Students concerned about upcoming year abroad placements
Year abroad students have spoken to Online Editor, Maddie Baker, and Deputy Editor, Richard Ainslie, about how COVID-19 has changed their plans abroad.
Four out of the five year abroad students Exeposé contacted are currently not enrolled with either their university or workplace. The COVID-19 pandemic has left these students feeling uncertain and apprehensive about an experience that many had been looking forward to since starting their degree.
Conor Good is supposed to be going to St Petersburg to study Russian in September. He expressed frustration at the initial lack of communication from Exeter: ‘we’re supposed to know by the end of the month but it’s all very vague’ he said. Before an email sent on 29th May he had no clear communication at all.
‘I really don’t know what I’m going to do! The global opportunities team asked me if I wanted to do a placement during term one but it’s going to be hard to find one.’
Laura Maurino had planned to go to Bocconi University in Milan for an exchange in September, but that has been cancelled. ‘I really don’t know what I’m going to do! The global opportunities team asked me if I wanted to do a placement during term one but it’s going to be hard to find one.’
On 29 May, the Global Opportunities team sent out an email offering four main possibilities for students. They offered: switching to a three year course with no year abroad, doing the year abroad as planned if possible, doing distance learning from the host university, and if the year abroad is not possible in semester one students can take modules in Exeter. The University also clarified that a deferral of year abroad placements until 2021-22 was not possible.
In the majority of cases, it seems that semesters and placements will not be starting as normal – with cancellation, delayed start dates and temporary or long-term online tuition all possibilities.
However, some partner universities have failed to communicate. One student told Exeposé they had heard nothing from their host university, Tübingen in Germany. Alex Young, studying French and Russian, has also not received communications from his host universities in St. Petersburg and Kazan, Russia and explained ‘We haven’t been told to apply for a visa and haven’t been accepted by our host universities or anything.’
Another student confirmed he had begun communication with the University of Padua, Italy and has started the registration process. He also added that ‘As we are only recently starting to get a grip on the situation, [Exeter] has done well. But I don’t know if I can say the same thing for all overseas universities,’ – understanding that the majority of students had not heard back from their host universities.
Even if it was possible to go abroad this year, one student expressed his concern that ‘it would be a nightmare if I was on a year abroad and there was an outbreak again.’
‘It is really important to go abroad and have that experience in person… that immersion in the culture you don’t get over a screen.’
One other option has been to change to a work abroad programme, which seems more likely to go ahead, according to both Laura and Alex.
The option of moving online has been met with concern by several Modern Foreign Languages students especially. Alex said ‘It’s okay for a stop-gap but for a whole year I would not be able to learn Russian in seminars on a Zoom call.’ While a French, Italian and Spanish student said the whole “year abroad” would be changed: ‘It is really important to go abroad and have that experience in person… that immersion in the culture you don’t get over a screen.’
In response to the concerns raised by students, Penny Dinh, Vice President Education, said on 3rd June: ‘I fully sympathise with students who are facing uncertainty over their year abroad – this is clearly a very stressful time which hopefully students can have clarity on soon.’
‘This is an issue I want to ensure students get clarity on, so it’s really important that students update us on their worries and the impact it’s having on them.‘Penny Dinh, VP Education
She went on to ask students to ‘stay in touch with myself, the Officer team and your course reps so that we can represent you… This is an issue I want to ensure students get clarity on, so it’s really important that students update us on their worries and the impact it’s having on them.’