I had survived all the other challenges and tests that come with a year studying abroad: new city, living in a language I had only really spoken in my seminars, I even survived breaking my arm three weeks into what was meant to be (and has been) the best year of my life. I never would have thought that a global pandemic would upend the rest of my Erasmus experience, only five months in. To put it simply, I am devestated.
As I write this from my childhood bedroom in the Scottish Borders, the last three weeks have been confusing and unexpected, and my future is uncertain. In mid-February, following the end of my winter semester at University of Freiburg in Germany, my friends and I ate fajitas as we reflected and reminisced on our first semester together, whilst also saying goodbye to three of our friends who would not be joining us for the rest of the exchange year. I remember thinking rather remorsefully that this would be most likely be one of the last occasions that the 14 of us would all be together in one room, before we all went back to our home countries. It was a poignant and nostalgic evening, but it was reassuring for me to know that the majority of us would be here next
semester, and we’d already started making plans.
During the semester break, we all went our separate ways: travelling, volunteering, working. I went travelling with a couple of friends and when I left Germany at the start of March, there were only a handful of coronavirus cases in Freiburg. Three weeks later, I am writing on day two of their city-imposed lockdown, with the nation-wide one beginning imminently. After a tearful and frightening call from my sister, it didn’t make sense to keep travelling, and I flew back to Scotland two weeks earlier than anticipated.
Whilst it’s lovely being with my parents in the peace and quiet of the countryside, I can’t help but feel useless and helpless. Looking from afar at, what was my new home, and speaking with friends who are still there and caught in the middle of it, unable to leave their flats unless they’re going to the supermarket, I just wish the UK would really understand the seriousness of it. I can see the UK go through the same steps as other countries but two weeks behind, the same mistakes being made again. At the time of writing, there’s already more coronavirus-related deaths in the UK than in Germany despite Germany having 23,000 cases compared to the UK’s 5,000. My motives feel
selfish: I want the UK to get its act together in hope that I can return to Freiburg and start my summer semester on the 20th April, however every day that is more and more unrealistic. I feel self-centred for keeping my year abroad at the forefront of my mind, something so trivial in this global crisis, and not the wellbeing of the general public. As I self-isolate, it’s difficult to keep positive and hopeful when I see people around me not practicing social distancing. I’m doing what I can to try and minimise the spread of this disease, so life can hopefully return back to normal soon, why can’t others? I’ve seen other Glasgow university language students’ years abroad fall apart and end early, with them hastily packing up all their belongings and getting the next flight back home. Every other day, another friend from Freiburg updates our group chat with the news that their home university has effectively ended their exchange and they are being “strongly advised” to return to their home country. I’m lucky in that I still have two years left of my degree to complete in Glasgow, unlike final-year students who have had to finish their degrees on a sour note, but my year abroad is unfinished. I had said goodbye to my three friends and made peace with them leaving Freiburg. I didn’t think I might have to say goodbye early to the city myself.
I don’t know what the future of my Erasmus year holds: I haven’t officially been recalled by Glasgow and my host university haven’t made any decisions about the summer semester yet. I’m staying naively optimistic, despite the sneers of family-friends saying there’s no chance I’ll be back. I’ve been put in a weird unexpected situation: I didn’t plan to be back in Scotland until September, and being confined to my house is not the big ‘welcome home’ I was expecting. I’m holding onto my hope and optimism, as the idea of being able to study again in my new home in Freiburg and reunited with my pals is the only thing keeping me positive right now. I know I will return to Freiburg, at the very least to collect my belongings and fingers-crossed for the rest of my year abroad, but for now, I have to wait patiently, blindly hoping for a miracle.
[Eilidh Reid – @eilidhlesen – she/her]