Virtual years abroad are awful, take it from someone who’s on one right now

‘I’ve missed what should have been the most amazing semester of my life’

Universities have been hugely affected by COVID-19 and the move to online teaching has meant confusing information for students on a year abroad, with mentions of the term ‘virtual year abroad’.

While many students might be encountering this in September, those who opted to study in Australia are already experiencing it now.

The Warwick Tab have spoken to one student to find out what it’s like.

The time difference wreaks havoc on your schedule

Luke Shortland, a third year Warwick student on an intercalated year abroad at Monash University, described the difficulties of his virtual year abroad, a prospect that many 2020/21 year abroad students are now facing.

Monash University has now committed to teaching Warwick year abroad students of 2020/2021 virtually for the fist term, as other universities across the globe also make the move.

With classes still running at the scheduled times in Australia, virtual participation is required in seminars and lessons, despite the nine hour time difference.

“I’d been forced to fly home because of Covid but I’m still taking my modules online,” Luke said.

“So I’m having to do Zoom calls at all hours of the day and night. I had an exam from midnight to 1am, then got a quick sleep before my next exam at 9am.”

Luke has now had to return to the UK due to COVID-19 instead of spending his last term in Australia as he’d planned

Resources and funding are difficult or impossible to access

“I had to buy all my textbooks and a new laptop because I have no access to the library, I don’t get to live for free with my parents so I’m still paying rent, food and fuel contributions,” he told us.

“I feel abandoned by two governments and two universities. I’m upset to have missed what should have been the most amazing semester of my life, and I’m worried because my overdraft is £1,500 and counting.

“I can’t claim for Universal Credit because I’m a student. I had a job paying £15 per hour in Australia but I can’t claim furlough pay over there or over here.”

There’s little support for students ‘stuck’ between two universities

On a year abroad, you are technically a member of your host university, but you still pay tuition fees to your primary university, making you a student at both, and yet neither. This can put students in difficult positions when seeking help, especially now they might not be living in the same country as their host university.

“I don’t get any welfare from Warwick because they say I’m a Monash student, and I don’t get any welfare from Monash because they say I’m a Warwick student,” explained Luke.

“I think most people who’ve come home have dropped out of the year because they just can’t hack it.”

Dropping out is a big choice to make with only one term left to go, which gives students looking towards the following year a lot of reason to question whether to proceed. Cambridge University has committed to lectures being online for the whole following academic year, showing the possibility that the first term being virtual might continue through the rest of the year at other universities too.

Many students say that a year abroad is really about their experiences beyond the university teaching

A whole virtual year abroad?

The Warwick Tab polled students on Instagram about their thoughts on virtual years abroad, and responses ranged from anxious to outraged at the prospect.

“What’s the point?” said one student.

Another answered: “If so, I’d rather be back at Warwick.”

One person said she couldn’t see the same benefits of a year abroad if you couldn’t be in that country. She said that while the standard of her online teaching had been very high, the classes weren’t an important factor for the year abroad experience.

“Online classes for young adults are only worth it when you get to be in that country itself, in my experience.

“With studying abroad, it’s about getting out and exploring this new place, new foods, having new experiences which you would never do at home. Simply doing classes online isn’t going to do much in terms of personal growth.

“The reason why it’s such a key experience for young people is because of the immense challenge it is to uproot your life somewhere new.”

Despite this, another student said they’d “rather have it online than be straight up cancelled.”

Warwick University has a FAQ page with information regarding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on student mobility, where they state that they “will continue to offer mobility options in the autumn term.”

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