Going home is not a viable option for everyone. However, staying in Norway is not easy either.
All of us have taken to the outbreak of covid-19 differently. While most of us have had the option to return home and continue our studies, foreign students at NTNU have found themselves in an unprecedented situation cast by the advent of a global pandemic. For many foreign students at NTNU it is a tale of uncertainty and alienation, with the future of their semester and studies in question.
– I wish they had communicated with us more. I wish they had come up with some good solutions to the problem instead of just cancelling everything months in advance.
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Laurita Patrulytė, a Global Health Master’s student from Lithuania, was in Georgia where she planned to complete her thesis research before returning to Trondheim to finish her last semester. Instead, she has returned home, taking up a full-time job. Traveling back to Norway was a near impossibility.
– Three weeks ago I learned they were canceling our thesis defense and postponing the submission deadline, so I just stayed in Lithuania. Our program did not communicate with us at all.
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Fear of going home
However, home is not an option for others. The fear of contracting the virus on the journey home is legitimate for several exchange students, especially those traveling through big airports.
Clara Panchaud, a 23-year-old from Switzerland, is in her first year of a Master’s in mathematical sciences at NTNU. She considered returning back home to Geneva at the start of the outbreak, but decided to stay in Trondheim.
– If I traveled home I would have had to stay at an airport – possibly a big one, and use public transport all the way home. This would have put me more at risk for contracting covid-19. Personally, I do not think I would have been badly affected by the virus, but my mother could be in danger if she is infected, Panchaud says.
Panchaud is happy staying in Norway, as she feels that the government has put good measures into action. In Switzerland, only grocery stores are open, her home country has taken the measures a ‘step further’. However, she notes that Switzerland is between many countries who have been badly affected by covid-19, and she understands why it is stricter there
Panchaud is also satisfied with the decision by NTNU to change the exam form in several of her subjects to pass or fail. The university where she took her bachelors, EPFL, has decided to move all exams to August and she feels lucky that this is not the case at NTNU.
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Stuck in another country
– I ended up ‘stuck’ in another country.
Talal Mohammed, 26, a Global Health student from the United States, was already on his way to Nepal to conduct fieldwork related to his thesis. Instead, the country shut its borders.
– It was impossible to go to Nepal, and it was unclear if I could come back to Norway as their initial statements said that they advised Norwegian citizens to return, with no mention of temporary residents.
– I was able to make it back after several flight cancellations and had to deal with several border checks, questioning and being quarantined upon my return. It is unclear when, or if, my Master’s project will be done.
Talal addresses an anxiety that many international students have had to face in the past few months. Most dealing with adapting to the change in studies, alongside pressing financial concerns that have gone unaddressed.
– Many of them have lost their parttime income and won’t be able to afford rent, visa renewal fees, and the required amount in their banks to prove they can afford to live in Norway.
Monitoring the situation
At NTNU, the Office of International Relations is establishing a group which will look closer into the challenges for this particular group of students. The group will consider relevant measures to be taken by NTNU, and communicate with UDI where relevant.
Anja Linge Valberg, Head of the International Office, says covid-19 issues have been on their radar for several months. Initially concerned with the spread of the virus in China and the Norwegian students still on exchange there, their attention expanded in early March when the Norwegian government issued orders to address the spread of the virus within Norway.
– The International Office contacted all international Master’s and exchange students with relevant information regarding the situation. It is in our interest to take good care of our students, and our staff has been attending to international student’s inquiries since then.
While the Office does not have answers to questions about immediate financial hardships, they emphasize their role in supporting the international student community.
– International students have access to all NTNU and Sit services, and students who experience various kinds of difficulties are advised to stay in touch with NTNU and Sit about the situation. It is also our experience that the student organizations such as ISU and ESN play an important role for the students.
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