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Exchange students vs Covid-19: Oslo, London, Vienna

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In this article of the series “Exchange students vs Covid-19″, we decided to interview three final year bachelor’s students who are doing the exchange in some European universities: Annalisa Sgaramella, Bi Norwegian Business School (Oslo), Carlotta Puccini, casa Business School (London), Leonardo Timperi, Wu – Vienna University of Economics and Business (Vienna)

Annalisa Sgaramella, CLEAM 3rd Year, BI Norwegian Business School, Oslo

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

I’ve chosen to leave because I have been waiting for this experience since I’ve started my bachelor’s degree at Bocconi. It’s my first time spending such a long period abroad and I truly believe that exchange is something you have to do at least once in your life. Exchange selection has been additionally quite harder this year, so I was extremely grateful for this opportunity and I have never thought to give it up. However, I only realized that my exchange went ahead when I was on my way to Oslo.   

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

Obviously, Covid-19 influenced extensively my exchange destination. My biggest dream was doing an overseas experience by going to the US. Unfortunately, during the second exchange application round, spots in US universities have been reduced dramatically due to uncertain travel restrictions and I didn’t get accepted by my first US choices. Although the initial disappointment, now I can say it has been such good fortune. Most US exchanges have been moved to virtual education.  

I chose Norway as a destination because I was so attracted by Scandinavian culture. At the same time, I was extremely scared about the arctic weather and the few hours of light during winter, and as a result Oslo was my penultimate choice. The weather has been a huge surprise though, as it’s always sunny. 

Do you have to face daily restrictions when you are on campus?

Unfortunately, even if Covid-19 cases are extremely low here in Norway (about 200 each day), rules are very strict as the government wants to be careful. Universities in Oslo have been closed some weeks, then they reopened in February given that cases in Oslo were decreasing. Nevertheless, lectures have been online. However, we are allowed to do everything: restaurants and bars are open, ski slopes are open as well, and face masks are not compulsory but recommended.  

How did the restrictions impact your exchange?

For what concerns face masks, they are not compulsory here in Norway when it is possible to maintain a social distance. Even in the classroom or in the library you are not forced to wear a mask. However, social distancing does not allow you to properly meet new people, but it is something we sadly got used to since last year. I personally like online lectures and I believe that even if they will be moved to in presence, digital recordings remain useful.  

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

Lectures were supposed to be mostly in presence, and the university indeed required us to come to Norway in person. They never asked us to choose between an online exchange or a physical one because they expected Covid-19 situation to be under control. However, after the new Covid-19 strains were discovered, the government wants to be very careful as I pointed out before. Decisions are made on a weekly basis, by now until Easter at least lectures will be 100% online. From the current situation, I believe that we will not be allowed to go to lesson in presence, since the lectures end on the 30th of April.

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

Of course, my experience is not the same as it would have been without the pandemic. I don’t think it will lack quality. It is only different. For instance, we are organizing a lot of outdoor activities (even if it’s very cold) instead of meeting each other indoor because of the restrictions.   

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?  

It’s possible to travel all around Norway but we’re not allowed to exit the country because borders are closed, and we won’t be able to come back. Obviously, I would like to visit more of Norway the more I can. I recently went to Tromso to see the northern light, which was a breathtaking experience! With other exchange students I made other trips to some places near Oslo, for instance we went skiing, and we are planning to go to Bergen for Easter.

Basing off what you have lived through until today, how would you judge this experience? Would you do everything again?  

I would say that I’m spending an amazing time here and I can’t be more grateful for such an incredible opportunity. I feel extremely lucky because, after one year of high restrictions, I can finally “breathe”.  Even if it’s not the place I’ve always dreamed about, I think that unexpected things are the best. This country’s beautiful and there are so many places to visit.  As I said, I was extremely scared about the weather, especially because I come from the south of Italy, so I was not that used to the cold. Despite all my fears, the weather is not that dramatic, I would say that it’s even better than Milan’s! I would definitely do everything again and again. It’s so worth it.  

Carlotta Puccini, BIEM 3rd Year, Cass Business School, London  (online)

Many students gave up their exchange applications in 2020 because of the pandemic. Why did you choose to go ahead with this experience?  

