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Exchange Students vs Covid-19: ESADE Barcelona, HEC Paris, EDHEC Nice and Católica Lisbon

Reading time: 10 minutes

Our university is well renowned for its partnerships with foreign universities and for the possibility it gives students to have international experiences. However, exchange programs for the academic year 2020-2021 have been a rollercoaster of emotions. To know more about this unique experience in Covid-19 times, we have decided to interview some exchange students in a series of articles, starting from this one, featuring Maddalena Caligo, ESADE (Barcelona), Lorenzo Musitelli, HEC (Paris), Susanna Scaloni, EDHEC (Nice) and Elena Emiliani, Católica-Lisbon SBE (Lisbon).

Getting involved into the exchange program this academic year has not been a piece of cake. The Bocconi class of 2021 had to first compile the application between the 10th and 19th of February 2020, when only China at the time had been excluded as a destination. Then, Covid-19 started spreading everywhere, starting from our Italy: on the 22nd of February, after the first case in Codogno, we got the news of suspension of university lectures.

With this situation, the exchange results were postponed to a date to be defined later. And this “postponement” was transformed into a second application, which had to be compiled before the 6th of July 2020. This time, the entirety of Latin America’s destinations were excluded.

After receiving the results at the end of July, some students saw their exchange cancelled. Others, however, had the luck to leave for their Spring 2021 exchange destination.

In the first article of the series “Exchange students vs Covid-19″, we have decided to interview four of these final year bachelor’s students who left for European destinations, to know more about their experience: Maddalena Caligo, ESADE (Barcelona), Lorenzo Musitelli, HEC (Paris), Susanna Scaloni, EDHEC (Nice) and Elena Emiliani, Católica- Lisbon SBE (Lisbon).

Maddalena Caligo, BIEM 3rd year, ESADE in Barcelona (Spain)

Many students gave up exchange applications in 2020 because of the pandemic. Why did you choose to leave?

Because I think that the bachelor’s exchange is an opportunity that comes once in your life. Also, it is true that there are restrictions due to Covid-19 but, I believe that, after one year of pandemic, life must go on. Last, but not least, because I really love travelling and discovering new cultures: I had an exchange experience during high school and I loved it!

Did Covid-19 influence your exchange destination? How did you choose the country?

Yes, at the beginning my dream destination was California but after the Covid-19 outbreak I decided to remain in Europe. I chose Barcelona because of the sunny weather and the Spanish lifestyle. Also, because of the length of the experience (from January to May) and because of exam conversion, easy for my study plan.

Is there a blended format for the lessons or are they 100% in presence/online? How are they managed?

The format is blended. University regulations say that theoretical classes are online, while practical classes are in presence. However, it is up to the professor to decide if the class is theoretical or practical. You have the possibility to follow the class on Zoom but you must have a reason for not going on campus if the lesson is scheduled face-to-face. University is not strict with the reasons: the key point is that you send an email to the professor to state that you are not going to be in class.

Concerning lessons in presence, how did restrictions impact them?

When we are on campus, we have to wear masks, sanitize our hands, keep social distance and there cannot be big gatherings. Due to restrictions, the number of people in each class is much lower. Without them, in presence class would have been better because you would have had the opportunity to know more your classmates and to be closer to them, so making it easier to talk with them. Also, other types of activities, such as in-company visits, have been cancelled.

Do you think that your experience will lack quality because of the pandemic?

I do not think that it will lack quality, it will only be different. For example, Barcelona is now without tourists, and this is a unique feature that will never happen again in the future. Also, it is famous for its nightlife, but now with the curfew at 10 pm you can only meet people before: so, it is a different side of Barcelona. Another key feature is that people coming here are really motivated. For sure, it is a bit weird that, to know and meet people, you are forced to contact them on social media and only afterwards you get to know them.

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Is it possible to travel in the country where you are right now? Would you like to visit more of your exchange destination?

Right now, it is not possible. However, as soon as they open, I will travel a lot. I already have a list of all the places where I want to go, such as Madrid, Valencia, then to the South of Spain and to Saragoza.

Basing off what you have lived until today, how would you judge this experience?

So far, the experience has been great. At the beginning I was a bit scared to be obliged to stay locked in my room here in Barcelona, but this was not the case. I would do everything again and I would especially  choose Barcelona because it is a place where there are a lot of things to do outside and the weather is always good, so you can go to the beach, go for a hike or do physical exercise outside.

Lorenzo Musitelli, BIEM 3rd year, HEC in Paris (France)

Many students gave up exchange applications in 2020 because of the pandemic. Why did you choose to leave?

Many students that were chosen from my destination decided not to come to Paris, but to stay home and attend the lectures online, because they were scared of the situation and all the implications. I decided to leave anyway because I wanted to try something different, to go over what I knew, being at Bocconi and in Milan.

Did Covid-19 influence your exchange destination? How did you choose the country?

My first choice was to go to NUS in Singapore but the university there decided to delete our exchange program. So, Bocconi called us back and told us that we could go to five other destinations if we wanted: HEC, Maastricht University, Esade Barcelona, Vienna and Helsinki University. Among them, I opted for HEC Paris.

Is there a blended format for the lessons or are they 100% in presence/online? How are they managed?

Right now, the core courses are following a one week online, one week on campus schedule, while the electives are all online. Also, on campus, like in Bocconi, you need to keep distance between people so you must observe the rule of leaving a free seat between yourself and other people.

Do you think that your experience will lack quality because of the pandemic?

Of course, we will miss something. The campus is renowned for its sports, but all is cancelled. Also, we are currently in a residence which is not on campus, because we are not allowed to stay there. Another limitation is the curfew of 6 pm: you miss a lot because you must stay in your room after that time and cannot meet people.

Is it possible to travel in the country where you are right now? Would you like to visit more of your exchange destination?

Coming here was quite a journey because of the requirement of the Covid-19 test. However, since I am a student, I have a valid reason to come here. With regards to travelling within the country, we can go wherever we want in France, since there is no lockdown. When there are weeks of holidays, together with other exchange students, I was planning to make some trips, but the curfew is still an issue.

Basing off what you have lived until today, how would you judge this experience?

I am very glad I am here and not back in Italy because I am meeting many people from all over the world. I am especially thankful to be in a student residence and not in an apartment, because I have the chance to meet even more people.

Susanna Scaloni, BIEM 3rd year, EDHEC in Nice (France)

Many students gave up exchange applications in 2020 because of the pandemic. Why did you choose to leave?

I just had no doubt about leaving or not because I had not gone to Bocconi for a while and I just needed to leave and go somewhere else, to give a turning point to my current situation. Also, I could not wait to go in exchange because I think that it is a big opportunity in any case, with or without Covid-19. I thought this experience was going to be okay back then, but actually I feel like this experience is making me appreciate even more other things. I have a feeling that being here with Covid-19 is even better than without. For instance, I was an exchange student at high school in California without Covid-19, but with Covid-19, you have the chance to share your experience and emotions with other people like you, which is an awesome opportunity.

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Did Covid-19 influence your exchange destination? Why did you choose this country?

Before Covid-19, I had chosen a completely different destination. In my first application, EDHEC was my 8th or 9th destination. Then, Covid-19 came and in the second application I decided to put only European countries because I did not want to go far and I was pretty sure that they would not allow me to go to the US or Canada. Although EDHEC was not my top choice even in my application in June, I am very happy I ended up here, because the situation is very good and we manage to do a lot of things, such as going to campus, even for 9 hours straight, like today!

Is there a blended format for the lessons or are they 100% in presence/online? How are they managed?

