Many students aiming to study abroad for an exchange year had to cancel their plans last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. As more and more options have become available, the number of exchange students in Estonia reached an all-time record.
Stanley is a student from the U.S. and he was certain about coming to Estonia as an exchange student last year, but he had to suspend his plans due to the pandemic.
"Covid happened. I was really disappointed about that. In the United States, where it was really bad, and it was really-really bad in Texas, so I could not really go," Stanley told ETV's daily affairs show "Aktuaalne kaamera" on Thursday.
Many students faced a similar situation to Stanley's. After vaccination options became widely available and countries began to open their doors for travel again, the exchange student movement began again. International student exchange organization Youth For Understanding (YFU) has seen a record number of exchange students coming to Estonia this year.
"We have been in this situation for some time now, people have understood that things do not change too fast and we must adapt to the situation we have while being prepared for the unexpected. There is more courage now," said YFU national director Kadri Eensalu.
She said the number of exchange students in previous years has been around 40, but the number has climbed to almost 50 for this year.
The pandemic and increased interest in student exchange made finding host families a difficult task, however. "On the one hand, families were certainly more careful because Covid was everywhere, but on the other hand, we needed to find considerably more families, because there were more students. That was a challenge for us," Eensalu noted.
Since restrictions can change quickly in a pandemic, host families also have a difficult time arranging trips to other parts of Europe. "It would be especially nice if you come from another continent and can see a little more than Estonia. We have traveled to Finland, Sweden, Latvia and Lithuania with exchange students, but there are always questions now about being able to book the tickets and being able to go at all," host family mother Mairi Kaha said.
While the rate of Estonian students going for an exchange year has significantly grown compared to last year, the numbers have not climbed back to where they were in the pre-pandemic period.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste