to be frustrating. Do not let frustration hinder you. Use the opportunities you have, make your decisions carefully, but make them. Why should that be limited to what we do at home? Why shouldn’t it extend to the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity of studying abroad?

Whether there is a global pandemic happening or not, an exchange is and will always be an experience. What kind of experience it will be is entirely up to you. Exchanges shape you – but you also shape them.