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International students explore Kristiansand

International students who stayed in Norway due to the coronavirus crisis are meeting up during the summer months for cultural and social activities around Kristiansand.

Photo of international students at Kristiansand Museum
Last Friday, a group of international students visited Kristiansand Museum. Emiliano Venanzini, an exchange student from Italy, was one of the students who participated in the excursion.

The students have recently visited Kristiansand Museum, known for its many historic buildings. They have also visited the recycling centre at Støleheia to learn about recycling processes in Norway. Other educational and social get-togethers, such as a visit to the Natural History Museum and Botanical Garden, are planned in June and July. 

The excursions are organised by the International Education Office and the Global Lounge at UiA. They are aimed at exchange and international degree-seeking students, and participation is free of charge.

Stuck in a foreign country

While some students were able to leave Norway when the university closed its doors due to the coronavirus, others had to postpone their return home for an indefinite period. 

“Many students don’t have the option of returning home and will possibly stay in Norway for many months”, says Aase Galteland, senior adviser at the International Education Office at UiA. 

When lockdown restrictions started to ease, several ideas on how to physically bring the international student community together again began to be discussed across departments and faculties at UiA.  

“When we first realised that many students would have to stay beyond the end of the semester due to flight issues and closed borders, in particular students within the Global Mobility programme who come from countries such as Sri Lanka, Bolivia and South Africa, we had to ensure that they have enough money to get by. Diku, the funding provider, agreed that we allocate some of the unused grant to subsidise the students while they are stuck. Then we started organising a programme which included trips to museums and other activities in local areas”, says Galteland.

Diku is the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education.

Staying connected during the COVID-19 crisis

Keeping in touch with international students during these times has been a top priority for the International Education Office. Alisha Mahtani-Williams and Tommaso Mondovì, interns at the Global Lounge at UiA, have been sending out weekly newsletters to students with updates on the current situation at the university and in Norway, invites to digital events and overall helping to spread relevant information throughout the semester. 

Alisha Mahtani-Williams and Tommaso Mondovì, interns at the Global Lounge at UiA, have been coordinating and following the students on the excursions.

In the past weeks, Mahtani-Williams and Mondovì have been coordinating the excursions and communicating with the students.

“We heard from some students how they had been feeling isolated during lockdown. Social distancing in a foreign country has certainly been a challenge for many. We were very pleased to see how well the students responded to this initiative”, says Mahtani-Williams.

It has also become an opportunity for the students to discover more about the region. 

“Engaging in social and cultural activities is a great way of discovering more about the place one has chosen to study in”, says Mondovì. 

Adapting to an unexpected reality

Emiliano Venanzini, an exchange student from Italy, has completed his semester at UiA and would like to extend his time in Norway to experience more of what the country has to offer.

Chandrika Hewa Galamulage, an exchange student from Sri Lanka, has been studying in Norway for one year.

“Lockdown was difficult as many people left, events were cancelled, and one couldn’t socialise in the same way as before. These trips have been making us feel less isolated; it seems as if we are now catching up with what we couldn’t experience during the spring semester”, says Venanzini. 

Chandrika Hewa Galamulage, an exchange student from Sri Lanka, was one of the many students who saw her plans be interrupted by the outbreak. Galamulage’s family had planned to visit her at the beginning of the semester. Nevertheless, she says studying in Norway has been a very positive and valuable experience in her life.

“Studying in Norway has been great. The education system here is excellent. Teachers are friendly and approachable. And, in general, people seem to enjoy life a lot here”, says Chandrika Galamulage. 

Are you an international student at UiA and would like to participate in the excursions? Contact Alisha Mahtani-Williams alishajm@student.uia.no or Tommaso Mondovì tommasom@student.uia.no to sign up.