When Victoria Thompson embarked on a student exchange to Denmark in January, she did not expect a global pandemic and a country-wide lockdown partway through her studies.
But the six-month trip during the height of Covid-19 is one the Sacred Heart College student looks back on with fond memories.
“It definitely wasn’t the trip I thought I was going to have with Covid-19 in the mix, but I still had a great time,” she said.
Victoria left New Zealand on January 9, when Covid-19 was still confined to China and started attending an International School two days later.
Now 15-years-old, Victoria says she had always dreamt of doing a student exchange and Denmark felt like the right place to go to.
“Mum has some friends that live over in Demark so it was a really good idea to just have them as my safeguard and have someone that I knew over there so that I could meet them.”
During her time abroad, she stayed in the town of Roskilde, close to Copenhagen, with her host family – parents: Thomas and Anna, and children: Ellen, Astrid and Julia in their late teens.
A highlight of the trip was travelling to Italy prior to lockdown, learning how to ski and skiing over the Swiss-Italian border. “That’s one thing I wouldn’t have ever thought I would be able to do.”
“But when we left Italy, we were sitting in the Berlin airport and all this news started coming in about Coronavirus happening in Italy. So, we just got out that day that the news came out about it, which is crazy.”
Denmark was one of the first European countries to announce a lockdown on March 11, restricting public gatherings and closing schools, restaurants, and bars, but imposing less strict limits on daily life than in Italy or France.
“We did home school learning for two and a half months so it was a bit strange not being able to meet my friends who I had just met for a couple of months and then being put into lockdown for another couple of months.”
However, the lockdown did not restrict travel around Denmark, meaning that while some of her overseas trips were cancelled, she “could still visit new places”.
Other highlights for Victoria included having the freedom to travel around Denmark with her friends, being welcomed into an inclusive group at school, and most importantly making life-long friendships.
Despite the ten-hour time difference, she still keeps in contact with her newfound friends and already has plans to go back, or for them to come to New Zealand when circumstances allow.
While her trip back to New Zealand in early July was planned, she had to cope with two weeks lockdown in Auckland, and the complexities associated with travelling during the pandemic.
“As a minor, I was not allowed to fly all the way home and do quarantine by myself so mum (Kirstin) made the big journey of coming all the way to Denmark and picking up, staying one night, then leaving back to New Zealand.”
In the end, they estimate she did about six days of flying nonstop.
“We had a stop off in Melbourne and were told when we got into the hotel that we might not be able to leave the next day as planned since they are going into lockdown from the next outbreak of Coronavirus.
“So that next morning, we saw that our original flight had been cancelled so mum made some frantic calls to dad (Paul) and the travel agent back in New Zealand but in the end, we got another flight which was the last flight out of Victoria heading back to Auckland for two weeks of quarantine.”
She says the quarantine was “not enjoyable but needed to keep our country safe”.
“Mum and I had quite a bit of fun during the quarantine to try and pass the time because the days were very long with only being allowed outside once a day for a walk in a guarded area for one hour.”