Erasmus During a Pandemic: Our Players‘ Experiences

Erasmus is a special time. Having gone on Erasmus in the academic year of 2012/13 (September 2012 to July 2013), I can say with confidence that the experience completely changed my life. I cannot begin to imagine where I would be or what I would be doing without that year in Marburg (Lahn) – it was a starting point for everything to come afterwards.

I went from a situation where I had spent my entire life up to that point in my home city of Cork to starting my Erasmus year in a new town, in a different country and knowing two other people in a room full of people from all over the world. Immediately, you are out of your comfort zone, and you need to get out and meet people. In UCC (University College Cork), there was at least the option of playing that great Irish game – „who do we know in common?“ (which often turns into „how are we somehow related…“) but talking to a group of fellow students from Izmir (Turkey), Czechia, Slovenia and Estonia, it seemed highly unlikely that they were from the Kearney or O’Riordan sides of the family or that they knew John from Douglas.

My accommodation in Marburg was pretty basic, but the reality was that, besides sleeping and eating, I wasn’t often there. During this time, there were always adventures happening – whether it was using our Semesterticket to travel all over the region, meeting friends for „international dinners“ (as a 20-year old lad who could barely cook – I prepared that famous Irish „recipe“ – Tayto Crisp sandwiches for one of these events…), birthday parties and Thursday parties, visiting other friends on Erasmus elsewhere in Germany (and then losing them at Bierfests) or heading to Dortmund to watch the Champions League Final or Cologne for Karneval. There was always something happening and a feeling of energy and life.

I can’t remember everything that happened during that fantastic year, but I remember the feeling of adventure and the people. That room of strangers quickly evolved into dear friends and, essentially, family. We were there for each other in good times and challenging times. When the time finally came to leave that place, it was tough, and all I could think about was, „how can I return?“.

Trying to imagine Erasmus during the current Pandemic is difficult for me. „Social distancing“, facemasks and travel restrictions/restrictions on public gatherings just do not compute with my idea of the Erasmus experience. However, some of our players have had that „Corona-Erasmus“ experience or are living it right now. I asked them about how they have lived Erasmus during the Pandemic – and here are their responses:

Niall Magee

Niall spent his Erasmus year in Cologne between 2019 and 2020. He was in Cologne when the Covid-19 Pandemic broke out.

Niall Magee (standing in the centre with the German jersey) at our final training session before the start of the Coronavirus pandemic lockdowns – March 2020.

Hi, my name is Niall Magee, and I was an Erasmus student in Cologne from August 2019 to July 2020. It all started off perfectly normal – nights out on Zulpicher, packed lectures, and weekends travelling across Germany and Europe, but little did we know what was coming down the road.

Myself and two other Irish students lived on Moltkestrasse in the Belgian quarter and enjoyed over 6 months of this beautiful normality. Pub-crawls, spontaneous nights out, festivals, Christmas markets and socialising, in general, were all taken for granted.

Niall training with the Celts before the Covid-19 restrictions kicked in.

Thankfully, we were able to enjoy the amazing Kölner Karneval in all its glory in February, dressing up, inviting friends over from Ireland, and having too much to drink. Post-Karneval, however, I felt the atmosphere in the city changed.

Looking at what was happening over in Italy with hospitalisations and cases rising, people began to feel uneasy. We started to see people wearing masks (to our disbelief), hand sanitiser selling out in all shops and empty trams. But then, in March, it began to spiral into disaster. Talk of closing the Irish border (sounds crazy, but we believed it), shutting schools, and mandatory quarantine forced us to frantically book the next flight to Dublin and pack up anything we had hoping to return in a couple of weeks or so. Disaster again as our flight to Dublin from Cologne was cancelled. With time running out and the border apparently closing „any day now“, we decided to take the three-hour train to Paris and hop on the next flight home. While this might seem excessive, everyone was panicking at this time, including all of our friends who were on Erasmus in other European cities. Finally, we returned to Dublin on the 17th of March – a very different St. Patrick’s Day from what we are used to.

