Samantha Gomez from New York has found her favourite place in Bamberg: The Domberg rose garden with its view over the World Heritage city.

The Ukrainian Alina Shynkarenko attended the summer university in Bamberg in 2019. That's why she’s already familiar with the university’s Branch Library 4.

- Hannah Fischer

American exchange student: "I feel safe in Bamberg"

How exchange students are finding their way in the time of corona and how the International Office is helping them

Samantha Gomez came to Bamberg from New York on 8 March. About a week after her arrival, Germany closed its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic. She actually only wanted to spend one semester in Germany, but now she plans to complete her master's degree in English Literary Studies in Bamberg.

"I feel much safer in Germany than in the United States. Especially in Manhattan, where I normally study, we have a lot of corona cases and, since the death of George Floyd, riots on the streets," says the student. That is why she has decided not to return to the USA for the moment.

Loneliness is a problem

However, the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting restrictions in private and public life do not make it easy for her and many other exchange students to settle in in their new environment. Although the 30-year-old has already made friends with a few other students in her dormitory, she sometimes feels lonely. Additionally, the start of her stay was marked by financial difficulty. Due to lockdown restrictions, Samantha Gomez was not able to open a bank account and therefore had no access to her scholarship money, which in turn resulted in her not being able to pay for her room in the dormitory.

The International Office focuses on individual problem solving

In such cases, the University of Bamberg’s International Office team provides foreign students with assistance. Dr. Andreas Weihe is the director and remembers Samantha Gomez's case in detail: "We helped the student with 1000 Euros in cash. There is actually no longer any provision for cash in the university administration. That's why it wasn't so easy." At the moment, it is always about solving individual problems. Many foreign students who had flown to visit their home countries during the semester break were unable to return to Bamberg to continue their studies abroad due to the border closures. "We are currently clearing out the students' rooms and sending them their belongings in suitcases," says Weihe.

The restrictions mean that the "Erasmus feeling" is missing

A total of 86 exchange students are enrolled at the University of Bamberg this semester. 60 of them are actually on site. The remaining 26 are in their home countries and using the university’s online courses. "Normally we have about 250 exchange students at the university per semester. Accordingly, this summer semester we are only talking about a quarter of the regular number," explains Weihe, "And we don't get to see them because of the contact restrictions.” This makes the head of the International Office particularly sad.

A lot had been planned with the exchange students: a three-week orientation course, a wide range of excursions, German courses, and other offerings like the language tandem programme, in which the students from abroad are placed in contact with German students. Andreas Weihe hopes that face-to-face teaching will already be possible in the upcoming winter semester: "An exchange semester is not meant for merely taking courses, but also for living abroad. That is the Erasmus feeling".

Student from the Ukraine: "I never thought about quitting the semester"

Alina Shynkarenko came to Bamberg as an exchange student on 14 March and is studying German language and literature. The Ukrainian has already settled in well in Bamberg and had no major difficulties finding her way around the World Heritage city from the very beginning. On the one hand, this is due to her advanced knowledge of the language, and on the other hand, this is not her first time in Germany: "I worked as an au pair in Darmstadt and last year I was in Bamberg for the summer university and fell in love with the city right away," says the 21-year-old.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, she wanted to have the experience of studying in another country: "In the meantime, I have met many people in Bamberg. I never thought about dropping out of the semester, because I still want to experience a lot," says the student. Before her departure in August, she would like to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle and drink a Rauchbier with friends in front of the Schlenkerla brewery - perhaps she will even get a bit of that Erasmus feeling.

This News was translated by Hannah Fischer