Sophomore pursues exchange trip as coronavirus spreads

Camille Mazjun lives in Germany during global pandemic

By Dylan Lee

Camille Mazjun (furthest right) and her host family in Germany. Photo courtesy of Camille Mazjun

The same day schools across the state of California were closed in response to the coronavirus, Camille Majzun boarded a plane and set flight to Germany for her exchange trip. Quarantine in California started not even a week after her departure. At the airport, hardly anyone wore masks because back then they were not required. 

Leading up to March 13th, the day Mazjun would fly to Germany a lot of exchange trips were cancelled. Bonnee, Mazjun’s mother, wanted to send Mazjun off to Germany as quickly as possible. She overloaded Mazjun on health drinks as her mentality was along the lines of, “you can’t be sick, you have to go.” 

“My mom said ‘the family will still take you, let’s send you off before they change their mind and the borders get shut down,’ Mazjun explained. Mazjun wasn’t worried about the spreading coronavirus when she left the US; her dad works in healthcare, and he wasn’t concerned about it then. 

Mazjun’s parents would speak with the host family everyday while Mazjun was in Germany and trusted that they were keeping their daughter safe. “Their outlook was if we would have to stay inside for three months why not do it somewhere where I’m learning a new language and be in a different culture,” Mazjun said. 

During her first day in Germany, Mazjun and her host family went and explored Hamburg. She saw the town hall and all the cities’ landmarks. The very next day, the city was shut down. Mazjun spent the next few weeks inside, doing her German schoolwork, attending Zoom calls with her class at Waldorf School of the Peninsula and spending time with her host family. 

While in Germany, Mazjun and her host family would wake up at varied times depending on their individual schedules each day. She would enjoy a spread of assorted cheeses and other snacks with whoever was around, and then she would start on her german schoolwork. 

“The school sent home packets to be printed out and completed, but it was kinda hard to do those since it’s a different language and unfamiliar place,” Mazjun said when describing the academics for “Rudolf Steiner Schule Harburg”, her German school. Her distance-learning experience was quite independent since there were hardly any Zoom calls. 

Mazjun’s german classes didn’t have a structured schedule. You would do the work when you had the time for it. Mazjun found it nice to be able to work on the worksheets at her own speed. However, this led to many people not completing the work. When she went to class on campus the teacher would ask the students to turn in their work and many people hadn’t done it. 

“The worksheets were really nice if you could hold yourself accountable and turn them in” Camille explained. A downside to the worksheet system was that they were hard to get help on since there was no teacher present. 

In addition to all her german schoolwork Mazjun did attend a couple classes with her class from California over Zoom. She took the New Orleans block and Conics as to not have to make up math credits. The zoom calls with her class at WSP took place at 7pm in Germany. She would sometimes miss dinner to attend them. Eventually her host family forbade Mazjun from doing any more of her Californian work since they wanted her to only speak in german.

When comparing her experiences of distance learning with two different schools, Mazjun found that classes with WSP a lot more personal. Dr. Babinet offered office hours which Mazjun could always go to if needed. Mazjun thought that meetings over zoom were a better approach to distance learning versus packets of worksheets.  

“Showing up to the call and listening to the teacher talk is better because you’re at least retaining some of the information versus worksheets because you might just not go online and not see them at all.” Mazjun said.

Although the school mostly focused on distance learning, Mazjun did get the chance to attend classes on campus a couple of times. Mazjun was disappointed at not being able to spend more time on campus since she considered the Waldorf schools in Germany to be incredibly developed compared to the ones in America.

“The campus is so gorgeous and huge and I was sad that I didn’t get to spend much time on it” Camille explained, “they even had a house for blacksmithing.”  While the curriculum between Mazjun’s exchange school and WSP were similar there were still some differences. They take two language tracks, french and english, whereas WSP only offers one language. One thing that Camille vividly remembers that was quite different from our school are the breaks, “They had their classes and then a fifteen minute break between each class.” 

Mazjun found that language wasn’t as big a challenge as she initially thought it would be. It still wasn’t easy since she wasn’t fluent in German, but by the end of the exchange she found that she could understand an entire conversation with no trouble. But Mazjun did still feel some disappointment from missing the full immersion experience she could’ve had if not for the coronavirus. 

 “It was a little bit frustrating to do zoom calls for California and not being able to participate in all of my classes in Germany because it was too hard. That was a little bit frustrating feeling like I didn’t get the most out of the experience in that aspect because I would have been hearing german 24/7” Mazjun explained, “I wish I could’ve stayed longer because it just felt so short now that I’m back. It’s been three weeks and I feel like I was never there.”

Many people struggled with having to be indoors more often when the quarantine set in. Mazjun would take hikes, ride bikes, and spend time in nature to deal with all the time indoors. 

Mazjun at 5′ 8″ was the tallest in her family. In her German host family she was the shortest. Clara, her exchange partner, is a year younger than her. Four of Clara’s cousins lived downstairs so Mazjun spent a lot of time with the family. Clara’s best friend also lived in the neighborhood. Mazjun didn’t meet many other people because of the pandemic.

Clara, Mazjun’s exchange partner, was scheduled to come to the United States at the beginning of this year. Unfortunately, that is no longer happening. Her school has made sure that its number one priority is its students’ safety and has shut down all exchange trips until October 24th. 

Many discussions regarding the pandemic took place around the dinner table. Mazjun’s host father didn’t think that it was something to be too concerned about whereas his daughters disagreed. Mazjun has found that Germany has handled the coronavirus pretty well. 

“Coming back to the US has been scarier because it’s weird to go from a place where it’s so under control to a place where it’s still in full swing,” Mazjun explained. “People in Germany never broke the rules and when I was leaving the country things were coming back to normal.” 

Mazjun and her host family ate in a restaurant one night near the end of her stay, while you can do this in the United States it was never as if the US took the precautions to ban it in the first place. Another difference Mazjun noticed was the difference in behaviours between her family and host family. Her parents were a lot more worried about the pandemic whereas her host family no longer had any fear. 

Growing up, Camille studied German for eight years. This exchange trip presented the perfect opportunity to further her proficiency in the language and to explore a new culture. Another driving factor that led Camille to apply for an exchange trip was a desire to explore and in her words, “to get out of the ordinary.”

When reflecting on her exchange trip, Mazjun stated,”It was obviously not the ideal time to go because I didn’t get to experience much. But honestly it was kind of great that I went during this time because I got to experience something so different. Everyone else was stuck at home with their families, and I was stuck at home with someone else’s family.”            

When asked for advice for students still waiting or thinking about going on an exchange Mazjun said, “Even if you’re scared about not knowing the language – especially in Germany it’s okay because they don’t expect you to know the language. They have such good english and are willing to speak to you in english if you don’t understand anything. Even the teachers. Even if you’re scared it’s so worth it to go.”

Mazjun returned to California on July 3rd and was reunited with her family and dog after almost four months.

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