It was not until the end of May that we could return to Germany, with the hopes of returning to the life we left behind a couple of months previous. At first, I was quite surprised about life in Cologne in the summer of 2020; busy streets, open shops, and the relaxed, outdoor lifestyle of summer in Germany had allowed much of normal life to resume. There was no need for „substantial euro €9 meals“ to drink in a bar or tables of 6 from two households; all you needed was to give your contact details.

Drinking at Aachener Weiher became the place to be during these few months, and I loved it. Compared to Ireland, where staying outside past 9pm is almost unheard of, shorts and t-shirts were sufficient in Cologne until 11 on most days. Surprisingly to say this, we didn’t really miss packed indoor bars or clubs. Having never really experienced a warm European outdoor summer, this was all we needed.

Niall enjoying Karneval before Covid-19 restrictions, social distancing etc., started.

Germany had been a breath of fresh air with their restrictions during this time compared to Ireland. Restaurants were allowed to open normally; you were able to have a drink in a pub (not possible back home), and ‘non-essential’ shops were open. Ireland’s mixed, confusing messages about socialising with households, contradictory statements about masks and what consisted as an „essential service“ made us pity those who were stuck back home.

At this time, I re-joined the Cologne Celtics GAA club, having only played in a few training sessions in March 2020. Everything seemed normal again somehow. We returned to Ireland at the end of July 2020, but little did we know we’d have to go through it all again the following year.

Ciara O’Donnell

Ciara spent her Erasmus year in Cologne between 2019/2020 and was an Erasmus student in Cologne when the Covid-19 Pandemic broke out.

Ciara O’Donnell (no. 7, black shorts and red helmet) leading our players off during a training session at Chorweiler – a week before Corona lockdown regulations were introduced.

In 2019 I decided to do my Erasmus year in Bonn to improve my German language skills. I arrived in Bonn in October and began to settle into my new environment. I joined ESN (Erasmus student network) which allowed me to get to know other Erasmus students. Every Monday we had a Stammtisch and most weekends we would explore a different city or town. There was always something to do! My social calendar was busier than my academic calendar and it was also often prioritised… However, this began to change after Covid arrived in Germany. 

I joined the Cologne Celtic GAA team after the Christmas break, just before the major outbreak in Europe. I remember sitting with friends when we first heard about covid in Germany. Soon after shops and businesses began to shut and flights were being reduced. With the possibility of being stranded in Germany and a worried mother on the phone, I decided to return home. 

My international experience soon turned out to be the very opposite. I found myself attending University Bonn in my childhood bedroom. I spent 3 months at home, from April to June, before I decided to return to Germany. My plan was to collect some belongings which I had left behind. I had believed that Covid would blow over after a few weeks and things would soon go back to normal. I stayed with a friend I made through Erasmus planning to go back home to Ireland after 2 weeks. However, these 2 weeks turned into 3 weeks which turned into 3 months!

Upon returning to Germany, my international experience was somewhat normal again. I got to meet up with some international friends that had stayed in Germany during the lockdown. Things were slowly starting to go back to normal, we could go into restaurants and play sports again, but of course with restrictions. If it wasn’t for Covid my Erasmus wouldn’t have been interrupted but then again I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet the people that I met (including my boyfriend!). 

Vangelis Bita

Vangelis Bita is a student in Cologne who went on Erasmus to Leuven in Belgium for the Autumn semester of 2020.

Rheinderby 2021 Düsseldorf GAA vs. Cologne Celtics

Planning and organising an Erasmus semester during the Covid 19 pandemic was definitely a stressful experience. There were so many unknown parameters, and corona measures were changing day-to-day. However, I did not know back when I was planning the year, but it was going to be awesome.

I think I was rather lucky that in Belgium and Leuven, from September until the end of October, Corona numbers were low, and almost everything was open. The university was determined to offer students courses in-presence and allow them to have the on-campus experience. And so it happens, during my first two months, I went to classes, libraries, university cafes and the Erasmus events and parties.

