‘Do I regret coming here? I can say: NO!’

| Allegra Passmann

In the ‘old normal’, it was a come and go of UT students spending their time abroad on exchange. This year, however, the UT advised them against traveling abroad because of the pandemic. Still, a handful of students left. Three students share their adventure and how they experience the pandemic in Italy, New Zealand and Spain.

Antonius Brühöfner in Bologna.
Antonius Brühöfner (21, International Business Administration), currently in Bologna, Italy.

‘I am living in the center of Bologna, studying various courses from business and economics at the University of Bologna, which goes deeper into the fields of management, marketing and retailing. Italy is currently facing the second wave of Corona, reaching a peak in the number of cases. During the last weeks, the government was releasing more updates about the measurements definitely becoming stricter.

For now, there is a curfew from 22.00 to 5.00 in the morning, restaurants and bars close at 18.00  and you are advised to limit the number of social contacts in private households to a minimum. Because Italy is working with a system that categorizes regions into yellow, orange and red zones, the measurements can change and either become worse or better. Since Emilia-Romagna, the region of Bologna, is still yellow, I am lucky and face not more restrictions than those mentioned.

'Your hands always smell sanitized, Eau de disinfectants!'

During the first two months, when cases were close to zero, there were fewer restrictions and my days here were more vivid. I knew that my Erasmus experience was going to be different from what other students experienced in the last years. But I was ready to live with it, expected to deal with restrictions, especially when it comes to my social life. I think I still made the best out of it so far, because I could travel around Italy as much as possible, attended some lectures in person and made quite some new friends. But considering the rumours and trends, the situation is about to get worse and I think I will face restrictions, I honestly did not expect back in the summer. But even then, I knew that I would make the best out of my situation which was always my goal when I decided to go abroad during an ongoing pandemic.

However, I feel really safe. Everyone in Italy is taking the situation very seriously. Besides public restaurants, bars, and shops that have a very good hygiene concept, what impresses me the most is how the university is successfully implementing their hygiene concept. There's no need to get a perfume here, your hands always smell sanitized, Eau de disinfectants! They limit the number of students per lecture, you can sign up online if you want to attend in person. In that way, distance can be kept in the lecture halls. Also, all lectures are scheduled to start and end at slightly different times, so that you do not walk across other crowded student floors inside the buildings and several ‘guards’ are taking care that all rules are respected. The communication concerning my study abroad was always superb so far, no question was left unanswered and help never took long.

All in all, living in Bologna right now is exactly how I wished it was and makes me want to go back even more once everything is normal again. Until then, I will enjoy my cheap espresso and Italian pizza while the sun is shining on the beautiful buildings of Bologna.’

Vicky Andriessen (27, Biomedical Engineering), currently in Auckland, New Zealand.

‘I’m in New Zealand to work on my master thesis. At the end of January, I left the Netherlands and first travelled for 3 weeks before starting with my research. But then, after about a month of ‘normal life’, the strict lockdown started for 10 weeks. I tried to tell myself to stay positive but I also knew I couldn’t do the research, the travelling, or the social life I wanted to do. To meet people, I signed up for all introduction classes, but they got cancelled and then the second time I could’ve met people, the second wave started and everything got cancelled again. Luckily I could still make some nice friends.

Now, there are currently no cases of Corona and the only measurements we have is wearing a mask on public transport, which also most people do. Next to that, the borders are closed, so you can leave, but you can’t enter or come back unless you’re from here. There are specific quarantine hotels you first have to go to, so you have to wait for their availability to come back.

You can still go to parties, festivals and sports events normally and I can go to a party almost every weekend, which is a big contrast to the Netherlands or other to other people studying abroad experience. I’m happy I stayed, although I’m ready to go home. I could still do most of the research I wanted to and probably couldn’t have done it in the Netherlands. The only annoying part is that New Zealand is so far away from everything, so ordering things for lab work takes years, especially now with Corona, so I feel the consequences indirectly.

I feel very safe but am actually a bit worried about going back to the Netherlands. Staying here would actually be smart but I’ve been here for 11 months almost, so now it’s time for me to come back. After a while, you just miss the people. But I’m also a bit worried that my flight might get cancelled when not enough people book it. All in all, I’m staying positive and will enjoy my last weeks.’

Lara Schwerdtner (21, Psychology), currently in Valencia, Spain.

From the beginning of September, until January, I am doing an Erasmus semester in Valencia. The corona situation here is rather critical. The first wave in March was really heavy and the whole country was in a three-month lockdown, in which you were only allowed to do grocery shopping once a week.

I was aware of the risks I would take when going to Spain, but of course, I was hoping that the situation would improve. Before leaving, I did not have much time to think of what to expect since I hadn’t fully decided until two weeks prior about whether I would actually leave. Now being here, the situation is not over but people still manage to make the best out of it. Valencia is the part with the lowest cases in Spain, so the measurements are not that restrictive as in other parts of Spain and the whole atmosphere here is far less tense than in the Netherlands.

If you ignore the masks and the police cars which are surrounding you all the time, you could easily forget that we are in the middle of a pandemic. Of course, the people are cautious but still, it feels like they try everything to keep their spirit. The streets are full of people, everybody is sitting outside, drinking, laughing, talking, and eating from 12 in the morning till the evening or even night, a few minutes before midnight – when the curfew begins. Music is played everywhere and people just live.

Still, there are some essential rules: you have to wear a mask at all times, except when being in your own house, at the beach, sitting at a table in a restaurant, or when doing sports. It is not allowed to gather with more than six people, a distance of 1.5 meters should be kept and after midnight there is a strict curfew on the street. Also, since last week it is not allowed to fill establishments like restaurants, bars, gyms, and so on, with more than 50 percent of their usual capacity. I would say that most of the people follow the restrictions, especially the mask duty is taken pretty seriously since not only the police can fine you with over €100, but also the surrounding people are looking at you outraged or even insult you if you are not wearing it.

'Studying is refreshingly different from the UT'

I was often asked if I regret coming here and without hesitating, I can say: NO. Already in the first few weeks, I met amazing people, had incredible experiences by travelling around Valencia and it is getting better here every week. Besides, studying is refreshingly different from the UT so I am glad for every experience I gather here. All in all, I was afraid of not having a good ‘student life’ or being not able to experience Spain as it is. That is not the case and even if the situation stays the same until next year, I would recommend every student that would love to study abroad to do it. Of course, it is a whole different experience with the situation now and of course, I would have loved to go to Valencia being able to go to clubs, live life to the fullest but it is still worth it. It even has its perks like exploring locations which would be normally full of tourists, being now completely empty.

I do not really communicate with the UT a lot. We were warned that if we want to go, even though they recommend us to stay here, we will not receive the Erasmus money or other support from the university. Still, since the exchange coordinator took such good care of the students, I still feel supported and I think, if I had any concerns, they would take care of me.’

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