No studying abroad coming semester

TU/e has decided to cancel its exchange program at least until February 2021 due to COVID-19. This means that students won’t be able to travel abroad for a course, traineeship or research project. Nor will international students follow part of their study program at TU/e. Student safety, changes in the Dutch government’s travel advice as well as the physical possibilities were key factors in this decision. What does this mean for students?

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photo Pieter van Loon

A difficult but well-considered decision, that is how Inge Adriaans describes the ban on the experience abroad. “It’s very regrettable, but it is what it is,” says the policy advisor International Affairs. “Not only are the travel advices issued by the government unstable, we also receive ever increasing communications from our partner universities that they can’t welcome our students.” A significant number of the 120 universities TU/e has an exchange program with, have decided to cancel the physical exchange semester. Another reason for the decision is the risk of new restrictive measures.

It took a while before students were given that clarity. Last Thursday, a mail was sent to all TU/e students who wanted to pack their suitcase and to their counterparts at partner universities abroad who were ready to travel to Eindhoven. You can read the stories of a Master’s student Built Environment and a Bachelor’s student Industrial Design below.

Mandatory traineeship

Each Dutch university had to decide independently, within a framework of guidelines outlined by the VSNU. TU/e’s Executive Board did make an overnight decision; seven meetings were held during the last few weeks with several administrative bodies, including the deans of the departments, the University Council and the Consultation Graduate School. “It’s very complicated,” Adriaans says. “A traineeship abroad is mandatory at departments such as Biomedical Engineering and Chemical Engineering and Chemistry. That is why the deans wanted to keep the option open for students to travel abroad once that becomes possible again. Unlike following a course at a foreign university, traineeships aren’t linked to one specific starting date.” That is why as of August 1 students can ask their dean for permission to apply for a traineeship in an EEA country during Q1 and Q2.

Exchange coordinator Petri van de Vorst is glad that the decision is final, and that responsibility for traineeships within the EEA doesn’t lie with the students but with the dean of the departments. The department will help students find an alternative for the part of their program they missed out on. The most unpleasant part was the uncertainty, she says. “Students had to make expenses for visa, insurance, housing. As long as they don’t know if it makes sense to do all that, the situation remains difficult for them.” In November 2020, TU/e will decide whether physical education abroad is a possibility again.

Vaccinated already

Noa Smolenaars, Bachelor’s student Industrial Design, had spent months applying for a Chinese visa, was vaccinated already and had her plane tickets lying ready when her original plan fell through.

That was in September 2019, before anyone had heard of corona. She however was hospitalized with pulmonary embolism, from which she had to recover for months. The plan was postponed. Unfortunately, her university of choice was located between Wuhan and Shanghai. “A week before I was supposed to leave, I was informed that it couldn’t go through. Even if I had wanted to go, it would have been impossible because all travel was shut down,” Noa says. “Together with the extremely helpful exchange coordinator at ID, Marieke Riet, I decided to go to the Simon Fraser University in Vancouver instead. I was welcome there for a summer semester in May 2020.”

In March, Noa knew that this plan couldn’t go through, because Canada had closed its borders and TU/e had imposed a travel ban for staff and students. “But then I was welcome again at the Jiangnan University in Wuxi. Because of TU/e’s travel ban, I won’t be able to go.”

Even though it’s very disappointing, Noa believes there are worse things in the world. “I have a positive attitude, so I try to see a new challenge in everything. I lived with my parents during Q3, because I had sublet my room since I was supposed to be abroad. Fortunately, I was able to go back to my room in Eindhoven for Q4, because it became available again early due to corona. Now I will simply complete Q4 and obtain my Bachelor’s degree in Industrial Design next semester. After the world reopens, I’ll still be able to travel to China with the money I saved for my exchange.”

Looking for alternatives

Master’s student Built Environment student Pieter van Loon also needs to look for alternatives now that his stay in Trondheim is cancelled. His choice for Norway is based in part on the university, and in part on the geography.

“It seems like a great country to me because I’m a huge fan of nature and mountainous areas. I’m also a fanatical climber and Norway has many beautiful spots where you can go rock climbing. Scandinavia in general also seems like a place with a pleasant culture. My idea of Scandinavians is that they’re relaxed, open and hardworking people.”

Pieter is also interested in his chosen university, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “I wanted to go to a university that I could trust was of a high quality. In addition, Norwegians and the NTNU are much better at timber engineering, something that’s missing at TU/e. That was a very important reason for me to choose Norway.”

Early graduation

But now? “I’m exploring the possibility of a traineeship, but that’s just 5 ECTS, compared to the 22.5 I was planning on earning in Norway. There are also a few, but not many, interesting courses I can take. So, that’s what I’ll do. And I’ll start with my graduation a bit earlier. The courses I still can and want to take are scheduled throughout the year, which is why taking courses doesn’t exactly fill an entire program. At first, the idea was that I would complete all my courses before I started with my graduation, but that has changed now. It’s very disappointing that the exchange has been cancelled, because the alternative is much less exciting.”

On the main photo you see Pieter with a friend in Singapore. They met when his friend followed an exchange program in Eindhoven.

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