Swapping the Louvre for lockdown: King’s students on ‘year abroad from home’

‘It’s a shame that we are not getting the Erasmus experience’

In April, following the widespread outbreak of Coronavirus across the UK and Europe, King’s announced that they would be suspending global mobility programmes until at least January 2021. Since September, myself and other students, who are on degree programmes with a compulsory study abroad element, have begun completing their “year abroad” from home.

Here’s what “year abroad from home” is actually like, from the people who are doing it:

It’s just not what we expected

Study abroad programmes are famed for being the experience in which students ‘discover themselves’, but when you’re studying from home this is far from the case. Rolling from your bed to your laptop five minutes before the start of the class does not exactly lend itself to a journey of cultural and personal growth. This semester we are losing out on the opportunity to nurture our interests and go through that all-important journey of ‘finding ourselves’ that other students rave about.

Alyssa, an EIS student, told us that she feels “it’s a shame we are not getting the Erasmus experience that was an incentive for many of us when choosing our degrees”. To me, this way of studying abroad feels like a huge loss considering I chose my degree expecting to spend the third year going through a whole host of new life experiences.

We are stuck between two universities and don’t really belong to either

In an attempt to salvage some of the language and culture learning lost, King’s have implemented a compulsory module entitled “Language, Culture and Society”, run by KCL’s Modern Languages Centre. Whilst it seems a good idea in theory, it has turned into an administrative nightmare for us. By having modules with both King’s and our host university, we are now having to follow two different timetables, on different time zones and navigate different non-teaching days in each university. It verges on impossible to follow at times.

What’s more than this, as study abroad students it’s hard to feel like we belong. We are isolated from our fellow students at King’s, and unable to meet people at partner institutions, or forge good relationships with our lecturers. That all-important social aspect of university has all but ceased to exist.

Online classes are just not the same when they don’t even know if you’re there

European Studies (Spanish Pathway) student, Menelaos, said that during his classes he “can only hear the teacher, not the physically present students, so class discussions which are heavily focused upon by Spanish universities are made much more difficult in following the flow of the conversation”.

Like other King’s students this year, we as study abroad students are having to adapt to a new way of learning using online platforms and streaming. However, some partner universities are offering students a blended form of teaching, meaning at the same time they are instructing students present in the classroom as well as the students who are online. When learning entirely online, this is proving to be a challenge for us. Alongside difficulties in following discussions, the students online can be forgotten about or not given equal opportunity to participate or engage with fellow students. At least when everyone is learning online, you’re operating from a level playing field. When you’re trying to follow on online with a class that’s being delivered in person, only adds to already heightened feelings of isolation.

We are concerned about our language skills

Without being abroad and surrounded by the language, there is concern that we will leave our study abroad experience without the language skills and fluency needed to complete fourth year. In particular, there are concerns around passing our study abroad oral exam, which will be held on return to King’s next September. Whilst it’s clear that King’s are doing what they can to mitigate this, they can’t replicate the language immersion in its full capacity remotely.

Nephele, a History and German student, says she is “worried about what [online study abroad] will mean for assessments in fourth year”, even with the opportunity to take classes in German with a university in Vienna this year.

This way of learning is here to stay

On the third of November, King’s announced that we would not be seeing an end to distance learning anytime soon. In a communication sent to us by email, the university detailed that it had been “decided to extend the travel suspension for study and work abroad through to the end of March 2021”, with a review expected in January. At this time, there has been little further information on how learning will continue into semester two, but it appears likely that the current forms of teaching will stay in place.

Whilst study abroad from home is not ideal, we will have to continue to grapple with the challenges it creates and try to make the best of the situation at hand, with the circumstances being far from perfect but not going anywhere quickly.

King’s were contacted for comment but have not responded.

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King’s cancels all study abroad for the rest of 2020 due to COVID-19

We’re in limbo’: King’s students on their Year Abroads

Cancelling year abroads is a tragedy