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This Sussex Life. Vivien Neumann, Erasmus exchange student: "Leaving Brighton feels so wrong."

Vivien Neumann and the basketball team

Amidst the turmoil of the Covid-19 pandemic, Vivien Neumann, an exchange student in Information Systems (MSc) from Munich, talks about the difficult decision she has had to make.

When I arrived here from Munich in September 2019, I was full of excitement, hope, motivation, openness, and willingness to meet new people as well as gratitude for having the opportunity to study at one of TUM’s[ Technical University of Munich] partner universities as part of the ERASMUS+ programme. This made it even more special. 

I was looking forward to experiencing the British educational system for a whole academic year and, more importantly, living the campus life I always dreamed of. Playing basketball in the women’s team, having the sports hall just around the corner to go shooting in the morning or doing a workout during lunch break, being able to go to the library 24/7, meeting friends for a quick coffee or lunch, going to afternoon tea sessions, but also being able to get to the sea within 30 minutes, made it so easy for me to feel at home and like I was part of the Sussex family. I really enjoyed my time at Sussex.

After my basketball team won the Cup Final against Kent University, we went out to celebrate and had an amazing night. We were motivated to finish the season undefeated. All this ended abruptly within 24 hours. The coronavirus was not only in China, Spain and Italy, which seemed far away from us, but it was everywhere. Some of my mates left within six hours. There was no chance to say goodbye. 

I have never received so many emails from my home university, from the University of Sussex, the Housing services, my lecturers, the ERASMUS+ organiser, the Federal Foreign Office, etc. News was changing every minute. I was, and still am, overwhelmed. How can you make a rational decision under these circumstances?

Slowly but surely the campus emptied. It’s like a ghost town now. If you see someone, usually they are carrying a suitcase or moving boxes. Most of my flatmates have left in such a rush that our fridge is still so full that I do not need to go shopping for at least two weeks. 

On the one hand, leaving Brighton (my current home) feels so wrong. I had so many plans for the next couple of months: I wanted to travel to Scotland with a friend during my Easter break. I signed up for the Brighton Marathon weekend to run the 10k. I was planning to go on a road trip along the south coast with my parents and my brother in June. I just started to record video snippets to make a short movie about my time here in Brighton. 

On the other hand, staying in Brighton without knowing how the situation will develop is not a perfect option either. There’s uncertainty over whether I will still be able to fly back to Germany in a few weeks. I’ve been assured that all essential services on campus will keep running and they will support us, but not many people would want to be on their own (without family and friends) in such an uncertain time. 

At the same time, I was applying for internships around the world, but this is definitely not the first priority. Not for me and not for companies that will probably not look for new employees, let alone interns, in the near future. Because no one knows when the situation will get better. 

When I look out of my window, I see the green fields of Stanmer Park and the South Downs, where I usually go for a run without meeting a single person. A handful of cows scared me once, but they might become my best friends during social distancing – does that count? The campus feels like a calm and peaceful place in this chaotic world, and you can easily forget about all the devastating things that are currently happening in the world

I know that this is a first-world problem, considering the current situation,and I am extremely privileged that I had this opportunity. I’m grateful that I had last autumn semester at Sussex. I made friends from all over the world and I’ve visited London, Bath, Bristol, the Seven Sisters and some small towns around Brighton. I’ve collected so many unforgettable memories and tried to spend as much time on the beach and in cosy coffee shops as possible. 

I have also enjoyed working on hands-on group projects and have created digital prototypes using user-centred design. I got used to the readings and the short, one-hour lectures, have researched many exciting topics and written essays about establishing an agile mindset within a company and how to increase innovativeness and creativity among employees. I could continue with this list for ages. 

During the last week I have spent hours talking to my family, friends and colleagues from home. I have shared my feelings, emotions and thoughts with my friends here in Brighton. I have tried to accept this situation and started planning the time here and some activities I could do in my room. I have imagined being back at my parents’ house and compared the situations. I have tried to listen to my gut feeling. I always wanted to spend a whole academic year abroad and knowing I will never get this chance again, seeing my plan get destroyed, makes it even harder to make this decision and accept the current circumstances.

  • Vivien is due to fly back to Germany on Monday.

 

 

 

 

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By: Jacqui Bealing
Last updated: Friday, 27 March 2020

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