Closeness despite Distance – Our Boarding School in Lindenberg during the Pandemic9. April 2021

Going abroad mid-pandemic in order to learn a foreign language: Is that safe and is it even fun? We spoke to Polina (15 years old, Ukraine) and Liam (15 years old, Brazil/Ireland). Both haven been attending a German language course at our language school in Lindenberg since January. Since then, they have already learned a lot not only about the German language and culture, but also about community and solidarity.

Hello to you two and thank you for your time! To get this series of questions started, we would first like to know what made you travel abroad during a pandemic.

Polina: I want to finish secondary education in Germany and pursue higher education in Germany afterwards, preferably in the field of sport science. Of course I need to speak German fluently for this purpose. I did not want to postpone this long-term goal just because of the pandemic, which is why I came to Lindenberg despite Corona. Germany is great when it comes to Corona. There are a lot of measures in place, which is why I feel very safe.

Liam: The situation in Brazil is not that great. For this reason I went back to my old home country Ireland at the beginning of the pandemic. From there, I participated online in the lessons of my school in Brazil. That was pretty exhausting, and I thought about how I could use this time in a better way. The German lessons in Brazil are not as effective because you only attend a couple of lessons per week. So I thought: This is my chance! It is easier to learn German in Germany, which is why I went to Lindenberg.

Both of you traveled to Germany from a risk region. For this reason, you had to quarantine at our institute at the beginning. How did you experience that and were you afraid of it?

Polina: During the isolation, you have your own room and the welfare workers bring the meals to you. The room is equipped with WiFi so that you can participate in the German course online. The welfare workers encouraged us to move around a lot in the room. We did some sports videos together online, and I also drew a lot of paintings. The welfare workers were always super nice.

Liam: I was more afraid of my lack of German skills than of the quarantine. This fear was unnecessary, though, because I have learned a lot in a short amount of time. During the isolation, I did a lot of sports in the room and chatted with my friends over the internet. It was a bit boring, but time passed much more quickly than expected.

Due to the pandemic, you were allocated to “families” (small groups with fixed members). What is that like for you and what else do you have to consider on a daily basis?

Liam: Unfortunately, there are currently no city walks or excursions. The school premises are vast, though, and different activities are organized every day. I preferably play soccer. Other than that, there are no serious restrictions. We simply have to wear a mask and stay within our family. It promotes social cohesion because the group grows closer and you also spend time with someone who you may not have made friends with under different circumstances.

Polina: I prefer to do sports. For example, we often do weight workouts. Sometimes when the weather is bad and the activities take place indoors, it can get a bit frustrating because we have to wear a mask even in the gym. When we are outdoors and keep the distance, though, this is not necessary.

Does Germany approach the pandemic differently than Ukraine and Brazil?

Liam: In Brazil there are many corona cases. Nevertheless, everyone goes to the beach and only few people wear a mask. If I were still in Brazil, I would not be afraid but I would be more cautious. It is a mix of melancholy and gratitude. On the one hand, I would also like to go to the beach. On the other hand, I feel very safe at the Humboldt-Institut.

Polina: In Ukraine it is similar to Brazil, and many people do not wear a mask. The schools have only been teaching online. Although I have to wear a mask in Germany, I can at least attend the lessons and leisure activities together with other teenagers at Humboldt. That’s a big plus.

What do you mostly look forward to when the pandemic is over?

Liam: It will be great not wearing masks and being able to go into the city again!

Polina: I am looking forward to hugging other people again and go shopping with my girlfriends.

What do you miss most about home?

Polina: My family, my old room, and my dog! I don’t really miss any of the food, though, because the meals in Lindenberg are great.

Liam: I also miss my family, but I mostly miss the fresh fruit from Brazil. It tastes differently here. Sometimes I also wish I had my own kitchen without specific mealtimes.

How do you like Lindenberg?

Polina: It is so beautiful, especially nature! The grass, the mountains, the many trees. I would love to stay longer, but after the language course, I will transfer to a different boarding school in Germany to finish my secondary school.

Liam: I also really like it, and I am happier here than in Brazil attending online lessons. You learn German much more quickly in Germany. I will probably extend my stay in Lindenberg and return to Brazil a little later.

What is your conclusion?

Polina and Liam: The quarantine at the beginning is not that great, but it passes quickly and is worth it. You just need some courage.

Thank you, Polina and Liam, for this wonderful interview. We are wishing you an amazing time at the Humboldt-Institut in Lindenberg further on, and all the best for your future!