Initially, my friend and I had been accepted for our exchange semester at San Diego State University and were supposed to start there in Summer 2020. This was then cancelled due to Corona. All summer long we found ourselves wondering if we really were going to complete our studies without having the opportunity of spending a semester abroad, which after all was one driver amongst many to choose these studies for both of us. Not thinking that we would get the chance of making such an experience abroad after all, we were contacted by the international office offering us the opportunity to postpone our exchange semester to Spring 2021. And this is exactly what we did and how we both ended up studying at FH Salzburg.
The last few weeks before our exchange started in February 2021 had been marked by constant consideration moving back and forth between wanting to go abroad and not being sure if we should risk it in such a challenging time. However, in the end we decided together that the experience of living independently abroad and having the chance of growing as a person would be worth taking the risk of getting stranded in a lockdown and not finding any friends, especially since we could still rely on each other.
Our start in February was impacted by Corona regulations, which meant for us having to go into quarantine when we first arrived and starting our exchange with the welcome days completely virtual. After a few starting problems in finding suitable courses and adjusting to the online school system of the university of applied sciences in Salzburg, we soon got used to the way things work here and got into the rhythm of online school. Most of our courses took place completely online and in a similar teaching style to back home. Luckily our on-campus student dorm is completely surrounded by nature offering a beautiful meadow for picknicks, BBQs and playing sports, a forest for quiet walks and the riverside for relaxed bike rides or quick refreshing swims. All of this worked wonders in supporting us during long days of online teaching.
Whilst we had worried before the semester started if we would ever get to know other students and find friends due to the situation, it did not take us long to meet amazing people from all over Europe. Most of the other exchange students also live in the dorm on-campus and we met them during the Welcome Days and started organizing things together. Moreover, through the buddy program of the university we also had the chance to meet other tourism students and spend time with them.
Next to attending our classes we did our best to enjoy our time here despite COVID regulations. Living on a campus a bit outside completely surrounded by nature enabled us to still experience some great things with other exchange students such as organizing BBQs every once in a while on campus, going for walks or bike rides together or simply organizing community dinners and game nights in the dorms. In the first few weeks here, it snowed a lot which allowed us to go on many skiing adventures and to get to know the skiing areas close to Salzburg, such as Schladming and Hochkönig. We also took our time to really enjoy and experience the beautiful landscapes around Salzburg with trips to other cities such a Linz and Hallstatt, spending time at some of the around 180 beautiful lakes within the province of Salzburg or through hiking in the mountains. We consider ourselves lucky to be here during the times of the pandemic because this also means that all these places are less crowded, and we are able to experience overtourism destinations such as Hallstatt and the city of Salzburg in a different way than other tourists before us.
Mid-May the COVID restrictions finally got a bit looser, and we are now able to visit restaurants and bars again and make use of hotels and Airbnb’s. Which of course we frequently make use of with eating out or spending some time in a beer garden. This finally allows us to plan longer trips to other cities like Vienna, Munich or Prague as well.
Now sadly our exchange is soon coming to an end, and we are trying to make the best out of our last weeks here. What we can definitely say is that despite all the worries concerning the pandemic, our exchange here was as great as it could have been, with or without COVID. We made awesome experiences and memories in our time here and got to share this with amazing people that we can now call friends. Despite all regulations our exchange was full of adventures and we are more than happy that we took the risk to come here.