In this interview, Andrew tells us about the past four months in Brittany. The globetrotter talks about the challenges Covid-19 presented him with, reveals which destinations he already has in mind for the future and explains why the semester abroad was worth it for him.
-Andrew, please introduce yourself in a few sentences!
Hello, I'm from Vancouver, Canada. I've been living in Europe since a little over 2 years. I mostly have work experience in marketing agencies, some start-ups, the media production industry and large events like music festivals. I first came to Austria at the end of 2018 to accomplish a life dream of working a winter ski season in the alps. I worked on a gondola in a village near Kitzbühel called Fieberbrunn, which is part of Saalbach-Hinterglemm, Austria's largest ski area. At the end of the season I received the acceptance letter to MCI so I ended up staying to do my Master's in Innsbruck. After completing the MCiT Master’s program I would like to gain some professional international work experience here in Europe, possibly in Vienna, and then Asia before returning to live in North America.
- Why did you choose the Rennes School of Business (RSB)?
I first chose France as a destination because I wanted to improve my French language skills, it's a useful skill in Canada because the country is officially bilingual between English and French. I then chose Rennes School of Business (RSB) from the available options because I was interested in the course offerings (focusing on digital marketing for a semester), the school had a good reputation and rankings, and I wanted to experience living in Brittany - it's a unique cultural region in France, also known for having beautiful nature and coastlines. I was not disappointed!
- What was the biggest challenge during your exchange semester?
The biggest challenge by far was finding accomodation in Rennes. It's a popular student city, a similar size to Innsbruck, but I found it much more difficult than Innsbruck to find a room to rent. I'm not sure why but some locals told me housing was more difficult this year for everyone, so perhaps this was a covid-related challenge. Especially since I didn't want to commit to anything far in advance in case the exchange would be cancelled. The school even postponed the start of classes last minute by an extra week because there was a cluster of cases in the main university at the end of summer. Additionally, after the lockdown began, you had to be very creative to have a social life, the short answer: a lot of hanging out with friends in parks.
- Were there still many exchange students in the city?
There were a lot more exchange students than I expected. Even coming from outside the EU like Mexico and Asia. I don't know how many exactly, but I would estimate a couple dozen Erasmus students at the school for this semester, with more exchange students at the other universities. In my class I was one of five exchange students. The others were from Sweden, Romania (two) and India. And the school is very international overall, I met many more international students doing their full degrees at RSB. I made many new contacts and expanded my network in France and around the world, which is always a valuable thing. When the lockdown was announced, many exchange students decided to stay.
- What is it like to spend a semester abroad in France during COVID-19?
Like a lot of people, the strangest thing at first was having to wear a mask the entire time on campus and during lectures. Aside from that, I think that the host school and local students made a really good effort to create as nice of a student experience as possible while working around the covid measures; such as digital welcome events, free welcome bags, etc. The first part of the semester was quite enjoyable, but then at the end of October France announced a nationwide lockdown including the closing of all colleges and universities, so my classes switched online for the second half of the semester. As I mentioned, many of the top activities in Brittany are nature and historic sites, so those could still be enjoyed throughout the exchange. And in some ways it was an even better time because it's an opportunity to visit some famous places without the usual busy crowds. Like Mont-Saint Michel for example. In my study program at MCI there were seven Master’s students who originally signed up for an Erasmus this semester, then one by one they all dropped out, until I was the only one going on exchange. What a funny feeling. The most important thing is “I don't regret the decision”, it's been a great life experience, and even if I stayed in Austria there would have been a similar lockdown. You grow the most from going outside of your comfort zone!
Thanks Andrew, for your travel report. You have given us some really nice reading moments!