*Studying online in Göttingen (Photo: Tanna Nankivell)

University of Technology Sydney student Tanna Nankivell, was on exchange in Germany when the call came to come home. She decided to stay put.

An international study exchange is about making new friends, learning a foreign language, exploring new places and experiencing a different culture.

So, when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a worldwide travel ban – raising the advice on Smart Traveller to Level 4: Do Not Travel –  I thought my time as an exchange student in Germany had come to an end.

The group chat with other students from UTS who were also in Germany, exploded with messages about what to do.

Göttingen University is now empty (Photo: Jason Wang)

Some began organising flights back home and packing up the rooms that had just become home.

Despite being strongly urged to return, and knowing commercial flight options were becoming increasingly difficult, I decided to stay in the small university city of Göttingen.

Flying back in a plane full of potentially infected people didn’t make sense to me. I felt safer here.

Students make-up more than a quarter of Göttingen’s total population of 120,000 and come from all over the world.

Finnian Lloyd is a fellow UTS student who has also decided to stay. He says he’s been looking forward to this exchange year since he started university.

“It’s always been something I wanted to do.

“I’ve also invested a lot of physical, financial, emotional and mental energy into saving up and preparing for this year.”

While the situation is not ideal, he believes he made the right decision.

“It wasn’t a big enough difference to encourage me to go home… I’d be in the same situation, but at least here I’m in Germany, which is what this year was supposed to be for.”

Panagiotis Filippaios is an international student from Greece. He told me it’s the same for most countries across Europe.

“I don’t think that returning would be safer for me.”

On March 16, Germany restricted movement across borders and Chancellor Angela Merkel announced that schools, restaurants and non-essential businesses would close.

On the same day, the university closed and the German language classes that had been offered to international students, moved online.

Panagiotis was one of the affected students: “It was something new for everyone, but after a couple of days it started to feel like a proper lecture from the comfort of your home.”

Finnian was also surprised that online learning worked so well. He initially lost motivation to study, but then his tutor used the video platform Zoom to continue teaching.

Another UTS student, Jason Wang, believes learning a language doesn’t require face-to-face or practical work like science or engineering classes.

But it’s not for everyone.

Anna Walczak, an international student from Poland, isn’t a fan.

“For me, it’s not the best because I can’t concentrate when it’s just video. I have so many things [I could] do on my laptop, like check my email, check facebook.”

A ban on public gatherings of more than two people in Germany has meant that international students must connect through video platforms, to stay social.

What would have been a weekly gathering on a Wednesday evening at the local bar, now takes place online.  

The Erasmus Student Network Göttingen, hosts events where students now meet over games, quizzes, drinks and virtual city tours.

Still, Finnian is disappointed it has affected his social life.

“You can’t really go out and make new friends, which was a big part of this year.

“If you’re out in public and you’re not following the rules – like, there’s a group of more than two – you get dirty looks or even comments.”

Supermarkets have placed stickers on the ground reminding people to keep their 1.5m distance.

Supermarkets are enforcing the 1.5 metre rule (Photo: Tanna Nankivell)


*Anna thinks the ban makes sense, and still gives people some freedom.

“It’s a good balance between forbidding going out at all and trying to avoid spreading the virus.”

While Angela Merkel has been praised for her response to the pandemic, Eduardo Mendoza from Mexico believes the German government could be doing more.

“I think they are being very cautious… being passive, since the German health system is one of the best in the world.”

That health care is the reason he decided to stay.

Germany has the fifth highest number of confirmed cases in the world – and is currently behind Spain. But what separates it from other European countries, is it’s low mortality rate of 0.6%.

Christian Drosten, a German virologist and head of the Institute for Virology at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin has attributed that rate to widespread testing.

Like the other international students, I plan to make the most of my time here. I feel protected in a small city; have a good support network; and access to Germany’s health care system.

— Tanna Nankivell @TannaNankivell