Coronavirus pandemic leaves exchange students isolated and confused

By Nathan Hine

Many Erasmus students at UK universities claim they have received and are still in receipt of inadequate advice about travel contingencies amid the coronavirus pandemic.

More than two million students annually take up the option to study abroad as part of their degree courses through the popular Erasmus+ scheme.

But while a majority were able to return to their native countries before the implementation of the global virus lockdown, some say they have been left to fend for themselves at the international universities where they were studying.

Kendra Nix, 23, a final year journalism student who had been studying at Sheffield’s Hallam University, said: “I flew from Manchester to Atlanta. I didn’t know what to do as information from my university, student housing, and government was taking ages.

“Eventually the Embassy advised me to leave and I got one of three seats left for Atlanta. There were plenty of issues.

“There wasn’t clear communication from the university or the government until everything was already close to shutting down. I never heard from our international advisors or anything.

“The airports were chaotic and social distancing wasn’t being practiced. All in all it was a mess.”

A Sheffield Hallam University spokesman said: “The University continues to treat this as a major incident. Our top priority remains the health and safety of students, staff and those who make up our wider community.

“We have set up a dedicated information page (shu.ac.uk/coronavirus) on our website which is updated on a daily basis, as well as establishing a Help Centre for questions or concerns that aren’t answered on our advice page.

“We have also been communicating updates with students and staff through a variety of channels – including email and social media to keep them as up to date as possible on the current situation and the University’s plans.

“We appreciate this is a challenging and rapidly changing situation, but we are doing everything we can to ensure our students are kept informed.”

Romanian PhD student Ana-Maria Anghlescu, who is studying International Relations, said: “I am researching relations between the EU and Central Asia and I am in constant contact with the Kazakhstan Embassy.

“I decided before not to travel for fear of catching the virus on the plane or in transit.

“Both universities; the OSCE Academy in Kyrgyzstan and Romania’s National University of Political Studies have been very supportive with information about travel restrictions and my rights as a foreign student. I think I will be able to return in May.”

An Erasmus UK spokesman said: “The latest government advice states that if you currently have active Erasmus+ or European Solidarity Corps exchanges, you should arrange for all UK participants to return. You will need to take account of the fast-moving situation and plan accordingly, including the fact there are currently fewer commercial flights available.

“If UK students currently overseas for longer periods are considering returning to the UK, for example those studying full degrees, they should also do so while commercial routes are still available. Participants abroad must follow the advice of local authorities and the latest FCO travel advice.”

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