I attended the ESSEC School of Business in Cergy, France for the Winter 2020 semester. I was in my fifth year at the University of Calgary. This program began in mid-February and ended in late June. The specific program I undertook was the Haskayne International Exchange, part of the UCalgary Study Abroad Program. Students who apply to this program are required to take a minimum of 3 courses while abroad. In the case of Haskayne School of Business students, there is also a minimum of 2 commerce courses.
Preparation requires planning ahead especially in terms of applying and interviewing for the International Study Visa. In my case, the closest Visa Centre that processes French Visas to Calgary is in Vancouver, so I had to travel there as well for the in-person interview. However, going forward in the context of the pandemic, they should have made accommodations for virtual interviews at this point. Getting courses approved takes time and should be done weeks in advance of the deadline. Upon arriving in France, settling into my residence room was easy. There is a shuttle from the airport to the residence administration in the first-year building, and another from there to the various residences located around Cergy. I began an intensive three-day seminar within my first day there after the orientation provided to all exchange students, both being a great way for meeting classmates and other students before the formal beginning of the semester. Small excursions into Paris planned by the student union groups are also an excellent way for meeting other international students.
Having arrived in mid-February, I only had a few weeks to truly experience Paris and its surroundings before the Pandemic caused a government ordered shut down. Online classes began by early March, and ESSEC quickly closed soon after. The residence ordered students to remain in their individual rooms, and we were required to receive permission to leave only if we needed to go to the hospital, buy food or medicine. Once both my host institution and UofC coordinators recommended I return home and travel restrictions began taking place, I had to quickly find an available commercial flight a few days in advance, hurriedly pack up everything set up in my room, and make arrangements to get a taxi service for a ride to the airport. Isolation was required upon my return to Calgary. I stayed at home and isolated for the required time and remained socially distancing for weeks after that as well.
My online course experience was useful as an introduction to the new world of remote working conditions and online meetings. The vast time difference between classmates and professors due to time zones all over the world was a very new and unique way of attending class for me. Group work can be challenging, but very rewarding. A subsequent three-day intensive seminar required me to attend a zoom meeting lecture from 12 am to 8 am MST. Living in a rural area, accessing, and maintaining constant connection to my lectures, professors and classmates was sometimes difficult. Not being able to see my professors face-to-face posed a serious challenge whenever I needed additional explanations for coursework or help with understanding operations and concepts.
Working online from home also had many positive aspects. For example, any time that I would have taken to commute from home to school and back everyday was saved by socially distancing and working from home. The online coursework aspect of my experience also afforded me flexibility to conveniently work from anywhere later in the semester if I was not home. Also, later in the semester, some professors began recording and posting their lectures, which made it very easy to watch the lecture, pause and rewind it at any time that was convenient for me.