Students Abroad: Semester Abroad Despite Pandemic and Lockdown

23.03.2021
Sophie presented the posters she designed in a hybrid final presentation on site and via livestream. Photo: Sophie Kleppin

Lockdown, curfews, canceled flights, and online teaching: These are all not perfect conditions for a semester abroad, in which the focus is, after all, on exchanging ideas with other students and getting to know another country and culture. Thanks to funding from Erasmus+, Merz Akademie students visited a partner university abroad during this special time.Sophie spent the summer semester 2020 at the University of Art in Linz. The preparations for the application to the partner university and for the stay abroad went smoothly, also thanks to the support from the International Office of the Merz Akademie.

She found a room in a shared flat three minutes’ walk from the campus and also initially started the semester with other Erasmus students. She took courses in the field of study called “Spatial and Design Strategies”, which is very interdisciplinary in terms of both students and teachers.

“The teachers were architects, scenographers, artists, designers and urban planners. My fellow students were product designers, UX designers and architects. It was a very interesting exchange about the tasks and responsibilities that a designer has in different disciplines. It was a special situation not to be one of many graphic designers.”

Modell of the empty streets of Linz. Photo: Sophie Kleppin

Two days after the regular start of the semester, the courses had to take place online. Thanks to the fast response of the lecturers, all courses continued to be taught.

“I was most looking forward to the workshops and studios at the university, where students can work and exhibit. Unfortunately, these were now closed for the entire semester, so most of my practical projects were created in my room. It was easier to translate the theory courses into online classes,” Sophie reports.

Empty Streets of Linz and Mini Kunsthalle Linz, created in Sophies room. Photo: Sophie Kleppin

Laura spent her semester abroad in winter 2020/21, also with an Erasmus+ scholarship, at our partner university École Nationale Supérieure D’Arts (ENSAPC) in Paris-Cergy. With the help of the International Office at Merz Akademie, she was able to navigate the bureaucracy involved in applying to the partner university as well as for Erasmus+ funding. ENSAPC also provided a lot of information. Laura was also put in touch with a mentor student who provided her with the most important information.

Once in Paris-Cergy, fellow students supported her and took her by the hand in choosing her courses, among other things: “Overall, I felt very welcome and well taken care of.”

Laura adds, “The students decide for themselves how much they want to take away from the courses. However, the professors are very open-minded and helpful when you approach them.” So the students are also responsible for implementing the projects themselves: “This freedom has been really good for me and has given me the opportunity to focus on the topics that are really important to me.”

But from November onwards, teaching here could also only take place online. Photo: Laura-Sophie Höpflinger

ENSAPC also provides students with different studios where they can then work independently. There is a workshop for metal and woodworking, workstations for sound and film production, a sound studio, a photo studio with darkroom, but also a dance hall and a technology rental.

Despite the closure of the studios and online classes, Laura was able to improve her French skills by talking to her fellow students and teachers and was able to communicate well by the end of her semester abroad. “Most of the classes are in French so prior knowledge is important.”

Laura’s conclusion: “I had a great and educational time. Looking back, my time there was incredibly beneficial to me – both in terms of my personal development, as well as learning about other life models and other teaching formats. I can only recommend ENSAPC for francophiles who are linguistically fit and have a desire to pursue their own projects.

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