However, eventually, lockdown came, and there was the switch to online learning. Obviously, it was not the same experience, but we adapted very fast to be able to meet people and keep social contact within the allowed rules. We started doing more events outdoors, breaking into smaller groups and meeting just with my roommates, with whom I shared a kitchen. And the fun continued.

Obviously, it would be better without covid. But as long as you are in the same situation with everybody around you and meet good people you like, great times are guaranteed. Plus, „Corona talk“ was always a good small talk ice breaker! 🙂

Aoibhín Walsh

Aoibhín is spending her Erasmus in Cologne – two semesters from Autumn 2021 until Summer 2022.

Aoibhín Walsh (purple jersey) – training with the Cologne Celtics.

I have been looking forward to Erasmus ever since I applied to university. I dreamed of all the people I would meet, the culture I would learn about and experience and the memories I would make while finding my way in a new country. My original expectations of how my Erasmus would look are no match for the reality. Erasmus is an amazing opportunity, and although it has been altered dramatically by Covid19, it is still such a worthwhile experience. One of the main things that is making my Erasmus experience worthwhile is the opportunity to be a part of the Cologne Celtics GAA club.

As we all know, universities went online in most cases, and socialising opportunities became limited. All the new people I planned to encounter were merely faces perched in tiny windows on a Zoom screen. With online lectures, this is the better setup one can hope for. I got to virtually meet and communicate with other students. However, in larger classes held through seminars, there is not a sign or glimpse of another student besides a live chat for asking questions. In such cases, it is so easy to feel alone especially being so far from home and from everyone you know.

I did get to attend some lectures in person, which I looked forward to. I also had some great opportunities to meet people and enjoy myself through the likes of events run by ESN („Erasmus Student Network“ – a club that organises events and outings for international students). These activities like tours, trips and even a hike were some great experiences. However, Covid, of course, has not made anything easy. Many activities were either cancelled or very limited due to restrictions and risks of Covid-19.

That’s why I am so pleased I chose to join the Cologne Celtics GAA club. It’s one thing I can rely on to not be cancelled (unless there’s a very good reason). It provides a routine of sorts.

With Covid, it has been hard to plan more than a week in advance with situations constantly changing with the fluctuation of cases. This makes it hard to settle in. Typically, the feeling of ’settling in‘ comes when you have a general routine established. Covid has obliterated that possibility making it nearly impossible to ever achieve that ’settled in‘ feeling.

Attending weekly training helped to put some structure in my week. With this, I also got the chance to meet new people, both Irish and non-Irish. One of the best ways to meet new people is through something fun. GAA, to me, is precisely that. Training alongside brand-new teammates here really delivers that combination of both normality and abnormality that you look for while on Erasmus. At home, GAA was a big part of my lifestyle, fitness, and my social life. I was delighted when I joined the club and could make it part of my Erasmus too.

I am looking forward to the rest of my Erasmus. My hopes are obviously for fewer restrictions and less Covid-19 circulating, same as everyone I would imagine! Despite this, I can appreciate the benefits of the situation regardless of how it fares out. With everything in constant change, one must also be constantly evolving. In the few months I have spent on Erasmus so far, I would like to say I have become a little more resilient and a lot more capable of adapting to change.

It has been the simple things like Saturday morning training that have made my experience so far worthwhile. Ultimately, I have learned to enjoy things for what they are. There is no point in letting expectations detract from your real actual experiences.

Thanks for the insights!

If you are an Irish Erasmus student planning on coming to Cologne and if you want to meet fellow Irish people in the region, keep up GAA while abroad or just check out hurling/Gaelic football in Europe; why not get involved with the Cologne Celtics GAA Club? Similarly, if you are a non-Irish Erasmus student who wants to experience an entirely new set of sports during your Erasmus year, please feel free to join the craic and spraoí at the Celts. We are always looking for new members, and absolute beginners are always welcome to join. Just contact us and we will provide you with all the details needed.

Kölle abú!

Top Image: „Cologne Cathedral Hohenzollern BridgeGerdRohsDesign | Pixabay

%d Bloggern gefällt das: