Going on Exchange During the Pandemic
Breathe in, the first border: Russian border control officers suspiciously gaze at my red passport; the second border: European border control officers ask about the purpose of my visit; the third border: German police are smiling; breathe out.
I applied for an exchange semester in February. Back then, the world was still open for traveling and no one had a mask in their pocket on a daily basis. In March, I was sent to the hospital for quarantine because I just had the usual flu and in April everyone went on a 2-week (haha) lockdown; you know the rest of the story. But during all these months I haven’t stopped hoping to go on an exchange semester. And after all that, I’m here.
The first scary thing was the visa. I’ve heard and read so many stories about people who didn’t get visas to the Czech Republic or to other countries. The German embassy didn’t reply to my emails and calls for weeks, and then, when I had lost all my hopes, I got an email: you can pick up your passport on weekdays from 10 am till noon. When I got my passport with a freshly painted visa inside, I also got a paper that said: this visa does not guarantee entrance to the country, the decision will be made by the border control services of the Republic of Germany. Cool, so I can go, but they can turn me down right at the border, awesome.
Then there were borders. No direct flights, of course. Only 100 transfer trips which cost a fortune. But RyanAir always helps: I found a Riga to Berlin plane for an affordable amount of money and booked it and the bus to Riga. I had a really nervous week because I actually didn’t know what I would do if the EU border control officers wouldn’t let me in the country. But they checked my papers, my luggage was checked by an amiable dog, and I stepped on the ground of Brezels and solid free education.
My first stop was in Berlin. It was as beautiful as I remembered it. The smell of fresh leaves, warm weather, and free spirit was everywhere. Life seemed normal except for the masks. People in Berlin wore masks only inside and I got used to it pretty quick: going in — mask on.
The next stop was Kleve. A charming city in the very west of Germany, so west that you can practically walk to the Netherlands. My buddy met me at the train station and my new life began. This semester is special. There are no events in person, and even Friends Speed Dating for students is online. But I still enjoy this time. We’re allowed to gather in small groups, so today we had actual Italian pasta from actual Italians and a picnic in the park. The classes are exciting, and there are a lot of practical projects. Even though it was so challenging to get here, I’m really happy that it worked.
I would just say: never give up. Even if it seems impossible and unrealistic, just try to make it happen. And maybe it will actually work as it worked for me?