As you know, Spain was not only one of the countries worst off during the “first wave” of this pandemic. It also struggled again – and still struggles – with an alarming increase in the number of cases early on in August. Travel restrictions wouldn’t have bothered me. I had no summer holiday plans anyway. But Barcelona is the city I chose for my Master’s, which started in September this year.
To be fair – when I applied for it a year ago, Corona was not yet in the picture.
I had gathered the necessary reference letters, got my English transcript (for law students that's not as easy as it may seem) and took the TOEFL even before the actual application form for fall 2020 was up on the university’s website. “International law and security”, it seemed to me like the perfect fit. I confirmed my acceptance in early January and turned down my alternative offer: a legal Referendariat in Baden-Württemberg. After my graduation in February, I moved back in with my parents and started working in a law firm to cover study fees and to learn some practical skills before my Master’s would start. Everything seemed fine.
Two weeks later, my office ordered everyone to work from home due to Corona and I knew that Spain already was in a serious lockdown. But I pushed the thought away. September was still far. After I was asked time and again what Corona would mean for my plans, I tried to find answers on the university’s website. As in Germany, they were making due with online teaching, which I took as a sign that that would be an option for the fall semester as well. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure about my Master’s anymore. I had been studying basically alone for my Staatsexamen for the last two years. I knew I could do that, but I also knew that I didn’t want that at all. I wanted to live in Spain and meet new people, engage in class discussion not (only) sit over a book all on my own. And if I needed to work online, I wanted to do so in a library in Barcelona and not at the kitchen table in my parents’ house.
First Wave and First Doubts
I saw four alternatives:
- Face to face teaching in Barcelona. Obviously my favourite option, but at that time rather unlikely.
- Online teaching, me being in Barcelona. My second favourite, however the possibility of a very lonely lockdown without anyone I knew weighed heavy on me.
- Online teaching without actually going to Spain. In that case, my parents would have liked me to stay with them and financially that would have made sense of course, but I was already feeling the strain of moving back in with my parents.
- Applying again for the Referendariat, as it’s something I need to do anyway at some point to be able to work. The deadline for the new cycle was coming up and I felt that was the sensible alternative.
One Sunday morning, I was hiking with my dad and I pushed a conversation about my upcoming Master’s and whether he thought I should go or stay “safe” in Germany.
My dad never quite understood why I wanted to do a Master’s. He is more focused on the traditional way: study something useful, graduate, do everything you need to do to work, be good at your work, have a wage you and your family can live on. So, I expected him to push for the Referendariat. But he asked me what aspects of the program in Barcelona made me choose it in the first place. Could I realize these goals, even if the teaching would be entirely online? And the answer was yes, I could get the degree, I could learn the content I was interested in and I could challenge myself academically.
The only problem was that with the prospect of everything being online I wasn’t that excited anymore. My dad also likes structure and numbers. He tends to put numbers on feelings as well. His next question was: on a scale of 0 - 10, how much did I want to do the Master’s, how much the Referendariat? The answer was easy. I ranked the Referendariat at 2, the original idea of the Master’s at 9 and the online format at 4,5 to 5. Pretty clear priorities then. So I decided to go forward with the Master’s without a Plan B.
After some to and fro and a delay due to rising numbers and an important family event I needed to attend, I finally got on a plane to Barcelona four weeks ago.
The city seemed quite normal to me. Sure, you have to wear your mascarilla everywhere (or better: mascareta in Catalan), but I met my classmates and made some friends. We went hiking and toured the city, we ate tapas and drank a ridiculous amount of café con leche. At uni, they tried very hard to accommodate for every possibility. All classes were taught in a hybrid format in order to offer face to face teaching while at the same time making it possible for some students to follow the course online. We always wore our masks and sat socially distanced to make the classroom a safe environment. To be honest, I was impressed at their preparation and enormous effort and I was glad that I had chosen to go forward with my Master’s in Barcelona.
Two weeks in, I am sitting here alone on my wobbly desk in my room in Barcelona. Half of the room is occupied by the bed. The desk is the cheapest and smallest I could find at IKEA and I didn’t have a screwdriver to set it up properly. But without it I would be lost right now: With Covid cases skyrocketing, the government has moved teaching entirely online, libraries as well as restaurants and cafés are closed. We can still go out and there is hope that we will return to Campus again. Supposedly, these restricting measures are meant to last only for two weeks and we`ll go back to “normal” in early November. However, there is this doubt: what if not? What if it’s April all over again? What if, after two weeks, the measures are extended? What if the government imposes even more restrictions? What if our institute decides that the entire semester will be taught online? For me, as for all my international classmates, the question then is again: Should I stay or should I go?