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Blogentry 1 - Soon I'll be off!

| Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa

“Highest infection rate worldwide!”, “Portugal’s health system on brink of collapse!”. I read these headlines again and again, hoping the letters would dissolve and change into positive and hopeful words.

I don’t know if it is possible to put into words what it feels like when everyone promised that you’d be spending your semester abroad in one of the safest countries on the globe but then, the situation changes drastically?  Difficult.  It is lunch break at my holiday job at the health department. I sit in front of my computer and the news I read make me sick. Although everything had started so well...

July 2020. Dealing with the corona virus has become part of our daily routine. Most of my fellow International Management students were not able to complete their semester abroad as planned during the third semester. Normally, I was supposed to go to Groningen in the Netherlands. To be honest, it wasn’t my first choice during the ballot in the first semester, but it seemed nearly impossible to go to Lisbon as basically all of our year wanted to spend their time abroad in the city of the seven hills. I had always had a soft spot for Portugal. After a summer holiday in the Algarve two years ago, I was instantly mesmerised by the beauty of this country and it was clear to me that I just had to return and visit the capital of this country as well. “Lisbon was the number one travel destination last year”, I was told by a flight attendant at Lufthansa during a car-sharing ride from Würzburg to Frankfurt a few months ago. Back then, I thought: “Finally another destination than Majorca”. Already when I was a little girl, I was stunned by the surf beaches and untouched nature in Portugal.  I`ve been learning Portuguese for a few years now with the app “Tandem”, love Portuguese music and have been studying the local culture for years. This meant: All in for the Lisbon spot in the fourth semester. I applied for the last two remaining spots for Lisbon and still remember everything crystal clear. A nightmare woke me up one night and when I checked my phone, I saw dozens of messages in our WhatsApp group chat saying that the list with our destination universities had been published. The two spots for Lisbon were marked green. One of the green lines had my student number in front of it. I couldn’t believe my luck. The nightmare transformed into the happiest dream that became reality.

But what now?

Portugal was seen as a role model for a long time when it came to the corona virus and their strategy. Somehow, they managed to keep their numbers low, even though gyms, restaurants and universities stayed open. Everyone told me how lucky I must feel that I would be able to experience an almost normal semester abroad compared to my fellow students. A friend of mine is supposed to spend her semester abroad at Antwerp. During one of our “please-help-me-prevent-a-nervous-breakdown-during-lockdown” phone calls she said: “At the moment, the numbers are fairly low in Antwerp too but I don’t think that will last once they re-open everything, especially now with all the mutations ... I would prefer a lockdown right away as a precaution”. I thought about this for a few moments but then remembered all the positives messages in the Facebook and WhatsApp groups about the situation in Lisbon and how well the city is handling things. So I forgot about her words, just as I forgot about Latin vocabulary and maths equations in school.  Suddenly, the situation in Portugal worsened, especially in Lisbon the numbers of infected people peaked.

The Erasmus programme stands for solidarity and community and these attributes are more important than ever.

We can’t fight the pandemic single-handed, we all have to pull in the same direction, together. I experience the feeling of community and solidarity already now on social media. I am in contact with Erasmus students from all over the world. We all agree: We want to discover Lisbon together, in real-life and not just in front of our computers. 

But I can’t really make up my mind. I am trying to find the perfect solution for all of this, but this would mean to first fly to Faro and then fly in the Azores or to Madeira, as the numbers there are much lower. Or would it be better to wait and see how the situation develops and to just spend two or three months in Portugal? Maybe it would be best to just stay put and do all the work from Germany? I stop staring at the computer and look at the window - rather at it than out of it as raindrops obscure my vision. The one thing I can make out though, is the grey sky. Do I really want to stay here?

A few days ago, we had our first meeting with the university in Lisbon. This week would have been the “Introduction week” - a week full of parties, events and fun. Instead, we are all sitting in front of our screens with grim expressions and there is no trace of fun and positive vibes. They have not yet decided whether the whole semester will happen online or if there will be courses taught on site. But I am delighted to see that the professors fight for our semester abroad and want us to have a good experience. Our Erasmus coordinator seems so warm and welcoming that I instantly feel at ease. Just two days later, we receive an email from Instituto Politécnico de Lisboa saying that they might switch back to proper classroom meetings after the Easter break. I don’t want to get my hopes up, but it just happens, hope spreads through my body. Nonetheless, Lisbon is currently still in lockdown. There is hope that the situation will improve, but this might take a little bit longer as their vaccination rate isn’t the best.

I’m asking myself whether I’ll be on a flight to Lisbon in three- or four-weeks’ time.

Then, everything will happen so fast, and I don’t feel ready for it. On the one hand, I finally want to plan my journey. On the other hand, I am afraid to get disappointed if I let myself get too excited and carried away by the excitement. If we get notified a week before Easter about classroom classes, there’s only three weeks left to organise everything.

What do I want to bring, who do I want to see before my departure and what do I ought to do before I leave Germany? I’ve had my suitcase in my room for a couple of days now. Instead of packing, I just stare at it as if I was waiting for him to clear up the situation.

Corona made me lose part of my spontaneous and easy-going personality. Before the pandemic, I would embark on spontaneous adventures, without planning anything, I’d just go with the flow. Difficult times for a character like me with quarantines, PCR-tests and hygiene measures.

Everything we dreamed of doing during our time as students now seems silly and naive because corona has transformed us into anxious and careful characters. Where’s this little girl inside of me, that always wanted to go away on adventures and discover the world?

Who is this anxious woman that is afraid to step out of her comfort zone? It was a slow process, but this woman managed to push this little adventurous girl away and take over. I don’t like this thought.

The website of an airline is opened on my computer, I keep scrolling up and down. I’ve only got three more minutes until my break is over and I have to get back to work. There are two bright buttons in front of me: “Yes, book and pay for ticket” right next to “Cancel” - which button will it be?

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