When COVID hit one year ago, many international AAU students decided to leave Prague to spend quarantine with their families in their home countries. As no one expected the lockdowns, safety measures, and travel restrictions to stay in place for over a year, AAU students are still scattered all around the world. Throughout the year, some have faced difficulties that turned their lives upside down.
The situation has been especially challenging for first-year students, whose first university experience has been through a screen. Most of them haven’t been to campus yet and they only know their peers and professors from video conferences. Travel restrictions and visa issues also affected many of them: Babatunde Omotola, for instance, is a Nigerian International Relations first-year student whose visa got rejected twice for no specific reason. Therefore, he decided to apply somewhere else to continue studying.
“Because of my love for AAU, I will try to do my masters there. The learning is awesome, professors are extremely good and they care about students.” Babatunde Omotola has stayed positive all along and he won’t give up until he makes it to Europe.
Some of the students who initially left Prague to quarantine back home have since returned. With travel restrictions in place, European countries suspended visitor visas for non-Schengen countries, which made it more difficult for students to apply for a visa from abroad.
Paula Morales, a student from Ecuador, used her student visa from 2019/20 to come back to Prague at the end of August 2020. She needs to renew her visa on the spot, and initially thought AAU would reopen its doors for face-to-face learning.
Georgia Skerritt, a Seattle resident, flew to her home country in early March 2020 and chose to stay in the U.S. for the fall semester 2020. She tried to apply for a student visa from there, but faced many difficulties connected to applying from abroad, which made it impossible for her to return before summer 2021.
Another obstacle second-year students are facing is housing.Paula needed proof of accommodation for her visa to be approved. She decided to book a flat online but did not realize the flat she booked was located in a dormitory. Moreover, the friends she booked the flat with were unable to get to Prague.
“When my friends did not come to Prague, the administration of the dorm forced me to move in with four strangers, and pay the full price until the end of my contract,” she said.
Katerina Siblová, originally from Brno, faced similar problems when she asked her landlord to give her a COVID discount on the apartment she lived in: he only agreed to a tiny percentage off when Katerina’s parents stepped in.
“Adulting has been even more difficult because of COVID but I think that I matured through it,” Katerina said.
Third-year students also endured negative experiences, Bethannie Moore, originally from San José, California, flew out of Prague in December 2019 to spend the holidays with her family. When she decided to take the spring semester off to work and save money, she did not know that she would lose her job due to the pandemic. As a consequence, she had to stay in the U.S.
“I just would not be able to sustain myself in Prague. Here in California, I can rely on my friends and family for financial support, and I am getting unemployment compensation,” Bethannie said.
Ify Nsoha, a third-year student graduating in June, faces a hard time writing his thesis, managing schoolwork, and an internship at the same time. He lives with his family and has been home during quarantine trying to stay positive.
“Every choice you make creates the world you live in,” says Ify. Even though he misses going to Cafe des Taxis to socialize, he has made it through. “I guess I just pray, read my bible and watch shows.”
The pandemic has been a big challenge to the AAU community, but these difficulties also taught students about themselves.
“Even though this has been a really challenging time, […] I have been trying to look at the positive sides of the pandemic,” Katerina said. “I realize that I appreciate simple things more and that I want to get out of my comfort zone more – I want to travel and experience more to make amazing memories.”