Why I decided to take a gap year in the midst of the COVID-19 disease pandemic and what it looks like the experience of an Erasmus student exchange despite numerous restrictions, fear, and uncertainty.
The beginning of September is the beginning of college exam deadlines and preparations for the new academic year. Consider yourself the lucky one if you don’t have stress around exams, so you can enjoy a little more at the seaside, at home with your friends and family, or just earning extra money at work. I decided to take a gap year this fall to prepare my final thesis defense and enroll in master’s studies the following year.
However, at the beginning of the year, no one told me that everyday life would change significantly and that I will rotate my academic plans 180 degrees. Finding a summer job was a real hassle this year and the uncertainty about attending the fall lectures was growing. The situation in Croatia was slowly slipping out of control, and the fear of new restrictive measures grew every day with the government announcements about the number of people infected with the coronavirus.
During the quarantine, I realised the unpredictability of every moment, I believe like all of you. One day, you are planning a Saturday night out or a weekend trip with your friends and the next day you are not allowed to leave the house. We soon learned that the lectures would be switched to an online system and that coffee break with colleagues after the lectures would become a thing of the past. Precisely because of that, I realised that a diploma is not the most important thing in life, but we’re still in such a hurry to finish college on time. It’s not a job either, among other things, because we are witnessing how many people have lost their jobs in this crisis.
Taking the gap year, however, doesn’t seem like the worst possibility, and a change of perspective becomes more than a good decision. Without much thought about possible losses or consequences, I took the gap year and applied for Erasmus+ student exchange in Graz. People around me were visibly surprised by the fact that at a time when travel is the biggest no-no and when it was recommended staying at home, I still want to go to study in another state.
When I found out I was going to receive a scholarship, I only had 10 days to pack up, find accommodation, enroll at the University, take a COVID-19 test, book a ticket, and move to Graz. Panic, confusion, and largely fear - it was all mixed up because you don’t know what awaits you when you get there. You don’t know what the situation will be like in a month or two, how are you going to get home for the Christmas holidays, how are you going to attend lectures, and how are you going to, after all, survive alone in a foreign country.
A bunch of emails, a bunch of calls, translating ads for apartments from German into Croatian, solving paperwork, looking for subjects given that the deadline for enrollment is long overdue passed - I thought I would never finally get on the bus and leave.
Coming to Graz, I had to respect the measures such as wearing masks indoors and also wearing them in the university building until we sit in our seats. The University has introduced a Corona-Ampel that is updated every Friday, in accordance with the measures adopted by the Austrian Government. Currently, a yellow warning is in effect - lectures are held live while some are completely switched to online mode. The positive thing about this is that the hangouts are almost completely shifted to the open places. We hang out on picnics in the park, on walks along the Mura, visit Austrian sights and look for new ways to have fun. Also, we take advantage of every sunny day for recreation and staying in nature which is definitely the best we can do in the whole situation.*
Although the Erasmus experience includes various social events as well as travel, socialising without restrictions and limiting the number of people, and creating a community whose friendships often last a lifetime, I try to enjoy everything that is offered to me. Regardless, I’m glad I decided to travel right now and I hope I will have a lot of new experiences. I’m looking forward to pushing my own boundaries, and also, I hope to spend a wonderful period and make the most of the time spent on Erasmus.
*Considering the epidemiological measures change throughout time and depending on when you are reading this, they might have already been updated.
Written by: Sara Matijević
Proofread by: Željka Gligora (Vice-Chair of the Croatian Communication Committee)