The main reason why I chose to confirm my Exchange Program, despite the fact they were being held virtually, was the opportunity provided by this curricular experience. I believe that being able to study at an important university like the Cass Business School was a chance I could not miss. Clearly, the impossibility to attend on campus and to spend four months in London was quite frustrating but I wanted to make the best out of it and not waste the hard work and commitment I put into being accepted as an exchange student at the Business School. 

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

Yes, London is currently in lockdown and, while my university initially planned to provide face-to-face lectures, it ended up having to host them virtually throughout the whole trimester.  I chose the UK and, in particular, London because I had already spent two months there when I was 16 and I really enjoyed my experience. Plus, it is a fascinating city that I would have loved to explore further. 

Related:  Exchange students vs Covid-19: USA Edition

Did you meet new people even with the online format? Do you think that making connections is more difficult with 100% online lessons?  

Yes, I did. All modules require a group coursework, which allowed me to meet new people. However, I do think that making connections has been more difficult than it would have been in person, especially when it comes to life-lasting friendships. 

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

In terms of curricular experience, I believe online classes are a fair substitute for on-campus ones. On the other hand, in terms of personal experience, not being able to fully live my Exchange Program has definitely been a worsening factor.  

What are the principal difficulties that you have to face with online exchange?

The main difficulty has been the different teaching methods. While in Bocconi we are used to having most of the program taught during the lectures, at Cass we are required to study the program almost completely by ourselves. Indeed, prior to each lecture, we are given some material to study and lectures are mainly used as practice and discussion sessions. Plus, each module has a compulsory group coursework, which accounts for part of the final grade. 

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

In January, we were given the opportunity to choose whether to attend virtually from our home country or from the UK. I chose to stay in Italy both because London was – and still is – in lockdown, and to reduce the related sanitary risks. Even though I already know the city quite well, I would love to visit it as soon as possible. 

Basing off what you have lived through until today, how would you judge this experience? Would you do everything again?  

So far, it has been an interesting experience and I would certainly recommend it, especially if held on-campus. I will surely apply for the Exchange Program during my MSc in International Management, in order to make up for the “lost” opportunity and to be able to do it in presence! 

Leonardo Timperi, 3rd year BEMACS, WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) 

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

I decided to send my application because I was interested in having an international experience during my bachelor’s, even if it was 100% online.  WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) encouraged me to move to Vienna, although classes will be entirely online until Easter at least. Moreover, I was feeling pretty depressed in Rome with the lockdown, passing most of the days in front of my computer. Now I live with other students coming from all over the world.  

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

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I was accepted to NUS (National University of Singapore), but I received an email in October from Bocconi University stating that the exchange program was cancelled for this year. Then Bocconi offered me the opportunity to do an exchange either in Maastricht or Vienna, and I opted for Vienna since I have a preference for larger cities with a more active cultural life.   

Do you have to face daily restrictions when you are on campus?

There are restrictions in Vienna (bars and restaurants closed), but in general there is less pressure in respecting them compared to Italy.

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

My classes are completely online until Easter at least. Each professor decides which platform (Teams, Zoom, etc.) he/she wants to use to deliver the lesson. 

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

Certainly, the pandemic is having a negative impact on my experience compared to previous years. We are missing the social interaction with other university students and professors, together with all the campus life and activities. However, I still think that this exchange is giving me a lot, especially compared to the life I was conducting in Italy before departure.  

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?  

It is possible to travel around the region of Vienna, including the countryside. This means that many people go skiing during the weekend, or make two-days trips to the countryside, which is approximately two hours by train from Wien. During this month the government might loosen the restrictions and I will visit more of my exchange destination 

Basing off what you have lived through until today, how would you judge this experience? Would you do everything again?  

Certainly yes. I was conducting a very depressing life in Rome and Milan, attending lessons online and spending a lot of time alone. I accepted the challenge to move to Austria despite the online classes and I feel much better. WU provides me adequate support for my academic activities, and we created a community of exchange students thanks to which I restarted to have a meaningful social life. 

Author profile

I’m an Economics and Management student at Bocconi University, coming from Puglia. I’m interested in all forms of art, cinema, literature and culture.

Author profile
Editorial Director | francesca.cocco@studbocconi.it

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

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