Students studying abroad forced to come home due to Covid-19

Katie Lowry

DCU students studying abroad were advised to return to Ireland amid the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic.

Students abroad have praised both DCU and their host colleges on their proactive efforts advising students to return home and have commended DCU on being extremely facilitating during the crisis. All students are currently partaking in online classes each day and completing assignments as per usual.

Eimhin Charlton, studying Global Business Spain had been residing in Madrid for the current academic year. What was once a city full of life, utterly transformed as shops, universities, schools and restaurants closed and the once buzzy streets of Madrid became empty almost overnight.

Charlton feels the laid-back aspect of the Spanish culture, meant that people didn’t take the situation too seriously until it was too late.

“This became apparent when the city suddenly shut down in the space of 24 hours after weeks of normality.”

Erika Jones described coming home from Deusto University  in San Sebastian as “definitely nerve-wrecking and a bit scary. There was such a large amount of people leaving the country in such a short space of time, so it was stressful but, in the end, it was all ok.”

In Brock University in Canada, DCU students Roisin Fagan and Denise Brennan said they were still attending lectures with 400 plus people at the same time Europe felt like it was quickly shutting down.

After numerous emails from DCU urging international students to come home, finally after a few weeks Brock closed their doors and Brennan and Fagan made their way back to Ireland amid rumours of borders closing. Classes, exams and assignments remain on the agenda for these students however the time difference is proving a challenge.

“There’s a major time difference, so I’ll be doing one exam from 12am-2am and the lecturer isn’t accommodating international students time difference. Other lecturers have been understanding of the time difference,” said Brennan.

Fagan also highlighted that she was supposed to complete an internship in Toronto this summer which unfortunately is now not going ahead. Brennan is also extremely disappointed as her internship prospects are unable to materialize “so I’m unemployed for summer technically. “

Students are finding it harder to concentrate on classes from the comfort of their own home as opposed to a classroom setting. Another difficulty for these students is the time delay as regards communication with lecturers. Any doubts or questions students may have must be sent via email and awaiting a response over the course of a few hours can be a nuisance. Colleges have moved everything online swiftly so delivery has not been affected although some students are still unaware of how they will be assessed and whether exams will be online.

Thomas McGowan was studying abroad in Deusto Universidad in Bilbao and was advised to return home by DCU before he was in a situation where he would struggle to get home due to potential border closures and ended up coming home on March 15th.

“It was quite scary to be honest; we were near a red zone (Vitoria, 1 hour from Bilbao) and gradually as the days went on, the shops and bars started closing and it became very eerie around the city.”

A vibrant city packed with Saturday night life turned into a city empty with life, everything shut and a new police presence.

“Tracking the progress that occurred in Madrid was also quite worrying for us.”

McGowan also had plans to work in Bilbao for summer arranged which he described as disappointing and throws a spanner into his summer plans, “but I am much happier to be stuck in my house at home than in Bilbao especially now with how mental the cases have gone in Spain.”

For many students this has not only been an extremely worrying time but has also been a financial burden. McGowan says, “flights naturally were very expensive home, I paid over €300 for a one-way flight. My landlord was very accommodating, and we only lost our deposit as a payment for a month of rent to find someone alternative.”

Many students are currently in discussions with landlords, but some students have already lost a significant amount of money.

Denise Brennan has lost $620 in rent and will still have to pay bills even though she is not in the country. She also has had to cancel phone plans and electricity accounts which she says “is so hard as they only deal with people over the phone. I also can’t sell on furniture which would have been around $500 into my pocket and accommodation will more than likely just throw it out.”

Numerous students were also on their intra placement abroad, such as David Molloy who was on an internship in Munich when things began to worsen, and he was granted permission by his company to work from home back in Galway as DCU urged students to return home if possible.

Molloy says, “although I am still able to work from home sufficiently, I feel my German won’t improve as much as I won’t be speaking it every day with my colleagues. I am also missing out on the opportunity to live in Munich, which I was really enjoying as a city.”

Joanne Colfer who was working in Berlin found comfort in the fact DCU would give full support to students if they couldn’t work from home and therefore lost a job as DCU ensured they will still be able to progress to the next year.

Laura Storan describes the change from working in an office in Frankfurt to home in Tipperary as huge. It is essential to be kept in the loop with your team and thankfully Laura receives a daily call every morning to check in and make sure everyone is healthy.

“Daily check ins are good for keeping up my German throughout the day too. It’s tough being in a different setting that I can’t speak and practice German fluently.”

Everyone is positive in Storan’s workplace and hoping this will only be for a few weeks “but our managers have said it could go on for a few months.”

Katie Lowry

Image Credit:Pxhere