Love, Persevere, Believe

International students at the University of Navarra tell us about their experience in quarantine in Spain

“I never imagined it would go on so long”

“I never imagined it would go on so long,” say international students from different countries, remembering the beginning of the lockdown in Spain almost two months ago, far from their families and filled with uncertainty about their future plans and projects. Sally, Abraham, Madeleine, Denisse, Diego, Helia Daniela, Sara … talk about their experiences of new teaching methods, doing exams remotely and spending lockdown far from their homes without their families. In this report, we share their stories and fears, as well as the concerns and challenges they have faced in recent weeks.

In 2019–2020, 3,741 international students were welcomed to the University of Navarra. Many of them could not return home when the coronavirus crisis began, many for similar reasons. “I did not see the scale of the situation on time and when I finally decided to go back to Ecuador, it was too late” recalls Sally Tabares, a Third Year student of Bilingual Journalism. However, many international students saw the quarantine period as an opportunity to invest more effort in their studies, benefiting from new teaching methods, developing new work habits, growing in personal strength, being more generous to others and moving forward with personal projects and learning new things.

Sara Popa (3º ADE Bilingüe)

Sara Popa (Bilingual Business and Management)

One of the main challenges for the University during lockdown has been the transition to distance learning, ensuring the completion of 100% of planned teaching. Sara Popa (Third Year, Bilingual Business and Management) had a similar experience last semester, during her exchange abroad in Hong Kong. Classes were cancelled there because of political protests and civic unrest. Sara had to return home and finish her exchange semester online, and she faced the same circumstances when she arrived in Pamplona to do her second semester to find the campus would close because of the pandemic. But Sara was already prepared for the new approach to teaching.

Abraham Valera (4º Comunicación Audiovisual)

Abraham Valera (Audiovisual Communication)

For the Venezuelan student Abraham Valera (Fourth Year, Audiovisual Communication) studying remotely has a positive side; it allows students “to take advantage of all the resources and opportunities in the education system that technology now enables”. Abraham has made a lot of effort to ensure that lockdown would not affect a project he’s working on with his two roommates, who are also at the university.  “The three of us, Virgilio González from Venezuela, Daniel Franco from Colombia and I have developed Graviola, an independent publishing house focused on the work of Latin American authors who emigrated to Europe”, he explained.

A new way of life

Sara Cardona, a Colombian friend of Abraham’s, did not have such a good experience of lockdown in her apartment, suffering episodes of anxiety and difficulties with the new way of studying. “Keeping everything under control when you are in the same space for almost two months is very difficult”, she tells us. Sara misses her family a lot, even though her roommates have been a great source of support and friendship to her.

Madeline Lasota (2º Filosofía, Política y Economía)

Madeline Lasota (Philosophy, Politics and Economics)

Madeline Lasota (Second Year, Philosophy, Politics and Economics), from the US talks about how happy she was to be with good friends and classmates in the university hall of residence where she spent the quarantine period. “We looked after each other, we made study plans together and we were able to have a good time,” she says. The lockdown period helped them to stick to their timetable and learn new habits that helped them grow as people. “Taking time to reflect on yourself, the objectives you have achieved and your goals for the future helps you not to lose sight of what is important, despite the circumstances of the particular moment”.

Diego Ibazeta (3º Ciencias Económicas)

Diego Ibazeta (Economics)

Diego Ibazeta, a student from Peru (Third Year, Economics) also found a way to organize himself during the period of lockdown, enabling him to finish the semester with good grades. The key, he explains, is to combine study and rest, including some physical exercise. “I used my time in quarantine to learn how to cook better and also I am doing yoga which is a lot more difficult than it looks”, he laughs.

Love for the present, hope for the future

Many students acknowledge that what helped them to overcome these difficult times was the love and support of their families, even at a distance, and of the friends who were always on hand when they were most needed.

Denisse Salvador (4º Marketing)

Denisse Salvador (Marketing)

Denisse Salvador (Fourth Year, Marketing) decided not to go home to Ecuador at the start of the crisis, just three days before the flight.  She stayed in Pamplona because she didn’t want to put her loved ones at risk of contagion, even though she was worried about dealing with loneliness in an empty apartment. Luckily, her roommates decided to stay as well. “Family is a very important support in my life, and even more so at this time,” says Denisse. “And being in touch all the time, sending photos and videos, bridged the distance that was sometimes hard to bear”.

With the support of her loved ones, Denisse adapted to the changes in teaching and learning and made good progress in her studies.  “At the beginning, it was hard to see my apartment as not just a place to rest but also where I had to study, concentrate, exercise, basically do everything”, she recalls.

Hela Daniela Palacios, alumna de Erasmus

Hela Daniela Palacios, student on Erasmus

Hela Daniela Palacios, a student on Erasmus at TECNUN (School of Engineering) from the Universidad de la Sabana (Colombia), taking subjects in Industrial Organization Engineering, tells of how professors showed special concern and attention for international students from the very beginning of the crisis, providing them with a lot of support. “Among other things, Erasmus is a wonderful opportunity to become part of a different university. I decided to stay in Spain because I felt I had not completed the experience, and that I could take advantage of the time left,” she says.

With family, professors and friends made on her exchange program, Hela felt cared for and supported. She says that the company of friends is a real gift in the current situation, “because now we are closer to one another than before”.

Return to Bolivia

María Constanza Nieto (Audiovisual Communication)

María Constanza Nieto

At the airport, returning to Bolivia

At the airport,
returning to Bolivia

María Constanza Nieto, a Marketing student, is one of twelve students who recently managed to return to Bolivia, having spent several weeks on lockdown in Pamplona. They flew to Bolivia in a plane which was only half full: 144 passengers on an aircraft with a total capacity of 270. She is now self-quarantining for fourteen days in a hotel in Santa Cruz de la Sierra with friends, students of Economics, Architecture, Law and Nutrition. From there she tells us about her experience in Spain and the return to her country.

“It’s difficult to adapt to taking classes online. You miss the classes, your classmates… but the truth is that the professors gave it 100%. It’s not easy teaching a class remotely to over a hundred students and they did their best,” Constanza says, who also hopes to get good grades in the exams. “With the suspension of classes, the situation was complicated but many of us decided to stay in Pamplona because we could rely on the healthcare of the Clínica and this reassured our families a lot”, she added. From the lockdown, she remembers the close friendship of her three friends, one from Brazil, Venezuela and another – like her – from Bolivia, with whom she shared her study time, recipes and relaxation.

“When we found out in April that we would not be returning to the campus, the opportunity to return to my country arose, thanks to all the support and the generosity of people in the University, to whom we are immensely grateful”, she continues. “We travelled in a bus on our own to the airport in Madrid. Once we were there, we had to follow several protocols, take preventative measures … we were even bathed in disinfectant on several occasions!” she remembers laughing.

“Throughout the lockdown, the flight home and now in quarantine, I haven’t been afraid. Of course, I’ve been worried. But I believe in God and I believe that everything is in His hands and He knows what is best for us all and how to come through this situation.”