Even now when I start to talk or write about my experience from exchanges in 2020, they still seem like a fever dream in some way.
As I was already on one Erasmus+ exchange semester in Romania and had a blast, I was super excited to spend one more semester abroad, this time in Czech Republic. I finished my exams, packed suitcases and came to city of Olomouc where I was supposed to spend next semester of my studies. Everything started well: we had Welcome Week, went to trips, parties, lectures started - just ordinary student things. One day on my class the assistant just said: “Right now our country announced you wont have classes starting tomorrow, all schools are closed for time being”. It was March 10 and cases in each of European countries were only few. I am not sure if I was happy I will have more time to hang out with friends I have just met here or sad because I will miss amazing classes I was looking forward to.
Just few days later, I woke up to the email that the country is closing the borders in 2 days and that from then on we probably won't be able to go home until who knows when. We didn't know if we are able to return if we go home, what will happen with our semester abroad, our scholarships and so many things. But I was more afraid of what awaits me when I go home. Serbia made quarantine in smaller place close to my home, but I was afraid of going to quarantine with people that came from different places and possibly were infected with this unknown virus. I talked for hours with my mom about what I should do while panickaly packing my most important stuff, as the only transportation back to Serbia was in 2 hours from the time I saw the email.
I decided to stay for many reasons. We started wearing masks everywhere in the country and sad part came: many people had decided to leave or their countries demanded them to return for safety reasons. I have never cried more than during that week seeing more than half of my friends had to stop everything they had planned and go back home. I really hoped this entire emergency state will end before Easter in April so I can go back home. But, as you probably see it coming - it didn't happen that way.
Just a week later, we had first confirmed case in the dormitories. Czech Republic started testing everyone that a person was in contact with, and we were getting more and more positive cases. On April 1 (it was not a day for jokes) we all got tested as it was already a big circle of people infected. I think i couldn't sleep those 2 days while waiting for my results. I was fine, with absolutely 0 symptoms. Unfortunately, i ended up being one of the positive cases and had to undergo special quarantine in another block of the dormitory which they designed for positive cases. As the tests are never 100% correct, country decided to put entire dorm in quarantine. Nobody from people living in the dormitory could leave the building, food was delivered to us by volunteers and menza staff.
Maybe this was the most mentally tiring period of my life. More than me, my friends and family were afraid for me. After all, i was locked in a quarantine in foreign country with some virus we only detected recently. People I know told me that I am first person they know that had COVID-19. When I look back to that time, it was very rare to have it, while unfortunately nowadays almost everyone had it at least once.
Luckily, I was not alone in quarantine, my friends were still with me. I think this entire situation brought us closer, as we were forced to stay inside and we spent days and nights together. And just like that Easter came, the holiday I planned to spend with my closest. We were close to new test dates and i just prayed I can go out soon, not being able to go for a walk for days really influenced my stamina. Luckily, both tests in span of 3 days were negative, and i was moved back to my old room. Few days after, we were finally able to go out of dorm. I remember not sleeping and around 5.30am I asked receptionist can I go out and when she said yes I just run out of the dorm. I spent hours wandering around the city without any proper destination, i was too happy to be out to think about anything else (well, my muscles were sore for days after, but it was happy pain).
So how the rest of the exchange went: situation didn't go much better with covid as you know, but we were able to travel within the country, right before I was leaving in June they opened restaurants as well. I think I was able to explore the country I was living much better because of covid. Yes, it was not same as how it was, but as many people travel to other countries we tend to neglect the beauties that were right in front of us. We traveled so much and since there was almost no tourist were able to enjoy things like Charles Bridge in Prague with almost no tourists.
As soon as borders opened in June, I decided to leave before anything happens again. On the train back to Serbia, I was writing the application for the new semester abroad together with my colleague, this time in Austria. People told me I am crazy after everything I experienced to just go abroad in few months again. But, you should not be afraid. Entire world is in same situation, we are all adjusting our education and everyday life each day and try to take the most from it. Yes, my exchanges now cant compare to those in 2018 and 2019, but that doesn't mean they are not equally useful and full of memories. Don't let your life stops because of this and miss all the amazing chances you have as student. I am writing this almost 2 years later from the same city of Olomouc, where I came again for the exchange. This time there is no panick on my side- i am ready to face all things future holds for me, and so should you.
Greetings from cold snowy Czech Republic!