When studying abroad, students typically meet lots of new people from all over the world, explore their host institutions, get to know the cultural life of a new city, go on outings, go to parties … in short: they gather new and memorable impressions and experiences. Despite the pandemic, last year at the mdw featured lots of student mobility. So just what kinds of experience did students studying abroad here during a global pandemic end up having? How was it to live alone, subject to lockdowns and other restrictions, in an unfamiliar city? In the following, three incoming students talk about their experiences.
Francesco Appollonio has already spent two study abroad semesters at the mdw, the second of which was the winter semester of 2020/21. Appollonio, a piano student from Capua, Italy, is currently working on his master’s degree at the Conservatorio di Musica San Pietro a Majella in Naples. “Studying abroad during the pandemic made it clear to me just how much I need friends and family in order to get through tough times. I was forced to be alone a whole lot during this period, but even a brief phone call with them helped,” he recalls. “Most of all, it made me aware of how important and significant it can be to hug family members and friends, and of how much emotion such a gesture can express,” Appollonio remarks. “It may sound trivial, but music gave me the strength to cope with the pandemic and its effects day in, day out,” he says, “and another thing that helped was to take long walks and explore every last corner of town.” Much like it was for many others, it was the pandemic that first prompted Appollonio to reflect on a lot of things that he’d taken for granted up to then: “I learned to enjoy every single moment more, even if it was just going out for coffee at a café. And if it hadn’t been for the pandemic, I probably wouldn’t have understood how hugely important it is to be together with others—be it at a concert, at a restaurant, or at the University. It’s only when we’re denied things that we’ve been used to and that we think go without saying that we begin to truly value them.”
Sauli Saarinen, who studies conducting at the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki and is currently completing his final year there, also spent the winter semester of 2020/21 at the mdw. “My studies at the mdw went well, and my conducting professor gave me lots of new things to think about. But the pandemic did, of course, present a great challenge during my time in Vienna,” he says. Saarinen managed to stay strong or find new strength by starting to read books once more, and other things that helped were taking walks and watching movies. “When plans constantly change, it gives you a chance to concentrate more on yourself and the things you like to do,” Saarinen remarks. “I also noticed how career-oriented I’d been. I’ve since learned how to be more relaxed,” says the conducting student.
Pia Rossi spent the entire academic year of 2020/21 studying at the mdw. For this organ student from Italy, who’s currently finishing up her studies at the Conservatory of Music in Benevento, the pandemic provided a few definite takeaways: “In my everyday life prior to the pandemic, I’d always attempted to do the impossible. But the pandemic made me to understand how I really do need to take a break now and then to find out what’s truly important. You should do what you really believe in.” The increased difficulty of planning amidst the pandemic provided her with quite a few insights: “I understood that nothing in this life is certain, and that everything can change from one moment to the next.” And Pia Rossi likewise found music to be helpful in getting through these times: “I think that we musicians are in a very lucky position, having this wonderful art form along with us on our journeys. It gives us the ability to face every one of life’s challenges with determination.” The pandemic and its repercussions also provided her with more time: “I had more time to practice then I usually do. What’s more, I was able to watch lots of movies and read lots of books.”
The reflections sparked by changes in our everyday lives and the insights to be gained within a short period of time can hardly be overlooked. Studying at a foreign university requires students to gather a lot of strength and courage to open themselves up to new things. And the challenges faced by our incoming students ended up being even greater due to the pandemic. It’s therefore all the more important and pleasing to see just how, in such uncertain times, music and getting back to what’s truly essential can provide us with such a strong anchor.
For full-length interviews with these students, please see the mdw’s International Blog: mdw.ac.at/internationalblog