Now that I am back in Germany, I already miss Canada, the VIU, my friends there, and yes even the online classes. Prior to my departure a little more than four months ago, doubts crept into my mind about if I should go abroad during the global COVID-19 pandemic. Would the experience be worth it, would it pay off both personally and academically, is it ethically acceptable? Looking back, I would have loved to know how great of an experience my spring semester at Vancouver Island University would prove to be.
To be honest, I was pretty fed up with my online classes at my German university. I didn’t have the feeling that my professors adapted well or even wanted to adapt to the challenges of studying online. Instead, they carried on as if students were still sitting in the same room as them and even increased the workload compared to in-person classes. As a consequence, it outright amazed my how great my online classes at VIU were. My professors really tried to understand what their students need and how much work they could do. I’m not saying that the workload was light, it wasn’t. In the contrary, you will get more assignments, more deadlines, and it will be hard to keep up with the pace of the classes, but somehow for me it still felt more manageable compared to what I was used to from my home university.
Throughout the semester, I realized this was mainly because of the small class sizes. I know, I know, you always hear advertisements praising small class sizes, but let me tell you, it’s really that good. I felt immediately embraced by my classmates and could quickly build up relationships to them and my professors, although the classes were online. Most importantly, in-class discussions were far more engaging which really helped to motivate students in light of the current situation.
However, you will probably be interested in how well I was able to socialize during my semester abroad with regards to Covid. What I can I say? Of course, I didn’t have many in-person classes, but I had some, which I wouldn’t have had, had I stayed home. And sure, I didn’t have the chance to meet as many people as I possibly could have, had I come at a different time, but I made many good friends. In fact, I did meet more people than I thought I would, and I made friendships which will last for the rest of my life. Against all odds, I was able to meet with other students from my classes and together with newly found friends from the residence, I made many trips to all the astounding places surrounding Nanaimo on the weekends.
And then, there is the bright side of visiting a country that has arguably one of the most diverse and astonishing landscapes in the world at a time no one else does. You can take in all of BC’s beauty for yourself. The last two weeks of my time in Canada, usually reserved for final exams and filled with countless learning sessions proved this for me, and they might have been the most beautiful weeks during the whole semester. My partner and I set out to explore Vancouver Island: from beautiful Victoria, to the island’s west coast and Ucluelet, to Vancouver, downtown, UBC, and the museum of anthropology.
Why were we able to do so? Because during an online semester, you don’t have to be at the university to write your final exams. Also, we were lucky and didn’t have to write many exams at the end of the semester in the first place. During springtime, Vancouver Island presented itself to us from its most beautiful side. Meeting with classmates after the semester with mixed feelings of happy relief and sad reluctance before finally going home deepened friendships already strengthened by the bond created through the mutually given support during another online semester amidst a global pandemic. I already miss Canada and I would always return to VIU, be it online or in-person.
I learnt more than I could have hoped for during my time at VIU and lastly, I want to pass on an honest advice to you if you plan on studying at VIU, or Canada for that matter, in the future: choose at least one class in Indigenous Studies, you owe it to the First Nations on whose lands you are planning to live, and you will be humbled by their beautiful culture. To all the people who shared their knowledge with me, I just want to say thank you. Hay ch q̓a’.
Lennart H, Spring 2021