„Erasmus in Zeiten von Corona“ was the topic of the interview conducted by LandesEcho Online Mangazine and our President Adéla Smejkalová was more than pleased to overview how ESN CZ manages the whole situation."
How is ESN in the Czech Republic helping students from abroad to settle and orientated?
At the beginning of the mobility, we find local buddies for the international students, pick them up when they arrive, and help with the basics after their arrival. We also organise Orientation weeks together with universities with many activities that support getting to know each other, finding their way around the university, learning basics of the Czech language, the culture and, of course, the city. Our members also organise a great number of events during the semester: trips, cultural events, teambuildings, and also events aimed at developing inclusion, promoting internationalisation, and enriching society.
And how does this work in these times, when there can´t be any meetings or events?
Generally, we still try to stick to our core activities and we have just moved them to the online environment. It is quite challenging, given the fact that not everything has an online substitute, but at the same time, it opens many new doors and opportunities to try something new. When it comes to physical activities, we now try to help our students more individually - we accompany them to hospitals, testing places, we buy and deliver groceries for those who are in quarantine, we focus a lot on helping to get an overview and better understanding of the current situation to keep the students updated, and many other things. A lot of emphases is put on sharing best practices among the students, which means organising webinars, workshops, themed discussions and we also focus a lot on Health & Well-being. When possible, we try to organise the activities in a hybrid version - partly online, partly physically.
Are there any online activities?
As I’ve already said, basically everything now takes place online, be it events for our members or for the international students. To be honest, the attendance at the online events is not as high as we would like, that is why our members have come up with the idea of creating a joint event calendar for the whole country. Now, every international student can attend events from multiple ESN sections around the Czech Republic and has a unique opportunity to meet even more people than before, only online.
What do you think could be a unique advantage of studying in the Czech Republic in times of a pandemic?
I believe that now is the perfect and unique time to get to know our country and feel its true spirit as there are basically no tourists. It is a great opportunity to learn about the culture and enjoy all the landmarks to the fullest. Another advantage is that one gets more chances to travel more inside the country and discover all its hidden gems. What is more, our universities are very supportive and are trying really hard to make the (blended) learning experience for international students as easy as possible. The exchange experience is different now, but the international spirit is still there and in many ways, it’s even stronger than before.