Studying abroad during a pandemic? It's not all bad...


Deputy Muse Editor Emily Harvie interviews two York students on their term abroad in Spain

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Image by Ed Wills

By Emily Harvie

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has had an immense impact on international travel. Despite millions of others having their plans changed or cancelled due to Covid, Elenore Greenwood and Ed Wills are two University of York students who have managed to go through with their year abroad trips to Spain. Ed is currently studying at a university in Madrid whilst Elenore has a  placement teaching English just outside the Madrid border. I spoke to them both about their different experiences with the recent Madrid lockdown and whether or not a year abroad during a pandemic is worth it.

The immediate consensus from them both was the independence it gave them. Elenore spoke about being thrown in at the deep end with her placement, saying, “this year has definitely made me grow as a person. As soon as school began, I was given multiple classes to teach by myself when I had originally been told that that would only happen at the end of my placement. It shocked me, how a student trained in no way shape or form to teach, was expected to teach multiple classes of years seven to twelve.” Ed also seemed to relate to this with what he termed a “trial by fire” method of adapting. He said, “I’ve learned a lot… it makes you more independent and it’s a bit of a sink or swim. You either learn a lot or it goes really badly”. Now that shouldn’t be a daunting statement for anyone considering a year abroad next year. He says, “[Covid] has made people a bit more friendly. Everyone is in the same boat so everyone is trying to make friends.”

Consequently, concerning the social aspect of their year abroad, it appears that an important element this year is where in the country you choose to visit and how it may be impacted by any potential lockdowns. Ed advocated that the social aspect for him only needed a bit of creativity to flourish: ‘‘You’re forced to find groups of people you want to do stuff with. And so that makes you a lot more creative. We’ve started renting a football pitch on campus every Sunday because we all wanted to play football and that’s something we could all do together. And now we play beach volleyball because it's a way for everyone to hang out.”

Yet, Elenore, who was stuck outside of the Madrid border during the two-week lockdown explained, “my social life has been complicated. Where I live there aren’t many opportunities to speak Spanish except to go to a local restaurant… Living on the outskirts of Madrid hasn’t been the best experience during Covid. It is safer and away from all the hustle and bustle which can be nice if you want to relax, but it can also be lonely.”

What I’m sure many students are wondering is what would happen if they did travel and caught Covid abroad. In that case, it may comfort some to know that although both students had to self-isolate, and Ed tested positive for the virus, both had fairly positive responses to the event, if a little eventful in Elenore’s case. She discussed how her placement mentor put her in a room with a balcony where she had all her meals delivered to her, however as she says, “I had my door egged but my mentor took care of it and then I was informed that the hospital had lost my test. It meant that I was in isolation for the full compulsory ten days. I was very grateful for my phone and laptop as it meant that I could talk to my friends and family who were in another country whenever I wanted.”

In Ed’s case, his isolation period seemed much more familiar. “At the start of the year, we all got Covid because you don’t have fixed groups and you can see up to six people at a time.” Ed explained how there were 120 people in his residence, and similar to a British fresher, everyone is trying to make friends. Yet, Ed said that concerning York, “the insurance company sorted me out a test really quickly’ so he could spend his two weeks in his flat with his roommate, fairly uneventfully.”