Hi, my name is Ina, 18 years old, and I’m a former exchange student from Germany. I live in the north of Germany, next to the Dutch border, on a farm. This year I should be spending in southern France until July but unfortunately, my organisation aborted our program due to the upcoming risks for us abroad. It was a Thursday evening in …
… boarding school when the entire corridor decided to go crazy. Macron had just announced the closing of schools from Monday, the 16th of march.
While everyone was happily running around and telling their friends and family on the phone, packing their suitcases, I was breaking out in tears, figuring that I’ll be sent home soon.
All the 35 exchange students in my region were freaking out too. We were all so scared to be sent home and our committee president told us our organisation AFS will have a conference about how they are going to organize themselves that weekend.
Sunday we received the email, saying that AFS is terminating all 10,000 ongoing programs everywhere in the world. Ten days later I sat in a plane back home … the end of this enormous adventure had come by so quickly.
Since they announced a national quarantine (which ended May 11th), I couldn’t even see my friends before leaving. Especially the ones from the exchange, coming from Paraguay, Turkey, Japan.
I continue French online school since I’ll be graduating there. So I will be able to see my French friends at least (hopefully) when I come to France to pick up my diploma. In the end, France isn’t that far from Germany, so I wasn’t as sad to be leaving the country.
Instead, what was and is bothering me the most, that I will never see my exchange friends in this constellation again. Normally, all 200 exchange students in France being in the 10-month program would have seen each other again on the final weekend in Paris.
I think all measures – from the organisation and the government – are justified and comprehensible. France had a lot of cases, and exchange students in countries with less stable governments… well, how could you be sure to be able to take responsibility for them in such conditions? I think as an organisation’s head I would have probably taken a similar decision, even though it is hard for the participants.
Nevertheless, they took good care of us, setting in place video conferences and a special program in order to educate us on global competences. This helped a lot, reflecting on everything good and bad that happened in the past 7 months. It also gave interesting insights about each country’s current situation and how the governments are dealing with it.
While France announced a quarantine which finally would last almost two months and the closing of schools, for the most part, Germany only set in place few restrictions (no quarantine, just less social contacts) and step by step people are going back to school and work.
Even though it is a difficult and sad truth that I will never be able to see everyone again who I met on exchange, I think I yet learnt a lot in this situation. Even if Germany is slowly letting go of restrictions (we can go to restaurants, school etc. again with certain security regulations), I spend a lot of time alone with myself.
I learn a lot of what I am capable of, of what I need to be happy, what I would like to learn and who I would like to spend my time with. It is a period sufficiently weird, you can be confused and feel stuck, there is a lot of feelings which one will be confronted with which might appear really difficult. But those are in a way reflections of what you need, of what you need to change in your life or the way you think, and they put the spotlight back onto what is important in life – human contacts, less consumption, more enjoyment, taking a walk outside, appreciating those around you (or if not, letting go of them).
So, in a way, I learnt a lot, and I learnt that I actually really like to be alone. I started Italian, I work on my Swedish, I inform myself about the effects of globalisation, climate change, racism and overpopulation, and I take a bike ride every once in a while to breathe a bit. I meditate, I read, and I hug my Mama.
Isolation can be difficult, and I am certainly in a privileged situation, living with my parents, on the countryside, in a big house, without financial difficulties and in a country with fewer restrictions so I see my friends once in a while.
But what I learn during this period, is that most things are not as important as I thought they were and that it is not only the amazing human beings around me which I love and love spending time with but also my very own self!
I hope that after, I will be more at peace with myself, knowing where to go or being fine with not knowing, and setting the focus back onto the things that I believe bring me happiness in life.
I hope that others will experience this too. I hope that others will cease to believe that the shutdowns due to Corona are some sort of pause, a phase of transition, to soon be going back to “normal life”. Rather, one should see it as a very unique opportunity to turn something as bad into something sustainably positive.
For me, I hope to be able to get my diploma and leave for university in the Hague in September. I applied for International Studies. So somehow, my international journey is continuing, even if I always will miss my international friends from exchange.
Contributing to this blog means contributing to some sort of memory of this period, and to be able to encourage my friends from all over the world to do so too, is something I am thankful for.
The internet can be a very dangerous place, coined by negativity, but this blog can be something beautifully inspiring.
We can bring people together, raise awareness and empathy for others, we can unleash more curiosity – and finally, evoke more international sovereignty and solidarity between the different people in times where those seem to be at stake