How the pandemic impacted the lives and plans of international students

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Published on 2022-02-01 at 10:00 by Magdalena Grdanoska
The pandemic hit each corner of the world differently but had an impact on everyone. It is difficult to remain indifferent while riding the waves of unplanned changes, cancelled flights and lockdown regulations. Some of the most challenging changes have been the limitations imposed on international students, who had to spend (at least a part of) their studies from home due to the current situation.

Studying is an important time for each person, which has a theoretical part (staying home and learning), but also a practical and social part of implementing and sharing the acquired knowledge. Due to the pandemic, the second has been interrupted, leaving many international students worldwide longing for the main reason they decide to study abroad – intercultural connection.

As the pandemic struck in 2020, disruptions of any normal activity happened around the world. Studies were no exceptions and all ongoing lectures were interrupted and postponed, opening the doors to the best available option – online teaching. In Europe, this continued from the beginning of 2021 until the summer months, which allowed limited in-person lectures with the requisites of wearing masks and social distancing. These rules continued until autumn 2021 when rules became based on the vaccination status or test of the students. Across the world, these rules were different. Still, the general social distancing rules apply in many places, allowing now a bit broader access to common spaces like libraries and lunch canteens.

Depending on the beginning of the studies, the expectations of the expat experience was unique for different students. Through the timeline of these two years, every individual had their own story. We checked some of them and how they felt about these changes.

Laura comes from Italy and studies Business Management in Hamburg. Her expectations regarding her studies were met. However, she was disappointed by the lockdowns imposed in the previous year. She feels like she has been studying all the time without the possibility to vent through fun times with friends. Laura believes that the German labour market hasn't been severely affected and that she can still find many opportunities in her field. However, she states that she would have been glad to do a side job as a bartender, which proved impossible. She finally found a mini job for a Covid-Test Center and believes there is a lot of demand in the field.

Ben comes from Boston, Massachusetts, USA and studies in Hamburg, Germany. His expectations regarding his studies were generally met, as he knew before his studies that the lectures were going to be online. Therefore, Ben feels like this hasn't been a big issue regarding his lectures. However, he believes that the current situation does not offer enough opportunities for international experience, job fair events or social activities.

Saad is a 27-year-old student at the Technical University of Hamburg, doing a master's in Mechatronics. His expectations for his studies were different, as he enrolled with the idea to learn and meet new students across the globe. He believes that it is very important to meet in person in order to study and share ideas together. He feels like he knows many people, but only virtually. While things did not turn the way he imagined, he says that in the end, everything worked out. He even managed to gain international experience by visiting new places or through online interaction with his fellow students. Saad had his lectures from home and his exams in person. He hopes that “the new normal” will soon end and that people can go back to their old lives.

Anastasia is living in Hamburg but enrolled in a Sales and Marketing program at the Rome Business school. While she didn't have expectations about her lectures, her social life and opportunities have changed, as she felt like she had lost her interest in her studies due to the impact of the pandemic. She plans to complete her bachelor and change her career direction to UX Designer, as she believes that this profession will bring her better work opportunities.

Martine is a student at Laval University in Quebec, Canada. She is doing educational studies with aspirations to become a social worker. Since she wants to be a teacher, she will have to do 2 or 3 hours course sessions with 30 students between 18 and 20. Martine has been doing these studies for three years now and has been able to gain experience through doing an internship before the pandemic. She says that she will be able to complete her certificate this year, with the main difference of having to follow the safety rules and repeating to students that they have to keep their masks on. Martine appreciates online studying, as it saves her commuting time and allows her to do housing tasks during the break. She even feels like she has more free time due to these changes and that the pandemic hasn't impacted her studies. However, she feels the weight that isolation puts on her social and family interactions, as she cannot see her relatives and travel as often as she desires.

R.H. is a Medicine student in Munster. He has online lessons as well as some in-person practical classes. He believes that online studying impacted his social life, as he is now more careful when meeting new people indoors, rather than going to bars and restaurants as often as he did in the past. He would like to be able to connect more with his fellow students and hopes that things can get back in the way he imagined being in medical school.

Hannah is 31 and studies Health Care Management at the Internationale Hochschule in Erfurt. She finds online studying comfortable, as she can do the lectures at home with her laptop. She believes this to be a good way of working, as people can connect with each other without a problem. She doesn't feel like Germany has less working options than in the past but is pleasantly surprised by the rising number of remote working opportunities around. She highlights, however, that her social life has been affected and that she would like in the future to be able to meet with her university mates in person.

Not everyone reacts to transition in the same way. We are in times of change, where our habits have been either interrupted or modified. While expat students are usually not turning away from challenges, reducing the daily excitement of a traveller or expat can seem unpleasant. In those moments, we need to consider the pros and cons of the way lessons function now. Offering more comfort through home lessons or home office can help with daily commuting and expenses, but radical closing will take the social element of learning and working. Maybe through time, these ideas will bring openness to new possibilities to make learning affordable without reducing the international character of being an expat.