Earlier this year many students faced uncertainty as they waited to hear whether they would still be able to study abroad. Forge Press spoke to some students who were able to go ahead with Erasmus study to see how universities elsewhere in Europe are carrying out teaching and what their experience has been like so far.

Maria Oliveira, studying Politics and French at The Paris Institute of Political Studies (SciencesPo), said she feels “better off in France than in university in the UK” as not many people she knows have had to isolate.

Santé Publique France, the country’s public health department, says Paris has 398 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in the Ile de France region. Sheffield has a similar number, with 429 cases per 100,000 people in the week up to 20 October.

Oliveira said her teaching experience so far has been comparable to what students are receiving back home in Sheffield. Seminars are taught online and she is able to access the library on campus. The SciencesPo campus recently shut for two weeks due to high case numbers, this included moving all teaching online and closure of libraries and other facilities on campus.

She feels that, despite the circumstances, she has met lots of new people and has settled in well and wants to “just make the most of the year abroad”.

France has recently come under a second national lockdown, which is to be reviewed every two weeks and is expected to last until 1 December.

Francesca Whelan, an Erasmus Hispanic studies student at the Universidad de Sevilla in Spain, is also keeping optimistic about the year ahead. 

A few months ago I didn’t think I would be able to be here, so I am just making the best of the situation and if that means I can’t do everything that normally would characterise a year abroad experience in Sevilla, at least I’m here”, she said. 

Although Whelan’s classes haven’t started yet, she is expecting to be alternating between face-to-face teaching one week and online teaching the next, and believes online teaching by the University of Sheffield over lockdown has prepared her for this adjustment. 

As Francesca is still waiting for teaching to start she has been filling her time trying to immerse herself as much as possible in the language and culture.

She told Forge Press: “With family and friends back home facing harsh restrictions I am trying to do as much as possible whilst I can, although the reality of the coronavirus situation is not very transparent in Spain so it could get just as bad as in the UK soon.” 

One of Europe’s worst affected countries, Spain has now reached a total 1,046,321 confirmed cases since Covid testing began in February compared to 830,998 in the UK. Yet infection rates in Seville are currently relatively low with 190 cases per 100,000 inhabitants from 12 October to 18 October.

Carys Aspden, 21, is a Civil Engineering and modern language student also studying at the University of Granada in Spain. She told Forge Press that the University has temporarily suspended in-person teaching for 15 days following new local government restrictions: 

“I was so grateful for face-to-face lectures, as I find it much easier to concentrate in person”, she said. 

“This is especially important when the lectures are in a foreign language. Also it meant that I could get to know coursemates and feel more integrated in the Spanish university community.”

Despite finding the move to online teaching frustrating, Aspden added she was “feeling more and more settled everyday”, having fallen in love with “this slightly lazier way of living, with long lunches, relaxed afternoons, and late dinner.”

As of 18 October, Granada has 401 cases per 100,000 people, making it one of the areas with the highest rates of infection in Spain.

Aspden said that she and her peers are keeping optimistic and are grateful to have had this opportunity even if “no one is particularly happy about the restrictions”.


Images: Maria Oliveira, Francesca Whelan


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