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Having the time of my life – study abroad in times of the coronavirus

Claudia Fröhlich, a student of Media and Communication Management, reports on how students at SRH University Heidelberg got on with organising their stay abroad during the coronavirus pandemic.

It was almost impossible to predict how the pandemic was going to pan out. In particular, planning a stay abroad can initially seem rather complicated. International Business student Emma Toth is currently spending a semester abroad at the San Diego State University, and she looks back at the worries she had at the planning stage: “Even though I knew I wanted to study in America, the Covid situation got progressively worse around the summer of 2020, and we had to decide where we wanted to go by early autumn. My main concern, if I was to make it to the USA, was: What if the coronavirus situation escalates again and everything has to shut down? What if I get stuck in the country and am left sitting in front of my laptop, unable to experience university life, travel around or attend classes? I was also very worried that they would not let us into the country at all.”

Pretend the coronavirus wasn’t there

It was a similar story for Costanza Carnasciali, who is also spending a semester abroad in San Diego State: When I started planning my semester abroad in October/November 2020, I was (luckily) advised by the International Office to pretend that the coronavirus didn’t exist. So I convinced myself that it was 100 per cent certain that I was going to be able to go away next year.” Although it had always been Costanza’s dream to go to America, she would originally also have considered Sydney as a destination. However, the pandemic left her with no choice because Australia was not letting international students into the country at that time.

The challenge of getting a visa

As it turned out, choosing which country to go to was one of the more minor challenges faced by Emma and Costanza. After all, once the decision had been made, they then had to get hold of the necessary documents, such as a visa. Due to the coronavirus situation, however, this proved to be more difficult than they had thought: Of course, because of Covid, there were only a limited number of appointments available at the consulate. In Frankfurt, there weren’t any at all. I then managed to arrange an appointment in Munich; but it was very much at the last moment, and Munich is really not that close to Heidelberg,” Emma recalled, particularly since she was supposed to leave in mid-August. So the search for flights and accommodation had to be postponed.

Everyday university life similar to here

After all the groundwork, however, the two SRH students made it to California. So what is everyday university life like in times of the coronavirus? At SRH University Heidelberg, face-to-face classes are now gradually being reintroduced, but what’s the situation like in the USA? Emma attends all of her classes in person, and Costanza has a total of four lectures, three of which are held face-to-face and one online. Just as in Germany, various hygiene rules must also be obeyed there. Both Emma and Costanza are over the moon about their face-to-face classes because they meant that the students were able to make a lot of contacts.

Remain flexible and open

Both students would recommend a semester abroad to anyone – in spite of the coronavirus pandemic: “Unfortunately, however, the Covid situation makes it more difficult to organise a semester abroad, and effort is certainly required to plan everything in advance. You just have to be flexible and open to new possibilities, but it pays in the end,” stated Emma Toth, giving encouragement to all those interested in following in her footsteps. Costanza too is absolutely convinced that it was the right decision to go abroad in spite of the pandemic: “I would recommend everyone to spend time abroad. This is my third study abroad so far in my life, and I’m having the time of my life.”

Maybe these two students’ positive experiences will encourage others to consider spending a semester abroad in spite of the coronavirus. I wish you success and, above all, lots of fun in the process!

In our next episode of “First-year students at SRH University Heidelberg”, we’ll explain what our university’s ominous-sounding Founder Institute is all about.

Pack your bags for international excitement!
Claudia Fröhlich, a student of Media and Communication Management and editor of this blog