Erasmus during corona

Studying abroad – from home

Completing a semester abroad in Glasgow from Hamburg? The corona pandemic has made it possible. How students are experiencing the restrictions and how HAW Hamburg is dealing with them.


Studying abroad – from home or from the back garden

International exchange, a new city, and getting to know new fellow students and cultures are what an Erasmus semester is all about – at least under normal circumstances. Although the numbers have declined relative to the previous years, stays abroad during university studies are still very much in demand. But an Erasmus semester during the corona pandemic takes place under different circumstances and comes with its own particular stories.

Fewer outgoing students

Only 29 HAW Hamburg students are undertaking an Erasmus semester in the current summer semester. Last year they numbered 51, more than twice as many. A look at summer semester 2020 and winter semester 2020/21 shows that many students applied successfully but then withdrew from their spot prematurely. This was the case for 88 of 153 students. In the previous year almost twice as many students went abroad: 147.

Overseas semesters not permitted in winter semester 2020/21

In winter semester 2020/21, HAW Hamburg did not permit any overseas travel. This is now possible again in the current summer semester, though still to a limited degree as the semester dates overlap in some cases. For example, in Hamburg the winter semester has been moved back, while in Copenhagen the normal dates are still in effect.

According to HAW Hamburg's International Office, a surprising number of students have registered for the Erasmus+ programme for the upcoming academic year (2021/22). Despite the unclear situation currently, the number of applications received has dropped by only one-third relative to last year. Erasmus internships are equally in demand. 'Students continue to be interested in and motivated to go abroad,' says Marina Leß, coordinator of Study Abroad and Erasmus+. 'Time will tell how many actually embark on their semester.'

The International Office has also seen its work changed by corona. Despite the lower number of applicants, the workload has increased. The partner universities in the various countries have made different decisions about allowing incoming students, making overall planning for all participants virtually impossible. In addition to the impacts of the corona pandemic, Brexit is also playing a big role in planning. 'There are numerous parallel challenges that need to be addressed in the Erasmus area at the moment, so our work isn't boring,' says Leß.

Many visiting students have returned home

In summer semester 2020, 160 international students came to HAW Hamburg. But 70 of them returned home after only a few weeks because the first international lockdown was implemented. In winter semester, 62 students, almost exclusively from EU countries, came to Hamburg. In the current summer semester roughly half of the 120 applicants have turned down their study place.

Only those present in the host country receive funding

The intercultural experience and skills gained are intended to promote a European identity. Erasmus semesters are supported with funding from the European Union. However, this funding is bound to actual physical mobility. This means that those who can't travel abroad don't receive funding.

Studying in Glasgow from Hamburg – Chiara

'After four cancelled flights, my last two options for getting to Glasgow, my Erasmus city, were an adventurous roadtrip with a camper van or an overpriced €400 flight with 20 hours of travel time. I decided against both. The way it looks now, I'll be spending a few more weeks in Hamburg. New rules for entering the country have been in effect in Scotland since 15 February: incoming travellers are required to spend 10 days in quarantine at a hotel. They are expected to cover the €2000 cost themselves. As long as my router doesn't give up on me, online study from Hamburg is working very well, and I'm slowly getting used to the Scottish accent. I think it's too bad, though, that most seminar participants almost always leave their Zoom cameras off. This means everything stays very anonymous and I can't really get to know my fellow students. Whether and how well I can get to know the partner city during my Erasmus time is questionable. The semester only runs until mid-May. But as we all know, you can always hope.'

Childhood bedroom instead of study abroad – Bennet

'Instead of "living in a foreign country" it's "back home to Mom" for me at the moment. I sublet my Hamburg apartment with the intention of moving into the apartment in Copenhagen that I had already rented. Then the borders were closed and I was suddenly without a home. I'm living temporarily in my old bedroom and waiting impatiently to be able to travel to Denmark. There is no planning security. One thing is clear already: Teaching will take place online for the whole semester. So in the worst case I could also complete my Erasmus semester from Germany. It wouldn't be ideal, but it would be understandable given the pandemic. The university in Copenhagen is making a great effort to offer the courses digitally, so I'm not missing any content. I hope I can catch up on the rest of what's missing as soon as I'm there.'

It remains to be seen when we'll be eligible for this funding. The restrictions on incoming travellers in Scotland and Denmark mean that physical mobility isn't possible right now. Digital teaching continues though – and we're already familiar with that through our studies at HAW Hamburg.

Authors: Chiara Schenk and Bennet Möller. The original article appeared here: 

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Marina Leß
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