All the bureaucratic runaround is finished, accommodation problem is resolved. Today Pablo has already got a microwave for his dorm room. The studying process is not yet started. So it is the perfect time to forget all the problems associated with living arrangements at the new place and to explore centre of the northern German maritime city. In a couple of hours during coffee-pause he decides to check his email and catches himself thinking: “Why have I bought a microwave”?
At this time another student participating in Erasmus program Monica was exploring Holstenstraße as a friend of hers has called to tell the latest news. Italy has already declared state of emergency. Returning to her room in Studentenwerk she has discovered an e-mail with the announcement from the University of Milan.
“They have written that if we want to return, they would understand us and sustain our decision. It was really a difficult situation. I have decided to pack my bags and fly to my family”.
For both students it was just the beginning of their student life in Germany. On the second of March they have arrived in Kiel to stay here for half a year and to participate in EU student exchange program. Pablo was ready with his bachelor studies of industrial engineering in Spain. He should have ended this year his master on the same specialisation at the Fachhochschule Kiel. “This semester was my last semester. It was supposed that I will end my studies. But we will see”, – speaks Pablo with a touch of irony.
Monica is also at the end of her studies. She is attending master’s degree course on human nutrition in Italy. In Germany she had to work in the laboratory of the food technology Institute. “My situation is a little bit tricky, because I have to do a project in the laboratory of CAU. And theoretically I had to start my work on the 16 of March”, – explains Monica, adding that at this time she was already at home in Italy.
The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11 declared COVID-19 a pandemic, pointing to the sustained risk of further global spread of coronavirus illness. On the 12 of March Monica was already sitting in the airplane. Two days later Pablo started off for Madrid. There were only two vacant seats at the time he was booking the ticket to Spain.
“I have taken this decision in a couple of hours after the Fachhochschule announcement. I had to book the tickets as fast as possible. On the one hand my family asked me to come back. Some of my friends here in Germany have decided to stay. It was a really difficult decision for me. Finally I have chosen the flight departing at 11.00 p.m.”
Now Pablo is continuing his studies online from home in the city of Soria located in central northern Spain, about two hours from Madrid. His home office experience in a single sentence looks for Pablo like „a mix of learning and disaster”. He studies usually till the lunch time. After off-work time and conversations with his friends Pablo returns to the laptop in order to continue the studies. It is actually quite a task for many students to manage the tasks properly by staying the most of time at home.
“I can’t effectively separate the working process. At the end of the day you understand that you have spent too much time in front of the screen, sometimes studying, sometimes not really”.
“You don’t have your quite ambience anymore”, he adds. Earlier, before pandemic situation, Pablo used to study in the library where he could better concentrate on the work.
Monica is studying currently also at home in the capital of Italy’s northernmost region of South Tyrol, Bolzano. Breathtaking view of mountain ranges from her parent’s terrace make her feel optimistic. Monica’s Erasmus program covered the six-month period. Work in the laboratory should last three months. Student was hoping at first to deal at least with the theoretical part of the project. She has written about this idea to her tutor from the Christian-Albrecht University. “It is unfortunately impossible in the current situation to work on such a project”, that was the answer. Monica has therefore decided to attend online the last semester at the University of Milan. «In fairness my parents didn’t expect that I come back so soon!» Monica laughs.
«As planned I should live with my boyfriend, not with my family. Because of this situation I don’t have my room anymore and share it with my brother”.
Under present circumstances three family members are working sometimes together in the sunny Bolzano’s apartment: brother are doing his lessons in his bedroom, mother in the living room, and Monica in the kitchen. Only father goes regularly to work. Despite some space problems they manage the situation and live in peace and quiet. «Like an early bird I wake up at 7:30 or 8:00 a.m., also when I have nothing to do. Early in the morning I prepare breakfast for all my family, then open my laptop and get in a study process. In order to preserve internal harmony I practice yoga and sometimes cycle a bicycle”, Monica says.
Learning process at home is obviously far from ideal, but not a serious problem for students. New technologies, video-streaming software are already familiar to them. Monica describes the current situation in these words:
“It is a different story for our professors in Italy, especially for the elderly. Sometimes we have difficulties with connecting or sharing the slides. At the beginning of our meeting we spend about 5-10 minutes, trying to resolve such problems”.
Both Monica and Pablo use online systems like Zoom, Facetime or WhatsApp to maintain social contact with their friends at home and abroad. It means for them to return a little bit to normality. They are not sure if it is possible to continue their studies in Germany. Nobody expected that the situation could develop in such a way. On the 14th of March Monica had to leave Germany. The things which she could not take with are waiting for her in the Studentenwerk-room. Till the summer an accommodation should be empty. “I still don’t know who will take my things and bring them to the luggage room. The question remains open”, Monica shrugs her shoulders.
All in all, students have stayed in Kiel less than for two weeks and hope to return back. “I didn’t have much time to enjoy Kiel. I know that it is unusual for this city in winter, but a couple of days during my staying there were even sunny”, laughs Pablo. Monica is not sure that she will visit Kiel next time as a student, more like a tourist.