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student looking out the window of her residence
Exchange students are excited to explore campus and the City of Ottawa when lockdown restrictions ease. Photo: Hannah Vigneux/Fulcrum
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After completing part of their exchange online, exchange students are excited and nervous to shift to in-person classes

Despite the cancellations of outgoing international exchanges for the winter term, the University of Ottawa has welcomed students from other countries to campus to participate in exchange programs here in Ottawa.

The pandemic has changed the rules of international travel. After providing airlines with mandatory negative COVID-19 tests, students flew to Canada, where in Ottawa they were welcomed with quarantine. 

Marine Issartel, a third-year student from France, found that traveling was stressful, especially right after the holidays.  

“[Traveling] was a bit stressful, but it went well because I had my proof of vaccination, my plan of quarantine, and my study permit,” Issartel explained. 

Once in the country, travelers must take a COVID-19 test at the airport, and quarantine until receiving a negative test result.

Dora Batov, an exchange student from the United Kingdom, arrived in Ottawa on Jan. 5.

“The quarantine is kind of interesting because I quarantined for two days. When my housemate arrived she had to quarantine for eight days, and my other housemate quarantined for three days so people can get their test results back at a really different amount of time,” Batov said. 

COVID-19 restrictions

The pandemic has disrupted many aspects of international exchange programs. For the fall semester, exchange students attending the U of O completed their courses from their homes. 

“At the end of the [fall] semester I had an exam from 1  to 3 a.m.,” Issartel said. “Otherwise, I did well because I had asynchronous classes so I could manage my time even with the time difference.”

In a statement to the Fulcrum, the University explained its decision to cancel outgoing exchanges.. 

“[We are] acting alongside several other universities who heed to the Government of Canada’s advice to avoid non-essential travel. This collective decision was made to protect our student body and to reduce the spread and mutation of the virus.”

The statement noted, however, that “incoming international students will continue to study online at least for the beginning of the winter term like other uOttawa students.”

U of O students expressed disappointment that the University opted to allow students from abroad to complete their exchanges when their own exchanges were canceled. The students here on campus, however, have been unable to make much of their experience so far.

Despite the current state of restrictions in the province, exchange students are hopeful that this term will offer them a semblance of normalcy.

“In general it was doable, but I’m excited to be in the right time zone. I think it will make a lot of difference actually being in the country,” Batov added. 

Chiara Pirouzi, a third-year student from Austria, studies international business administration at the U of O’s Telfer School of Management. She looks forward to the opportunity to introduce a missing social aspect to her exchange.

“I’m already used to online courses, but of course, I would prefer to be on campus and to meet a lot of people so I’m glad it will start again soon,” Pirouzi said. 

Since U of O courses will not return to an in-person setting until Jan. 31, these exchange students have yet to experience regular campus life, continuing their courses online. 

Shifting back into in-person classes is both exciting and stressful for students. 

“I’m a bit excited since it’s been such a long time since I’ve been in person, but at the same time it’s stressful because I don’t know where to go and also because I don’t know if I am going to be able to concentrate and focus in the class,” Issartel said. 

“I still really wanted to do a year abroad just for the experience of living somewhere else and getting to know a completely different place,” Batov said. “It really pushes you out of your comfort zone.”

Outside of classes

Exchange students are excited to explore campus and the City of Ottawa when lockdown restrictions ease. 

“I want to live the Canadian university life,” said Issartel. “I am excited to discover and explore the city, and see the people.”

For exchange students, there are plenty of things to check off their Ottawa bucket lists. 

“Ottawa, because it’s the capital city, has a lot to offer,” Pirouzi said. “Going to restaurants and bars is going to be really cool,” added Batov. 

Avoiding the cold has been a priority for many, but that hasn’t stopped exchange students from making their way to the Rideau Canal for a skate. 

“Ice skating is the one thing I saw that I really wanted to try because the canal is such a unique thing to the city,” Batov said. 

“I love ice skating, so the canal was really nice,” Pirouzi said. 

With things starting to open up again, exchange students will have the opportunity to get the Ottawa experience they desire, including these things on Pirouzi’s to-do list. 

“I haven’t tried poutine yet, which I have to, and Beavertails!”