Travel Muse

A Year Abroad During the Pandemic

Lauren Craig speaks to Max Cotton about his experience studying in HongKong

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Image Credit: Max Cotton

At the start of the pandemic way back in March 2020, none of us could not have predicted just how much Covid-19 would still affect our lives today. Back then, despite the pandemic, first and second year students could still hope for and plan a year abroad, an opportunity York, like many other universities, prides itself on.

However, we could not have imagined that a year and a half later students would still be struggling to travel and study abroad. Sadly, that is the reality of the current situation, with cases still remaining high in some countries, rising in others and adding into the mix the new variants making their way around the globe.Countries with low cases- like Hong Kong-and high vaccination rates, continue to remain very cautious of international travel, fearful that it would bring in new strains and potentially cause a rise in cases for them, as we have seen happen over the course of the pandemic.

Consequently, many students have had their hopes dashed for a much anticipated year abroad and for those, like Max who have managed to still go abroad, rules and restrictions in different places will mean their experience is one very different to what they may have first imagined when presented with the idea of studying away from home. Depending on the government and the number of cases, some countries have strict quarantine rules upon arrival that are very much enforced.

Instead or as well as are social distancing, mask requirements and curfews that the residents are expected to follow like curfews.This means that as well as trying to get used to anew culture and way of living, students must also adhere to their host country’s stance on Covid-19.

The university has a web-page for global pro-grammes during the Covid-19 crisis where they offer support and ad-vice, as well as guidelines on the host organisations and academic requirements. There is also information about how to get online international experience if travel is impossible. However, the ever changing nature of covid is reflected as they note that if a planned placement is cancelled at the last minute then students may have to take a year of absence if it is too late to start autumn term as they normally would have done. The unpredictability of the situation is something Max also touches on, showing how during this time any travel is a gamble- but hopefully one that can be extremely exciting and worth the risk.

Indeed, this time last year without vaccines, the prospect of winter and rising covid cases meant that many more placements were cancelled. A year on, governments know much more about how to travel safely and the introduction of mandatory quarantine has meant that those who feel it is worth the possible 10-14 days alone in a room, can again enjoy the enrichment studying abroad can give.

I  recently had the chance to do an interview with Max Cotton , a PPE student spending his third year in Hong Kong where cases are low but local restrictions are in place. Upon arrival he spent 14 days quarentining in a hotel before even thinking about being allowed to explore the city. Max being in Hong Kong signals the beginning of a return to studying abroad, which is such an integral part of what modern universities are expected to offer - broadening horizons and giving students a taste of working life in a completely different environment to what they experience here in Britain. I was interested to know more about his experience and how he has found living in Hong Kong so far.

What course are you studying at university currently?

I am studying as a Social Sciences Student at the University of Hong Kong for a year.

How was your quarantine experience?

I had to quarantine for two weeks and I actually found it hardest at the start.I think the fact that I had so many days in one room still ahead of me was kinda depressing. But eventually I got into a schedule and the days passed much quicker.

How well do you feel the university of York has supported you?

When it looked like HKU might not hap-pen I was super stressed and had no idea whereI’d be next year. I asked the uni for help but they just suggested I give up and do third year. It was only by myself that I managed to find a way to get to Hong Kong.

How well do you feel HKU has supported you?

The university actually offered to put all my courses online while I was in quarantine which was really nice and gave me something todo. Then when I finally got out they had organised a whole bunch of activities to bond with my other course/hall mates.

What are you looking forward to doing and seeing in the city?

I really want to visit the beaches on the southern side of HongKong Island, it’s meant to be beautiful sandy shores. And when you go into the ocean it is actually warm!

How are you feeling about the rest of the year?

I am super excited about my year inHong Kong but I have to start getting used to the idea that I won’t be able to leave till I have fully completed my year abroad unless Hong Kong lifts the quarantine requirements.

Will anything be different?

Surprisingly very little, all the lectures and seminars are taught in person. They are much smaller class sizes and you always have to wear a mask but that’s it! Hong Kong has very few cases so as long as you can get into the city, it's pretty much business as usual.

Is there anything else you want to add and let Nouse readers know about?

I have been set on doing a year abroad sinceI knew you could, but Covid-19 has definitely made things much harder, for a long time it was so bad that I didn’t think I would be able to goto Hong Kong, and yet I was not prepared and didn’t even have a house to stay in if I completed third year. But eventually I figured it out and I am so glad I stayed committed. Despite some restrictions I am having a lot of fun and my adventure has only just begun.

As the vaccine continues to be rolled out across the world and hopes for international travel are on the rise the prospects of uninterrupted years abroad are improving more and more.

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