There is a blended format: I would say their schedule is 60% on campus, 30% online (synchronous) and 10% asynchronous, meaning that they upload the lectures/material, without class interaction. Of course, we have to face the restrictions on campus: you must wear masks, you cannot sit next to other students and the classes are spread out so that you do not have concentration of different students. However, it is definitely worth it: it is very nice to go on campus because the university is on the beach…

Concerning lessons in presence, how did restrictions impact them?

EDHEC is doing a good job at managing the blended format and they have a good internet platform. However, of course I miss something. For instance, most of my courses are practical and more interaction with students would make a difference.

Do you think that your experience will lack quality because of the pandemic?

I feel like it would just be different. It is up to us to make it an experience of quality, besides the pandemic.  Of course, there are restrictions and you cannot do whatever you want, but you still get to have quality time… real quality time!

Is it possible to travel in the country where you are right now? Would you like to visit more of your exchange destination?

Actually it is possible because there is no lockdown. I have already been to Cannes and I am planning to go to Montecarlo and other places. I am very glad that we have got to travel a little bit and I am very curious to discover Cote Azur: I had never been there before, but it is really beautiful!

Basing off what you have lived until today, how would you judge this experience?

These weeks have been some of the best weeks of my life. I met so many people, I live with two roommates, one from Bocconi that I did not know before coming here and one from Spain, with whom I get along well! We are making social life fun: for instance, going to the beach or to someone’s place to enjoy some time together, until curfew. This experience went beyond my expectations: before leaving I did not think it was going to be this good!

Elena Emiliani, CLEAM 3rd year, Católica Lisbon (Portugal)

Many students gave up exchange applications in 2020 because of the pandemic. Why did you choose to leave?

Back in June, I really wanted to apply, even if I was aware that this experience could have been very different from what I dreamt during these years at Bocconi. Indeed, I thought the exchange was an opportunity to get out from my comfort zone.

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Did Covid-19 influence your exchange destination? Why did you choose this country?

I did not choose Católica-Lisbon SBE in my first application, while in the second one I chose more destinations from Europe, but still my first choice was Singapore, with my second choice being Lisbon. I chose Portugal because I thought it was a very chill destination, there is good weather, and it is possible to go to the beach.

Is there a blended format for the lessons or are they 100% in presence/online? How are they managed?

Until the mid of January I thought that my exchange could have been held in presence, so I reserved my apartment with a friend that studies at Bocconi as well. However, as the cases increased, the country was put on lockdown. I had to start my lectures on the 1st of February, so my friend and I decided to go to Lisbon anyway. By now, the lessons are 100% online until at least Easter, then maybe there will be the possibility to go back to a blended mode.

How is the lockdown in Lisbon now?

By now, we can only go out for grocery shopping and we can order food by restaurants. However, we can walk around the city, so, luckily, I get to know a bit the city.

Concerning lessons online, what is the difference with Bocconi? What about the social life aspect?

Actually, the lessons are very good: there are small classes (20-50 people), so that we all have the possibility to talk. Since I have a lot of group projects, I can talk with other students in calls or WhatsApp group chats. Of course, they are not strong connections, but I hope that in the future I will have the opportunity to meet them in person.

Do you think that your experience will lack quality because of the pandemic?

I think that it is high quality despite the restrictions. The principal difficulty is that we do not have the registered classes, so we need to follow the recordings.

Is it possible to travel in the country where you are right now? If it is possible now or when it will be possible in the future, would you like to visit more of your exchange destination?

I could come to Portugal because I am a student, but I am not sure if tourists can come here.  With regards moving within the country, for now it is not allowed.

Basing off what you have lived until today, how would you judge this experience?

I think this is one of the best experiences of my life, even with all the restrictions, because I am speaking English and I am going out of my comfort zone. I would definitely do everything again!

Author profile
Francesca Sofia Cocco
Editorial Director | francesca.cocco@studbocconi.it

Editorial Director and intrepid reporter. Currently studying International Economics and Management

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