Student mobility in the time of COVID-19. Corrado Cavalli, exchange student at Hanyang University (Seoul, South Korea)
What made you decide to stay abroad to continue your exchage program rather than come back to Italy?
Cattolica emailed me on 27 February suggesting I go home because of the sudden increase in cases here in South Korea. The host university gave the exchange students three options: to curtail the program, to postpone the program to the autumn semester or to continue with the program. At that time I didn’t think I would find myself in a better situation in Italy so whatever I did I would have to deal with the situation of confronting the epidemic. Maybe a moment of recklessness - and a touch of bravery - led me to decide to stay despite the fact that South Korea had the second highest number of cases.
How did your host university reorganize to deal with the emergency? Are you satisfied with the support you have had and the academic offer so far?
The host university was very well organized right from the start, postponing the start of the semester by two weeks so as to provide for the quarantine period for students who showed symptoms when they arrived in the country. Later, given the increase in cases, they decided to proceed with 3 weeks of on-line lessons and they also provided us with masks and disinfectant. To date, to access the facilities you have to fill in a form every day, have your temperature checked and preferably wear a mask all the time.
Has Cattolica been supportive at this time?
Many of the exchange students in my dormitory had to go home because they had problems with insurance or because their universities cancelled all their study abroad programs. I was given the various options and once I decided to stay I had all the right support from Cattolica staff who have stayed in constant contact asking for regular updates on the situation. I really appreciated the email from Cattolica saying that there was an extra insurance policy we could sign up to that would cover us should we get infected; this was way above what my other exchange friends were being offered by their universities.
Are you learning anything from this experience? Has it changed you in any way? How are you feeling right now?
I think I am learning a lot from this experience. I am acting responsibly towards the wider community, wearing a mask and avoiding crowded places. I know that doing this I am thinking of the effect I can have on others before I take care of myself. Living through this epidemic far from home is certainly much more difficult because you are alone as you fight an enemy that you can’t even see but you can sense it though the eyes of the people you meet on the
What are you doung every day?
This is certainly not how I expected to be living, but I feel lucky to be here and to be able to continue the program so I am totally prepared to accept compromises. In the morning I usually stay in the dormitory, I take lessons on-line and every now and then I do some outdoor sports. In the afternoon I go with the other exchange students to the “study cafes” which are very well-known here and in the evening we go out to eat, always staying in the neighborhood so we don’t have to take public transport.
How do you stay in touch with your friends and family? Do you use social media?
I try to keep updated on what is happening in Italy and I speak daily on video calls to my family and friends so that I know that they are all fine. However, we are 9,000 km apart with an 8-hour time difference so it is really difficult to get a clear picture of what is happening in Italy and how everyone is dealing with the situation. When I can, I listen to podcasts of the daily news but social media are definitely the best way to keep updated on everything.
In your opinion, how are Koreans different from Italians as they face this situation and live through it?
After spending a month here I feel I can say that Korea is a very developed country and I did not think I would find a culture of such respect. From the first day it was clear to me that Koreans trust their government and that there is no need to resort to reporting those who don’t follow the rules as unfortunately happens in Italy. As I mentioned before, masks can prevent the spread of the virus if everyone wears one, even if they are perfectly healthy.
Although wearing a mask wasn’t compulsory you didn’t see anyone not wearing one even where there were only 300 cases across the country.
What would you say to other students to help them be strong at this time?
“When the wind of change blows, some people build walls and some build windmills.” I have thought a lot about this Chinese proverb and I think I will in the future too. Fortunately, we are in the year 2020, which means that with a computer and an internet connection we can do so many things and transform what may seem like a boring day into something else. We all have the tools, and it is up to us to choose what use we make of them.
Article featured on Worldbound, edition n.4-2020.