COVID-19: int’l students in Germany consider whether to return home
As the battle to curb the spread of coronavirus continues, Germany has introduced sweeping social distancing measures, extended travel restrictions from other European countries and schools – including international schools – across the country have already announced they have closed their doors.
Transport minister Andreas Scheuer said the country would be taking a further step to protect the population.
“Our core mission can only be pursued if international academic exchange is possible”
“We are expanding the restrictions on people travelling into the country to travellers from the European member countries — regardless of whether they travel to Germany via air, rail, water or road,” he said.
Those countries include Italy, Spain, Austria, France, Luxembourg, Denmark and Switzerland.
In a statement on the DAAD website, the organisation’s president Joybrato Mukherjee explained that DAAD is preparing “for further weeks and months with considerable restrictions in worldwide exchange, in our funding actions and regarding DAAD events”.
As an organisation that “promotes and lives international exchange this situation is a challenge”, Mukherjee said.
“‘Change by exchange’, our core mission, can only be pursued if international academic exchange is possible. This exchange is currently being massively restricted,” he noted.
“It is conceivable today that we will have to suspend our work in 2020 to an extent that we could not have imagined only a few days ago.
DAAD will contribute to overcoming the crisis through “intensive support for those affected by the extensive travel restrictions, be it through the flexible handling of the now emerging problem situations at our member universities, be it through the use of digital formats to compensate for the “social distancing” imposed on us all”, he added.
Psychological counsellor and Intercultural Education officer at Jacobs University Bremen, Frank Haber, explained that students now have to make decisions whether or not to stay in Germany or go home to their families and loved ones.
“[It] is a decision that is often also made in accordance with what the parents suggest – parents are having their ideas and sometimes exercising pressure on students, maybe wanting them to stay in Germany because they think that it’s a safer place or the other way around, urging them to come back home.”
While many institutions are currently on semester break, some private universities on different schedules are still teaching. As with other study destinations, these private providers are pushing ahead with digital options where possible.
“They’re moving from face to face teaching to online teaching, which is now requiring some time because Germany is not at the forefront of the online blended learning, remote teaching,” Haber said.
Along with administrative staff, services including counselling provision is switching to remote consultation, he added.
“Here, there are some legal requirements because of the highly confidential matter of the data protection requirements. We cannot offer [this] using the chat forms such as Skype or Whatsapp to do video consultation because they are not secured end to end,”
As quarantines and extended social distancing becomes more common, these counselling provisions will become more important.
“In these times where there is that invisible threat, people would like to do more of that, but they can’t. So we have to give them some idea … [how to] help them to mentally stay healthy in self-isolation… This is a psychological strain on them,” Haber added.
On March 12, the US announced it would terminate the US State Department’s Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange internship program for Young Professionals, along with all other international exchange programs.
William Thomas is one of 75 Americans in Germany on the program and participating in Tübingen, a university town south of Stuttgart, as well as travelling to the Bundestag in Berlin.
“I got the call that someone in the office tested positive who I’d spent time with and I was on the train coming back to Tübingen,” William Thomas explained to The PIE News.
“I got the call that someone in the office tested positive who I’d spent time with”
“Luckily by the time I pulled back up into town, my host parents had worked with the local program manager to find this apartment flat for me to stay in, had picked up keys and dropped off some groceries for me.
“I got off the train and then walked through my bags to this apartment.”
Earlier this week, the participants of the CBYX for Young Professionals program signed a letter warning against the decision to curtail the program.
Air transit is highly discouraged by health professionals at this time, and many participants have been exposed to the virus but are not yet showing symptoms, a letter – signed by 65 of the 75 participants – said.
“Repatriating the entire cohort would only threaten unaffected populations and speed the rate of transmission,” it read.
Additionally, participants expect financial, housing, job and medical insecurity on their return to the US.
This is an all too real concern for Thomas.
“My parents are both over 60…and my dad has underlying health issues,” he said.
He added that participants travelling back to the US expect $5,000 earnings stipend to help them when they return home.
Participants are expecting to fly to Newark, New Jersey from Frankfurt on this week.
Thomas is still waiting to hear the outcome of his test and does not know when he will be able to return to the US.
“It’s Schrödinger’s cat type deal, not knowing the uncertainty,” he added.
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