The coronavirus has disrupted the plans of many international students. Despite the odds, over 60 students began their studies at the University of Agder this semester.
Nikita Tsepova, a student at the Bachelor’s programme in English, from Murmansk, Russia, says she experienced a series of setbacks before finally crossing the border to Norway.
“I had issues with bank transfers, my passport got lost just days before I was supposed to get on the plane from Kirkenes to Oslo, and the only way I was allowed to cross the border by land was by having a bike with me, which meant I had to buy one just in time to make it to my flight”, says Nikita Tsepova. “Once I got to Norway, everything seemed to just fall into place”, she says.
The coronavirus outbreak has made a significant impact on the academic sector. International students across the globe were significantly affected by the pandemic. With closed campuses, travel restrictions and quarantine measures, studying abroad became challenging and unpredictable.
During the spring semester at the University of Agder (UiA), international exchange students were advised to return home. Most international degree-seeking students continued their studies on digital platforms, along with domestic students.
For students who had applied to UiA just before the outbreak, the possibility of physically attending lectures in the autumn remained unclear even after acceptance letters were sent out. It wasn’t until the Norwegian government eased entry restrictions for students on 1 July that students could start planning their move to Norway.
“International students have faced much uncertainty: closed borders and scarce flight opportunities, having to choose between online courses or on-campus lectures, experiencing difficulties accessing the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI) and applying for a study permit visa, dealing with delayed processing and compulsory quarantines”, says Odd Harald Reme, International Coordinator at the International Education Office at UiA.
In total, 38 international students from 21 countries arrived in Norway and started attending physical lectures at UiA this semester. In addition, 24 students are attending lectures online and are expected to arrive in the country in January 2021.
For Amir Kolivand, from Tehran, Iran, a student at the Master’s programme in Global Development and Planning, the journey was overwhelming but worth it.
“I explained my situation to UiA, and we communicated regularly on how to proceed. Once the application centres reopened in Iran, I was able to start planning my trip to Norway. Everything worked out as planned”, he says.
Kolivand arrived together with a friend, Helia Sadeghianfar, who is also a student at the same study programme. Both are positive about their move to Norway and starting their studies at UiA.
“The city of Kristiansand is very nice, and it is great to be so close to nature. I was really surprised by the weather - it has been warmer than I had expected”, says Kolivand.
Hannah Löffelmann from Berlin, Germany, student of the Master’s programme in Popular Music (Music Management) had a more straightforward experience.
“I received a lot of help from UiA, the Student Welfare Organisation in Agder (SiA) and my family. After the country reopened for students, most issues and uncertainties were resolved”, says Löffelmann. “It was also great getting to know my colleagues and lecturers at semester start. I am looking forward to studying at UiA”, she says.
Throughout the pandemic, the international education office at UiA, in coordination with the faculties and other departments, has been following up students individually and updating digital channels in accordance with the measures implemented by the Norwegian government.
“All international students were invited to our orientation meeting, both online and on-campus, during semester start”, says Reme. “There will also be a midsemester orientation meeting in September, where we will discuss some cultural aspects about Norway and check in with the students”, he says.
Even though many students returned home during the spring semester and student exchange was cancelled this autumn, there were a few exceptions.
“We have received three exchange students this semester, two Norwegians who were studying in Denmark and who had already moved back to Norway, and one Danish student”, says Aase Galteland, Senior Adviser at the International Education Office at UiA.
“We are hoping to both send and receive exchange students in spring 2021. Border controls and other factors will most probably limit the number of available destinations, and both incoming and outgoing students will have to be prepared for a hybrid semester next year as well”, says Galteland.