Being on exchange during the pandemic

Stacey Rondan_HEA

Written by Stacey Rondan, UTS Bachelor of Nursing/Bachelor of Arts in International Studies student

In France, we are now coming to the end of two months in lockdown, and I cannot begin to describe the feelings of hope and relief that are in the air. Tomorrow, for the first time since mid-March, we will be able to travel further than a 1km radius of our homes, with no ‘attestation’ and with no time constraints.

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I am writing from the comfort of my very cosy (9 metres squared) room in Aix-en-Provence and am astonished by what we have collectively been through these past few months. If someone had said to me last year, that I would be on exchange during a pandemic, I would have most likely laughed and walked away, bewildered by the comment.

Before arriving in France, I had created an idea in my mind of what the year ahead would look like. Perhaps I would travel to neighbouring countries, or stroll down picturesque fields of the countryside like in the movies. After chatting to previous ICS (in-country-study) students back home and scrolling through endless content on social media, I had already pictured what adventures may be in store for 2020.

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Exploring the ‘forest’ that is within our residence

I thought it was through these experiences that I would learn more about myself and grow as a person. But it was the period of confinement that taught me to have a deeper appreciation for the everyday things we take for granted.

In early March, rumours about this ‘new virus’ began to circulate around the university. Despite this, students appeared to be reasonably calm and carried on with their daily lives. There was a general feeling that this, like in past cases, would blow over. It wasn’t until a week or so later that my teacher announced that the university would close until further notice and our classes would be conducted online through Zoom.

The rush to leave France was phenomenal to witness. I said many hasty goodbyes to friends I had made over the semester at my new university. Then, the constraints of the pandemic set in: no travel further than 1km from your home and only for one hour a day for exercise or to buy essentials.

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Captured on one of my walks in Aix-en-Provence.

I can only describe these past two months as a rollercoaster of emotions, but I have also had new insights and experiences I didn’t think I would have. I have been very privileged to have the luxury to stay at home and I am grateful to have been accompanied by four other ICS students here with me.

Together, we celebrated a birthday, made a habit of eating dinner together almost every night and enjoyed watching the spring emerge around us. Although some may say that this pandemic has hindered the cultural experience, I would disagree. I have regularly kept up-to-date with the local news by listening to the radio and reading (taking one phrase at a time). There is a kind and positive spirit that lives in the community within Aix-en-Provence.

We are optimistic for the future and look forward to whatever challenges lay ahead of us during the rest of our time here in France.

I also want to express my sincerest gratitude to the staff at UTS who guided us through such an unprecedented time. Their support has been invaluable to us over here.

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