The experience of Norwegian exchange students differs wildly
One student wishes she stayed in Australia, one is happy she left the UK and one has decided to stay in Portugal during the pandemic.
Maren Elise Sæther was studying on exchange in Australia at the University of Queensland when the pandemic happened.
– I followed the situation back home closely, and I stayed calm for quite a while. But then NTNU wanted students to come back. Leaving was devastating. I was having the perfect exchange experience before this situation, and then I had to leave. I really, really did not want to, but eventually I was so stressed out that I just had to order my ticket home.
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Like many students, she has faced a turbulent situation with her studies. Her exchange university had left the responsibility of handling remote courses to the teachers of each course individually, creating a patchwork of varying quality.
– I was a bit disappointed about how my program was handling this. I am sure they have a lot to do, but I have friends from other universities, where things are handled differently. By helping the students coming home from interrupted exchange semesters, so that they can at least finish their semesters. I have never even been even close to failing an exam, and now I am failing due to something I can not control.
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Successful despite pandemic
Not all Norwegians abroad are dissatisfied with the experience, however. Marie Solgard, a 21 year old Language Studies student from Eidsøra in Møre og Romsdal, was studying in York, England this semester, but returned home early due the pandemic.
– The professors I had in York are doing an amazing job of ensuring that we get the same feedback on our work as we would if we had stayed. We have seminars over Skype and watch lectures on Youtube.
For her, the logistics and academic feedback has been a success story during the pandemic.
– I have received several emails from them asking about my situation. I have also been able to ask them for advice, and received satisfactory answers. Both my universities have been understanding and helpful.
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Still thriving in Lisbon
Martin Halseide, a 24-year-old student in the course Ingeniørvitenskap & IKT, is currently doing his exchange year in Lisbon, Portugal. This is also where he is spending his time during the lockdown.
– I was in Ericeira with some friends when we got the guidelines from UD regarding exchange students. Naturally, everyone called their parents and many booked tickets back to Norway instantly. I wanted to keep some distance from the chaotic situation and consider my options. I was quite uncertain, but eventually I decided to stay in Lisbon to complete my exchange year, Halseide tells us.
Although his last few months in Portugal have been quite different from how he initially expected them to be, Halseide finds it interesting to see how the covid-19 situation is handled in the country. Halseide received information regarding the shutdown of classes approximately a week before NTNU sent students home from campus, and believes that Portugal was quite quick to put measures into action. Their neighbouring country, Spain, has been heavily affected by the virus. However the same high death rate and chaos is not prevalent in Portugal.
Halseide believes the low death rates in Portugal are due to the government’s quick response, as well as people generally listening to the government guidelines.
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– The first day that classes were cancelled, a lot of students gathered at the beach and it was quite tightly packed. This was definitely not a sensible thing to do, and resulted in a lot of negative media attention in various newspapers. This has luckily not happened since, and it seems most students take the covid-19 situation very seriously, Halseide says.
Financially, it seems Halseide will not be negatively affected by the covid-19 issue. He has been told that NTNU, Erasmus, and Lånekassenscholarships will still be awarded regardless of whether or not the exchange year is completed. He still has not received much information from his Portuguese university about how his June exams will be held, however he has faith that NTNU will accept a different exam form.
Halseide is not particularly concerned about difficulties with returning to Norway. There are still commercial flights between Norway and Portugal, and as both countries are gradually opening up in the coming month he feels no need to be anxious. As his exchange year is coming to an end, he looks forward to returning home and reuniting with his friends, family, and most importantly his girlfriend.