A total of 50 guest students had planned to come to Halle for the past summer semester. Twelve of them have actually enrolled and have attended their courses online. But no more than two students really made it to Halle, one of them being John Bermudez Vera. He is majoring in Food Technology and came here from the coastal city of Valencia in Spain. Originally John comes from Colombia. In this interview, he tells how things went for him in Halle in the time of COVID-19.

What made you go for an Erasmus semester?
I am a very open-minded person and I enjoy getting to know other cultures and new people. I see Erasmus as a chance to experience this.

And why did you choose Germany?
That is hard to explain, as I used to be quite francophile and Germany was not exactly a destination I considered. But then I became friends with someone who did his ex­change in Spain, and since then we’ve been visiting each other and I came to Germany once in a while. That’s when I saw that going to Germany was not as bad an idea as I used to think. The government, the people and the cities seemed quite interesting to me. And then I thought I should make use of this language which I’ve learnt a little through our friendship and which I didn’t speak one bit before that. That’s where I wanted to improve. Besides, beer is very exciting for me as a student of Food Technology because it is produced with microorganisms, and Germany is a beer country. (chuckles)

Foto: Milena Giskes

How were things going when you started your semester abroad in the time of COVID-19?
Very badly. Erasmus is all about going to lectures, attending “real” classes and getting to know new fellow students. But none of this was possible due to COVID. As everything took place digitally, I could ask no questions to my professors in person, just via email. Then I had to wait for the answer, sometimes a day, sometimes two. And all was done in German. That was not an easy task. But all has turned out well and I passed the exams. Still, it took some effort to arrange these, too. The professors assumed that I was in Spain and they could not meet me for the orals – when I was here all along, since February. (chuckles)
Another important point: As an Erasmus
student you usually get to know many fellow Erasmus students from other countries. Unfortunately this did not apply to me. I didn’t get to meet any of them, which is a real shame.

So how did you get to know people here?
For one thing, here in the dorm. At first, I was living alone in the shared flat, but one by one more people arrived. For another, I made a great catch with my buddy programme partner. He introduced me to his friends, which was really nice.

Beyond the buddy programme, has there been further support from the uni?
Not really. However, one of the faculty’s professors, Corinna Brandsch, has helped me a lot with registering my Bachelor thesis and getting in touch with other professors. I even met her in person and she has helped me a lot in my situation. I can always ask her for advice. Besides, I get help from friends.

How did you experience the time of COVID-19 in general?
It’s safe for me to say that I’ve been lucky to have stayed in Germany, as things were worse in Spain. Before the lockdown I phoned my tutor and she advised me to stay here. I can’t say it was a bad Erasmus experience because sure, I can’t do the things I should normally do, but it is a pandemic after all and the whole world is a difficult place. So it’s fine for an Erasmus semester … in a pandemic.

Now that the semester is over, what are your plans, what is next for you?
I have just submitted my Bachelor thesis, which means I have finished studying. Currently I am in a two week placement in the Landsberger brewery which is close to Halle. This means I must get up very early, but otherwise it is great fun. Afterwards I want to remain in Germany because I think there are more opportunities for me here. Later this month, I will move to Berlin, where I have a circle of German and Spanish friends. This makes quite a difference for me because it makes me feel more like at home. In fact, I am somewhat sad to leave Halle because I have got very good friends here as well. But fortu­nately I’m staying in Germany and Berlin is not that far away.

Translation: Konrad Dieterich

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