By Oscar Gravell
As a student of Russian and Spanish at Durham University, the year abroad was of course something I had been looking forward to ever since I applied to university four years ago. if I’m being completely honest this was definitely one of the main reasons why I (and many of my course friends) decided to study languages at university in the first place. Experiencing new cultures, living abroad, and being immersed in the language is a vital part of our degree, that we haven’t been able to complete. This, and the endless missed opportunities is why coronavirus has affected us year abroad students so much.
I started the year focussing on Spanish, so for six months was working in Lima, Peru. Here, I undoubtedly had some of the best times of my life, including travelling around south America, an opportunity I can’t believe I’ve had. This is where I am so sad for all those who have been caught in south America during the coronavirus pandemic. I know of several people stuck in Peru, Argentina and other countries. I can’t believe this pandemic has put an end to all of the opportunities these people could have had in Latin America.
Personally, I was in St Petersburg, studying Russian at the University of Ways and Means (PGUPS) – I know, what on earth does that mean, but it was good fun all the same - when Covid-19 became a pandemic. We had only just started to have the feeling of actually living in Russia, as I had experienced in Peru; a bar we went to every Wednesday with unlimited beer for the equivalent of £8 (Hello), getting involved in sports with Russians to improve our language; when we received the email from Durham University ‘strongly advising’ us to come home. Of course, to us sitting in a bar in St Petersburg where there were currently only rumours of fewer than ten cases, we thought it couldn’t possibly apply to us and ruin our year abroad, and in any case, we wouldn’t be boring, we could stick it out in Russia. Fast forward a week and we were all flying out in the only not cancelled flights out of St Petersburg, rushing home to avoid a quarantine in a -10 degrees Russia.
Now sitting at home under quarantine, with all my plans cancelled until October when Durham will (hopefully) start again, I think I talk for all my fellow language students when I say how devastated we are that we can’t experience our full years abroad. This is of course in terms of the missed experiences and plans. My group in Russia had several travel plans to see the huge country and endless lists of places to go in the city which we never got round to, and will more than likely never have the chance to.
We will all miss this opportunity to improve the language for the fourth year of our degree. Despite emails from Durham assuring us they will take it into account, this is obviously a massive concern for all of us, especially, speaking for myself, as a month in Russia, is really not enough time to become anywhere near fluent in a language as complex as Russian.