My internship at UVic in a time of COVID-19

- Isabelle Staiger (CFGS and EUCAnet Intern) and Jodie Walsh (CFGS Research Coordinator & Operations Director)

Staiger and her red bike in front of the UVic library fountain in May 2020. Photo credit: Jodie Walsh

On March 16, 2020, German student Isabelle Staiger arrived in Victoria for her three-month internship with UVic’s Centre for Global Studies (CFGS).

That same day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Canada was closing its borders.

This is Staiger’s story – about a new group of virtual colleagues, a cancelled honeymoon, routine visits to the beach and a red bike that became her friend.

Welcoming Isabelle Staiger to campus, virtually

Staiger, a student from Germany, studies public management at the University of Applied Sciences in Kehl. In the past few years, the CFGS has connected with Germany’s Kehl University (Hochschule für öffentliche Verwaltung Kehl / University of Applied Sciences), whose students are required to do an internship abroad.

During the CFGS internships, students’ work focuses on the CFGS communications portfolio and specifically on its newsletter, website and databases, as well as with the Europe-Canada Network project (EUCAnet).

German student Isabelle Staiger in a zoom call
Staiger during CFGS’ last regular weekly communications meeting on May 29. As you can tell, her smile is infectious and she fit right in with the team dynamic. Photo credit: Jodie Walsh

CFGS and EUCAnet first heard from Staiger in May 2019 when she applied for the internship program and spent close to a year planning for and looking forward to her visit. And up till March 13, everything was going exactly as planned: Staiger had a letter in hand so she could come across the border; she had a nice place to stay near UVic; and a work plan ready for her upon arrival.

With the Centre for Global Studies at UVic, I had found my ideal internship. A research institute dealing with Europe and transatlantic relations was perfect, because, when I am back in Germany, I will deepen the area of “Europe” as part of my studies. For this, I could not imagine anything better than travelling to Canada.
CFGS and EUCAnet intern Isabelle Staiger, a German university student who visited UVic for a three-month internship during COVID-19

But no one could not have predicted what the next 48 hours would bring for her while she flew across the Atlantic.

The following is in Staiger’s own words.

My trip to faraway Canada was to begin in mid March. Already in Germany, I was well prepared for my internship by the staff of the CFGS at UVic, and as time went by, the topic of COVID-19 became more and more explosive in the world. I was asked if I wanted to come to Canada at all or if I would rather stay at home.

For me, a person who loves travelling and discovering foreign cultures, it was out of question not to start the adventure to Canada, despite COVID-19. Also, if I had stayed in Germany, it would have led to some problems with finishing my education. I would have had to look for a new internship in Germany at a time when no one would want to read through my application and then hire me while coping with a pandemic.

Fortunately, I did not have to deal with this further and flew to Canada on March 14. It was a pleasant trip, but the first effects of the pandemic were already being felt. My plane from Frankfurt to London was almost empty, but the one from London to Vancouver was full. 

When I arrived in Victoria, I was accommodated in an Airbnb, which was to become my home for the next three months. 

My fear that I might not be able to live here because I came from an international country was fortunately unfounded. And yet, security measures were taken. I was provided with my own cutlery and crockery and I was supposed to clean everything in the common rooms with disinfectant after I touched it. Of course, I also kept a safe distance from all other people.

After the first two weeks, I was able to move more freely and so a certain routine developed. The most important thing was the daily walk to nearby Willows beach to watch the sea and read books.

Staiger meets CFGS Director Oliver Schmidtke
Staiger meets CFGS Director Oliver Schmidtke on Willows Beach on March 20 as he welcomes her to UVic. Photo credit: Beate Schmidtke

However, it was sad to learn that I was not able to work in the office building of the CFGS, which did not change during my internship. I was able a complete my three-month internship in the home office only.

A red bicycle, nearby beach and new friends

Although a bit slower than in Germany, COVID-19 had also arrived here in Canada. I was impressed by the fast implementation of the measures. Right from the start, the excellent online communication and the good university system made it so I had no problems whatsoever to do my work from home.

During my first week, I was kindly given a laptop to work on and a bicycle with lock and helmet. A video conference was arranged with the main staff of the CFGS to give me the opportunity to get to know the CFGS and the people who work there. I felt very honored and welcomed.

Also, my red bicycle became a good friend. It made shopping easier for me and took me to the most beautiful viewpoints and great beaches.

Over time, I got to know the CFGS family better and better and was able to take care of the preparation and follow-up of the weekly online Global Talk and the sending of the newsletter. Furthermore, I was responsible for updating the EUCAnet database.

Finnerty Gardens
CFGS and EUCAnet intern Isabelle Staiger’s tour of most of UVic looked like this. Photo credit: Jodie Walsh

In many video meetings and phone calls I was taught everything and was able to communicate with the other employees. It was a very nice surprise when I was told at one of the team meetings held every Friday that the CFGS leadership, as a thank you for our good work throughout the pandemic, would be delivering dinner to the entire administrative team. I had never experienced anything like this in my professional career and I was very grateful to work with the CFGS team.

And so the time has passed. Now I sit in my room at my desk and think about the last months. Time flew by and I settled in wonderfully in Canada, even if it was not as I had imagined it.

I had planned to make friends with students and to explore Vancouver Island every weekend together. There were some difficult moments. My honeymoon, which was to take place after the internship, had to be cancelled and my return flight was cancelled twice. But I don't have to worry if the flight next week doesn't work, because I was invited to Christmas dinner by the director of the CFGS himself! If I am not here until Christmas, I know one thing for sure, I will come back and make up for everything I was denied by the pandemic. The 300 pictures on my camera will become many more. 

Finally, I would like to thank the wonderful people I met here, even if most of them are only online. I am impressed by the friendliness of the Canadians, where the office workers feel like a family, and by the unique beauty of the country.

We at the CFGS said goodbye to Isabelle Staiger on June 2. Isabelle was a key member of our administrative team since she joined the CFGS and yet we only saw each other in person a couple of times. She bravely and professionally faced all of the challenges that work life and daily life brought. We are grateful to Isabelle for her time and dedication at the CFGS. We hope to see her again one day so that she can enjoy the island the way we wished we could have shared it with her. She will be missed in our virtual halls! 

Find out more

CFGS at UVic

Inbound students


In this story

Keywords: international, COVID, student life

People: Isabelle Staiger, Jodie Walsh, Oliver Schmidtke

Publication: The Ring

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