Embracing new ways of learning to continue studies abroad during a global pandemic
While many students' overseas placements have been cut short by the global COVID-19 outbreak some, like Jamie Russell, have been able to stay in their host country.
In January 2020, Jamie, a student of Special Educational Needs & Inclusion at the University of Northampton, went to the University College Absalon in Roskilde, Denmark, through Erasmus+.
As the Coronavirus spread, universities in countries across Europe reacted in different ways. Jamie’s university in Denmark quickly created a new plan to allow students to complete their studies online - allowing him to finish his course and make the most of this opportunity, despite the difficult circumstances.
“I was around six to seven weeks into my exchange programme, studying Aesthetic Learning in Early Childhood Education, when the pandemic broke out,” Jamie said.
“My home institution followed UK government advice and requested I come home. However, rather than panic and come straight back, I decided to stay and see how the situation developed in Denmark and only return home if my course was cancelled.
"Thanks to my host university’s actions, my course hasn’t been cancelled and I have been able to continue studying through remote learning.”
Denmark reacted quickly, and restrictions were put into a place within a week of the pandemic going global.
“I actually felt a lot safer staying here, where the number of cases of people being infected was decreasing, compared to the UK where they seemed to be increasing,” said Jamie.
“Online learning has presented some challenges because our course is based on aesthetics – dance, drama, music and art. Having a lecture on music when we have connection issues and the sound lags when people are playing instruments is tricky!
"However, our lecturers are in constant contact with us and we usually have four to six online meetings per week, to check our progress and answer any questions and concerns.
I have acquired lots of new skills throughout this lockdown period as there has been plenty of time to learn
“Compared to the UK, the restrictions here in Denmark have been a lot more relaxed. Gatherings of up to 10 people were allowed and public transport stayed open, although you had to reserve a seat, and buses ran as normal, just with a limited number of passengers. You were also free to leave your home as much as you wished.
"We were, therefore, able to have some lectures in a forest close to our university, which was really fun and engaging. It was hugely enjoyable, we were able to meet as a whole class and do some activities together.
Making the most of my time
“Despite the pandemic, I am having a great time. I go out as much as I can and visit as many new places as possible.
"I have met people from across the world and I have even picked up a new hobby - Frisbee Golf – which is really popular here and great fun. I am in touch with all the new friends I made and have monthly Zoom parties with those who left.
“Although I’ll miss the opportunity of visiting other countries while I’m here, we can travel around Denmark. We are planning to visit the tip of Denmark and explore Skagen, where the Baltic Sea and the North Sea meet. We will be able to have one foot in each sea!
Getting back to normal
“In mid-May, Denmark slowly started to reopen and return to normal. My host university is re-opening on a reduced schedule, so we will be allowed two hours of lessons per week on campus for a maximum of 18 people. I am really looking forward to going back because our course is very interactive."
Julian Brown, Subject Leader of Special Educational Needs and Inclusion at the University of Northampton said: "An important principle within our BA (Hons) in Special Educational Needs and Inclusion degree is that we live in a global community and building relationships across countries is important to solving our world’s problems.
"As a result, we have looked for opportunities, such as the Erasmus+ programme, for students to experience countries and cultures outside the UK. We know the life-long memories and friendships these experiences create for students, as well as the life skills they develop when living and studying in another country.
"Erasmus+ is a great programme for Jamie and all our students."
“I believe I have acquired lots of new skills throughout this lockdown period as there has been plenty of time to learn and it has kept me busy," Jamie said.
"My time abroad has been hugely beneficial; as well as learning three new languages - Danish, Dutch and Spanish - my cooking has also improved massively. I have watched videos on more exotic dishes than the standard student meal of beans on toast and I can now cook a curry from scratch!
"Most importantly I was lucky enough to be able to finish my course for which I’m really grateful. I’ll never forget my time here and how I have coped on my own, making the most of a very difficult period.”
Thinking of taking part in an Erasmus+ experience? Read our advice for participants to get started!