Campus - 10.11.2020 - 00:00 

Exchange semesters in spite of corona

Precisely now, in times of lockdown, social distancing and online lectures, students’ feet are getting itchier than they were before. Even though the dream of getting acquainted with a new culture appears to be somewhat remote at the moment, it is still worth it for most students to plan an exchange semester. By student reporter Niels Niemann.
Source: HSG Newsroom

10 November 2020. For many HSG students, it was still a matter of course until fairly recently: an exchange semester. More than one in two students made use of the option to spend at least one semester of their degree course abroad – the highest percentage by far in a comparison among Switzerland’s universities. Accordingly, more than 750 HSG students should have gone off on an exchange this autumn.

However, those who think that the corona crisis has prevented all those students from spending a semester abroad are wrong. A third of the students were able to start their exchange semester nonetheless – a majority of them in Europe. This is not least a result of the fact that protection measures were relaxed in the summer: flights took place again, immigration provisions were eased and universities returned to classroom teaching.

Meanwhile, the situation has worsened again – and ironically, this has happened just before the registration deadline for an exchange semester at a partner university in the next academic year. Nicole Gsell, the Head of Student Mobility, still expects an above-average number of applications.

The wanderlust is great – flexibility must match it

“Many students who had to forgo their exchange semester this year would like to try again in the coming year,” says Nicole Gsell. They can reapply and will stand the same fair chance of getting a place as those who are applying for the first time. Since unlike in the spring, the corona situation is by now at a level similar to other countries, the inhibition threshold for travelling abroad is also distinctly lower with many students. They want to “try their luck” at all costs and hope that the situation will improve by the coming autumn semester or the subsequent spring semester.

Student Mobility has thus clearly rejected the option of cancelling the possibility of an exchange semester as a matter of principle. Whether or not an exchange can take place at a partner university is determined in each individual case. If a partner university cancels an exchange, the student in question still has the option to go on an exchange as a free mover or with Swiss Mobility, provided that the registration deadlines in the relevant semester are met. Nicole Gsell basically recommends that students should remain flexible and draw up a backup plan in case the exchange should come to nothing after all.

Getting to know a new culture – and better than before

Besides the obvious drawbacks such as planning uncertainty, however, Nicole Gsell can also see possible advantages of the present situation. Whereas in the past, many students visited surrounding neighbouring countries during their exchange semester, this is now often no longer quite so easy to do owing to quarantine restrictions. Provided that the exchange semester is on the cards, this offers students an opportunity to get to know their host country better and experience the various regions of that country that much more intensively.

Also, the wider range of digital options provided by the universities offers additional flexibility. Thus depending on the situation, compulsory HSG courses can be followed from the exchange location or, depending on the partner university, the last examination of the exchange semester may be sat online after the student’s return to Switzerland.

The slightly different exchange

In a few particular cases, it also happened this semester that although students completed their exchange semester, they actually stayed at home. Instead of attending courses at the HSG, they attended the online courses of their partner university. As an alternative to this, the Virtual Exchange Program was set up. This autumn, students have the opportunity to attend a course of the Copenhagen Business School or the Vienna University of Economics and Business online while continuing their studies in parallel at the HSG.

Whether the option of a digital exchange will also be on offer in the coming academic year has yet to be decided. However, students’ feedback is continuously being analysed; according to Nicole Gsell, it has tended to be positive so far. However, online course attendance can naturally not replace the cultural experience in the actual host country. Depending on the location of the university, the different time zones are a further disadvantage.

Luck favours those who are prepared

In the StudentWeb, Student Mobility continuously provides information about current changes such as specific exceptions owing to the corona situation. In addition, students can also find the search portal with all the partner universities there. Before students apply for a place at a partner university, it is indispensable that they visit the portal in order to familiarise themselves with the current fact sheet, the semester dates and the experience reports of the individual universities while paying special attention to whether places will be offered in the semester in question at all and whether the university of their choice requires the satisfaction of additional criteria such as work experience or supplementary foreign language skills.

No matter how uncertain planning may be, there is still a fixed constant: the registration deadline, which for an exchange semester at a partner university in autumn 2021 or spring 2022 is 10 December for students at the Master’s Level and 7 January for undergraduates.

Niels Niemann is studying Marketing Management at the Master’s Level at the University of St.Gallen.

Image: Adobe Stock / kwanchaichaiudom