Despite Covid: Travel and Internships in the Era of Lockdowns and Restrictions

by Maya Moritz

At a time of imposed shelter-in-place orders, it seems the world is aflutter with activity. During online semesters, students are flocking home to avoid unnecessary rent and avoid locking down in cramped apartments. Ailing airlines are promoting low-cost trips to paradise, filling your Instagram stories with ill-advised and jealousy-inducing Caribbean trips. Despite the appearance of many flouting the regulations, responsible work-from-homers are not alone in their cancelled plans and frustration.

Eliza Thomas, a Mannheim student originally from Heidelberg, has seen her activities cancelled and reformatted due to the pandemic. With the completion of her M.Sc. in Economics looming, internships are especially important for securing a job in her field. She wrote, „Because of Covid-19 I had to readjust a lot of my plans. It started with a Model United Nations Conference that I planned to attend in March 2020 and then went on with summer holidays and my internship at the OECD in Paris.” She was ultimately not able to attend the conference, a considerable loss after all her preparation.

Still, Eliza was able to find an internship for the summer, albeit in an altered form. “The difficult aspect was always the phase where you had to adjust to the new situation, but as soon as this was over, I was able to embrace the new circumstances. For example, in my first four weeks during my internship in Paris that I spent entirely in the home office, I met other interns. Although we didn’t really know each other at that time, we decided to move in together and had a great time despite the lock down.” The new living situation benefited Eliza and the other interns not only in their teamwork, but also in their social lives. “We started watching series together, did yoga, cooked, cheered each other up… Of course I was worried in the beginning that it would not work out, but I learned that depending on how flexible you are in your plans, rhythm of the day (e.g. getting up earlier to escape the curfew) and finding activities that you can do for yourself (writing, reading, going on a run, playing the guitar), you can still have good moments abroad and forget about Covid.“ Clearly, a work from home order can be refashioned into an opportunity for socialization and improved team cohesion.

On a personal note, travel restrictions have added stress in my own university experience. After a long process full of document checks, reference letters, essays, and interviews, I eagerly awaited a semester at the University of Boston. As an American living in Germany, the pandemic has reminded me of all the reasons I appreciate Mannheim while also emphasizing the distance to my home in New Jersey. Studying in a foreign country is an enriching experience far beyond what I could have imagined with some exhausting side effects. The determination to learn German by not allowing people to switch to English is accompanied by language fatigue. I imagine this effect is doubled for those with English as a second language. Other hobbies yield time to verb memorization, another stressor in an already truncated semester. Distance from family also weighs on foreign students, as regret about missing birthday parties and family meals is overshadowed by real fears of not being able to come home in time for illnesses or emergencies.

Like so many other students, I felt great disappointment and slight relief when I received the email cancelling my study abroad program. While the news meant another semester away from my parents, having the certainty that I would be remaining in place at a time when job prospects, class format, and travel plans were changing daily was welcome. Much else was to be cancelled and postponed since then. Tickets to introduce friends to family months ago were deferred as America barred foreign citizens. Trips home brought with them the guilt and fear that I may make my parents ill despite precautions. Still, I was lucky to travel home at all.

Our current days are likely fraught with setbacks. We might mourn the occasions we cannot celebrate, abridge or curtail plans with loved ones, and long for tropical vacations. Nevertheless, many of us are still lucky enough to be healthy or enjoy limited, less intimate time with friends and family. Some, like Eliza, can recover from let-downs like program cancellations by adjusting to the opportunities that remain available. Even if the window for that job or semester abroad may have passed with little hope of trying again next year, as mine did, we may emerge hardier and more experienced because of our experiences. Current vaccine campaigns promise a not-too-distant future where we may intern in person, take advantage of cheap fares to Kiev, or have more than two people at a birthday party.