Many students planning to go on Erasmus may have been pleasantly – and some not so pleasantly – surprised by College’s decision, announced today by Vice-President for Global Relations Juliette Hussey, to allow students to go away on exchange for the first semester.
With travel restrictions and social distancing measures still firmly in place, many students would have assumed that Trinity would follow the example of Dublin City University, University College Dublin, University of Limerick and University College Cork and cancel Erasmus exchanges. College has, however, gone down its own route, subject to host universities’ decisions on whether to allow students in or not.
The rules around Erasmus exchanges are pretty intricate, so here is what we know at this moment about what exchange students can expect come September.
Who Can Go?
If your host university has not called off its Erasmus exchange, then you can go ahead with your exchange for the first semester – although College is discouraging students from going away if their host university has switched to solely online learning. The fate of students going on Erasmus for the second semester is still up in the air and a decision is not expected until September.
However, it is worth noting that exchanges are now voluntary to all students, so even if an exchange is part of an integrated programme, if you don’t want to risk going abroad then you don’t have to – you can meet all necessary requirements at home in Trinity.
Hussey said in her email that non-EU exchange students will be given more clarity “soon”. How long that wait will be is anyone’s guess.
What Dates Do I Need to Know?
The most important date students hoping to go on Erasmus needs to know for the moment is June 25th: you will need to email the Erasmus Office by then confirming that you want to go away on exchange.
The other date worth bearing in mind is the last day of week four of the first semester. If you want to return home and continue the year in Trinity then you will need to do so by then. Otherwise, you will lose the year.
It is also worth remembering that if you do want to go on Erasmus but want to wait a year, you may be able to go off-books and then come back to do the year abroad. However, be warned: students who are coming into the year as part of the “regular cohort” and not off-books will be given preference.
How Did Erasmus Students Fare This Year?
Before making any decisions on whether or not to take up an Erasmus exchange spot, it is probably worth knowing how Erasmus students who got caught up in their host university when the coronavirus struck this year fared.
For the most part, it is fair to say that – once the pandemic took hold – those on Erasmus did not have an easy time of it. Poor communication didn’t help. One student on Erasmus in Barcelona, Lucy Sherry, told The University Times in April that she was receiving emails from her college in Catalan. Meanwhile, all around her people were catching the virus.
Others had to grapple with different academic structures, making assessment difficult, while others still had to deal with the headache of having to quickly abandon flats that they had already paid rent on.
Niall Alsafi – a student of economics and German, who was due to attend the University of Cologne for a semester – had to grapple with such awkward rental scenarios. “Landlords in Europe were not really understanding of the whole situation. A lot of them were just worried about the contract”, he told The University Times.
With chances of a second wave of coronavirus cases not outside the realms of possibility, students may expect similar instances, although it is likely that universities will be better prepared to deal with the coronavirus come Autumn.
Why is Trinity the Odd One Out?
In her email to students today, Hussey emphasised the importance of Erasmus to Trinity, saying that College had “has been a very active participant in the Erasmus programme since it was launched in the 1980s, and we strongly believe in the educational value of student exchanges”.
Aside from the importance Trinity places on Erasmus exchanges, however, it is also the case that College tends to be more lax than other colleges when it comes to telling students what to do.
Last year, for example, Trinity did not tell students studying in Hong Kong to come home, despite the deteriorating political situation in the country. Some students even reported cases of protests spilling onto college campuses.
One, third-year BESS student Conor Kilbane, who was studying in City University, told The University Times that he had experienced the protests in full colour.
He described watching protests taking place on a bridge that linked his apartment to the university, with students “preparing for a war of some sort”.
Trinity, it seems, prefers to allow students to weigh up their options and make their own decisions. But as Hussey said in her email, this may change: “There remains the possibility of a second wave and the return of lockdown measures. Bearing this in mind, if the situation changes dramatically before September, the measures outlined here may be revised.”