For many students a semester abroad is the highlight of their studies. New friendships, a new language and many unique experiences are what make time abroad so special. When the Landshut students set off for their destination countries a few months ago, corona was still a minor issue. In the meantime, the pandemic dominates everyday life on every continent. Four Landshut students report on their experiences and how corona is defining their life during their semester abroad.
Alex Hanz is studying International Business Administration in his 6th semester in Turku, the sixth largest city in Finland. "Turku is actually the ultimate student town in Finland," says Hanz. There is no sign of this at present. "Locals rarely leave their homes and avoid meeting up. The beaches, which are actually full of swimmers at this time of year, are completely empty," Hanz describes the situation locally. "I mainly have social contact through Skype or Zoom."
Flying back to Germany because of the pandemic was not an option for Hanz though: "I'm dying to do an internship abroad in Finland once I've finished my bachelor's thesis." Another reason keeping the student in Finland is love. "I met my Finnish girlfriend just after I arrived. The decision to stay here was therefore very easy," says Hanz. He can also imagine a private and professional future in Finland after his studies.
Semester abroad in one of the countries most affected
Lilia Kobin feels the full force of the corona pandemic in Salerno, southeast of the Italian metropolis of Naples. "During the quarantine period, I only left the house to go shopping," reports Lilia. "You could clearly sense people's fear, even here in the south of Italy, where the situation is actually much better than in the north." The situation is slowly easing, says the engineering student. Kobin also decided not to travel home: "Despite the quarantine and restrictions, I feel very comfortable here. This is mainly due to the great support by professors and the student organisations."
To keep fit, Kobin looks for sports programmes on YouTube every evening. Most of the social contact also takes place digitally. "I also talk to my flatmate a lot, who supports me with everything," adds Kobin. The Landshut student has decided to stay in Italy for another semester. For one reason in particular: "I want to do the experience abroad live, not just online." Kobin therefore hopes that the corona situation will continue to improve.
In the land of the rising sun
Matteo Kratz is currently writing his master's thesis in Hiroshima, Japan. He is completing the practical part at the Hirotec company. "There have been very intensive healthcare measures here since March: the offices are cleaned twice a day with a chlorine solution, lunch breaks are divided between different slots and departments have been spatially separated." According to Kratz, public life is similar to that in Germany. "The only difference is that there is no panic buying and hoarding here." Toilet paper, pasta, rice or disinfectant never ran out in supermarkets, said Kratz.
Kratz uses his free time and weekends to go hiking, enjoy nature or learn Japanese. A planned visit from his family had to be cancelled. Nevertheless, the master's student never questioned whether he should cut his stay short. "I see my situation as being even better than in Germany," says Kratz. "My master's thesis at Hirotec is unaffected. The project with BMW that it is based on is also continuing." However, some fellow students had found it difficult to get master's thesis positions in Germany.
Kratz is glad he travelled to Japan in time. "Just three weeks later and I wouldn't have been able to get into the country any more," he says. He is keeping in close contact with his supervisor in Landshut. "We talk on the phone for about an hour every week and discuss the master's thesis."
Surfing on the Sunshine Coast despite corona
Sofija Varlamova is spending her semester abroad on the Sunshine Coast in Australia relatively carefree. "The semester is digital here too, but public life is not as restricted as elsewhere. I am very happy about the fact that I can swim and surf in the sea regularly," says the bachelor's student of International Business Administration. Since the situation in Australia is not as dramatic as in Europe or America, Varlamova decided not to fly home: "I considered the risk of infection with a 22-hour flight and stopovers at several airports to be much greater."
The semester ends in June in Australia. Then Varlamova will fly home again and is looking forward to one thing in particular – seeing her parents and friends in Germany again.
Even though the Landshut students' semesters abroad in times of corona are different to what was originally planned, everyone is glad to have ventured this step. The International Office and the university's international faculty coordinators are always available to provide students with advice and assistance and regularly hold video conferences with all outgoing students. In addition to Hanz, Kobin, Kratz and Varlamova, around forty other Landshut students are currently spending time abroad as part of their studies.
Photos: Alex Hanz/Lilia Kobin/Matteo Kratz/Sofiija Varlamova
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