Ever since he started secondary school, 16-year old Luis Muehlbauer knew he wanted to embark on a student exchange trip, taking him away from his little town of Bad Münder, in the rural German district of Hameln-Pyrmont.
He never imagined that he’d be spending his time abroad in locked down on a “rock” in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean.
“I decided to do this exchange a while back. I love travelling and I knew I wanted to speak English — so then I thought why not go to Canada? The people are more friendly and it’s a beautiful country, but now I’m on lockdown due to COVID,” Luis told Study International.
Once he decided on his study exchange destination, Luis started searching for a school that would enhance his English language skills and also pair him up with a “good music programme.”
That’s when he stumbled across the Newfoundland International Student Education Program (NISEP), an organisation that would help coordinate his exchange from his German hometown to Holy Heart of Mary High School — a one thousand-plus public school right in the middle of St John’s, Newfoundland, a remote island that’s Canada’s most easterly province.
Stuck in Canada during the COVID Lockdown
Ten months into his NISEP placement, Luis and his newfound friends and family in Newfoundland were hit with the news that Canada would be having their own COVID-19 lockdown.
To help international students across the country deal with the shock, worry and uncertainty, Canada rolled out regular medical guidance, and financial support through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) — a government scheme to support citizens and taxpayers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
“This situation is very new for all of us and no one really knows how to handle it. Over the past few weeks I just tried to keep myself busy and to go outside, go for a hike or a run,” says Luis.
In order to keep his musical studies in tune, Luis has been playing a lot of violin and piano to get through the long days of lockdown.
“One of NISEP’s coordinators Arlene Breen has also been sending out mental health updates which are really helpful.
“And my host family has been a great help, I couldn’t imagine being self-isolated somewhere on my own. Me and my host sister have played a lot of cribbage in the last few weeks and we have been watching some shows and movies together,” he adds.
Finding his voice in Newfoundland
In addition to getting time to extensively practise his English language skills during his Newfoundland lockdown, Luis has managed to find another type of voice through singing and playing the harmonica.
Luis has characterised his study abroad experience in Canada as being an all-together confidence-boosting experience. The entire ordeal has given Luis a greater belief in himself, inspiring him to further his education in Canada:
“I am definitely considering coming back here to study.
“Although, I still have a few years to decide what I’m gonna do, but I am thinking about studying music at Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) as they have a joint degree programme with a Bachelor of Music and a Bachelor of Business and I think that is something I definitely want to explore!”
Despite being on lockdown, Luis has had time to appreciate the natural beauty of Newfoundland.
“I love everything about it. Everyone is really nice, the nature here is beautiful and we have a lot of snow!”
On June 30th, Luis will have to say goodbye to an island that’s flecked with icebergs and spouting whales, and say a warm hello to Germany again.
“My family was supposed to come here in July and pick me up to go on vacation through Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. But since the MCO orders, that is probably not going to happen…”
A word of advice
If you’re reading this and considering a high school student exchange trip or your own adventure in Newfoundland, Luis has a few words of advice for you:
“Do all of the activities! They are a lot of fun and you get the chance to do things you have never done before.”
Or if you’re reading this while on a lockdown far away from home, Luis advises you to give your friends and family a call or go for a hike if the MCO permits.
“I just tried to teach myself how to play the guitar and it has been a lot of fun. So maybe try and learn a new instrument or cook a meal from your home country for your host family?” he suggested.
“I also highly recommend doing some exercise. Go for a run, a hike or do some yoga. And get a routine in. It will really help you to actually do something and not just stay in bed all day long because that can be really tiring!”
Most importantly, Luis thinks that you shouldn’t stop thinking about your future.
That’s why he’s already weighed up the options to study a degree in Canada, as he knows this lockdown won’t be forever and that his academic and career goals can still be accomplished.
“Just do all the things you always wanted to do but never had the opportunity to,” says Luis.
“Now is the time.”