Last-minute student exchanges: ‘Some students were scammed’
The pandemic made it a lot harder for students to go on a student exchange, but some determined VU students did not want to give up on their plans. Whereas they might normally have several months to get ready for their exchange, some students had to make arrangements in just a few weeks.
It remained unclear for many students whether they could go abroad, as VU Amsterdam strictly observed the government’s designation of each country’s safety by assigning them colours. Exchanges to countries designated as ‘red’ and ‘orange’ countries were denied.
It prompted student Communication & Information Lina Nasser, who wanted to go to Korea, to set up a petition to allow for the exchanges to take place. It was signed by over 1300 people, but Nasser thinks it is their argumentation especially which convinced the university to opt for a slightly more lenient policy. Several governmental designations also became more favourable, allowing many student exchanges to proceed.
For Nasser, the most difficult part of the looming cancellation was having to arrange everything at the last moment. “It takes at least a month to get a visa if you already have an appointment at the embassy.” Accommodation and flight tickets become more expensive too: “I waited until Korea was on the safe list and by then it was significantly more expensive and stressful to book everything.”
Law student Rohied Mahboeb faced similar struggles preparing for his exchange at the University of Texas. An exchange which he worked towards for several years beforehand. “When I looked at the ticket prices in February, it was about four hundred euros. When I booked it two weeks before the flight, it was around a thousand euros”, says Mahboeb. “I had to arrange everything in two or three weeks. Normally it can be done in two or three months.”
Some students already had their exchanges cancelled last year. Among them Communication Science student Job Prins, who chose not to go through with an academic minor at Italy’s University of Bologna when classes were online only. This year he already signed up for a master’s programme, but in June he received a mail that he could go to Italy and decided to do an extra minor there. “I thought: this is a chance you only get once in your life.”
Prins also had trouble finding accommodation and ended up paying a bit more than expected. “I hear from other students here that they were scammed. A lot of people decided to go on an exchange at the last moment and there were quite a few scammers active on Facebook. After making an advanced payment, the owner of the house and the house itself would disappear.”
Despite the costly and stressful obstacles, the students Ad Valvas spoke to have no regrets about going abroad. Their individual experiences are published weekly on the Blogs & Columns page on the Dutch section of this website. Follow us on Instagram for condensed English versions. To kick things off, Lina Nasser talks about the cultural and academic differences she encountered in Seoul: “I noticed that when I talk to Korean people or want to ask directions, they tend to become very intimidated”.