First time living abroad (Germany) during the covid-19 pandemic – by Phongsavang Xaikongkham (SKU)

All Posts, First impressions, Partnership, Savannakhet University (SKU)

Get to know me!

Hello, my name is Phongsavang Xaikhongkham (nickname “Don”), I am 27 years old. I am an international student from Savannakhet University (SKU), Laos. I am here undertaken by the Erasmus+ program, the project of the PH-Karlsruhe (Prof. Martin), for doing a Master Degree.

I am so proud to be a participant of it because I really like to work with new people, it helps me to get more experiences, for example, speaking to the foreigner and native speaker. I really like to learn English and hope to gain insight into the English teaching technique. Learning English will be a good benefit as well for my goal of being a part of this project is to improve my English knowledge and English skills and I will use this experience to help my Lao students at home with their English skills in the future.

In addition, I would like to say thank you to the president of SKU and the Erasmus+ program, the project of PH-Karlsruhe (Pädagogische Hochschule Karlsruhe or University of Education Karlsruhe) to providing me a good opportunity to come to exchange in this year and I can say that my dream comes true because Germany is my dream country that I want to go to study and I am so grateful. I especially appreciate saying thank you to Professor Dr. Isabel Martin for providing me a great opportunity and supporting me for everything and I hope this project would continue and I hope to be a part of this project again in the future.


Expectations and first impression

The western countries have more knowledge and more experience in industrial, mechanically, and factories because the western countries are not the agricultural countries that is why these areas have many of various fields such as major construction projects, large commercial business areas, and a diverse cultural mix. I always heard about this, but now I know it is true.

I am living in Karlsruhe is a medium-sized town, located in the south of Germany. There are many beautiful buildings and a lot of streets so sometimes I get lost. But the culture here is very friendly, so people often talk to strangers and help foreigners with directions. For example, I once saw an elderly woman trying to get on the train with very high steps. Some people from this town saw her struggling and helped her get into the train.
Everyone here smiles and greets each other, even when they do not know each other. When I go shopping at a store or the supermarket, the staff always greets me saying “Hallo” which is the German way of saying “Hello.” After I pay they also say “Danke Schön!” which means “Thank you” in German. This was a very nice surprise to discover when I moved here.

Another expectation I had before coming here was to see snow in Karlsruhe1 because I have never seen snow in my life. I have always wanted to touch it and maybe even try skiing when I have a chance. Unfortunately, I heard from my German friends that they saw the snow last time since 10 years ago on Christmas’s Day in Karlsruhe in 2010 so it means I did not get to experience it because of as we know in presently the climate change around the world as we know well that we called global warming.2

I arrived here early in March, the beginning of spring, so I just met the cold weather some days and the maximum of temperature was -1 to -4 degree but it was so cold for me because of the temperature in my home country between 10 to 20 degree in the winter, and also very hot in the summer, the temperature between 35 to 42 degree. However, the temperature in Laos and Germany are very different, but I really like the weather in Karlsruhe.
It was very nice and comfortable for me to go outside without a jacket and long pants. I can wear a T-shirt and short pants in the summer, and in the winter the temperature was lower than Laos between 5 to 12 degree and some days get colder between -1 to -4 degree but, I feel like it was fine for me, thus this is the reason why I love the living in Karlsruhe.
When I am living in my home country (Laos) I always face the hot weather more than cold weather, the summer in my home country was too hot, it was very uncomfortable for me to went to work and when I went outside, I always wear a jacket and long pants to protect from sunny because I usually ride a motorbike to work, during the day in summer I usually take a shower 3 to 4 time per day. When I was a student in secondary school my school does not have the electricity so in my classroom no fan, no air conditioning it was so difficult for me to learn during the hot weather.


3 – 10 March 2020: First week living in Karlsruhe

I arrived in Karlsruhe on 3 March 2020. At first, life was difficult because this town was unfamiliar to me and I did not know where things were or how to get places. I also do not know how to buy food or just go about my daily life as I do in Laos. It felt lonely too.

But I was lucky to meet a good new friend here, her name is Katrine Haavardsholm. She is my “buddy” in this project that she works undertaken for the International Office of the PH Karlsruhe.2 We also have the contact before I came here and she also helps me with my application form, gave me the suggestion for travel to Germany, and pick me up from the train station to dormitory when I arrived the first time in Germany. She is very friendly and kind to me. She helps me all the time, whenever I have a problem. For example, she picked me up from the train station to my dorm on my first day here. She also helped me find the materials that I needed for my dormitory and even showed me around the downtown area.

She is a student at PH-Karlsruhe University like me, she is not German. She comes from Norway but knows how to speak Deutsch or German. She is very active in the university’s community. She is the Head of the International Student Club with some other friends of hers, Ann-Sophie Wolff and Eleanor Wheeler. This club has really helped International Students like me to get to know each other and help with academic problems.

During COVID-19 pandemic, they always contact with International Students like reported and update us to know about virus news and also continue the activities that make students can meet each other online in Big Blue Button (BBB), which is a virtual classroom, like getting together one time per week on Thursday and create the group to help International Students to practice German language skills.
As an international student, I am so impressed and glad that they do many things for us not only they do as their responsibility, but they do with the kind and friendship with us in their free time because they would like to see us enjoy learning and living in Karlsruhe (Germany) during the COVID-19 pandemic.


During my first week of study, I began my studies at the university on 6 March 2020. My first subject was the “Internship German course for the Beginner.” This class has 14 students, including me. My peers are from all over the world. Some examples of countries represented in the classroom are China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Israel, Turkey, Greece, and Laos (me and my fellow-student Mr Chanthalakone Souydalay, nickname “Thon”). We also all speak different languages, practice different cultures, and live in very different ways. This has been a very valuable learning experience for me.

The first day we all introduced ourselves. I loved hearing about other people and how they are different and similar to me. When it was my turn, and I told them I was from Laos, many were surprised because not many people know about my country because usually, Lao people do not move from the country, Laos does not communicate with other countries from the West and in other hands, Laos is not developed country and is not developed about the economic system. Lao people, do not have enough budget for travel in other countries and it is difficult for them to apply for a passport or a visa to travel abroad, but it is possible for them if they have got the invitation from the organization or university of that country to allow them to travel.
Otherhand, European or German and western people do not usually meet Lao people yet and they do not have the experience of Laos when they meet Lao people they do not know exactly where are they come from or which countries that they come from and the European or western countries just know is the Asian people as the same with Lao people that they only know about French people in this area when Lao people meet western or European people they like to call ” Farang” (“French)”.1

I then explained to them that my country shares a border with 5 other countries: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, and China. I also played the song, “Champa Muang Lao” which is a classic Lao song. I was a bit disappointed that they did not know my country but I was happy to share it with them.


11-17 March 2020: Second week living in Karlsruhe

In my second week of living, I started my second week of school. Everyone was getting to know each other and there were more conversations that allowed me to get more familiar with everyone. The International Students Club hosted an event called “Welcome Party.” One activity that we did during this event was a Question-Answer game: Students are asked to switch with a partner one by one and ask each other a variety of questions, all of them personal. I learned a lot during this activity and made more friends. After some activities, we all had dinner together and hung out.

Later, over the weekend, we had a study trip where we went to Turmberg Mountain. It was the first trip for us. There was a beautiful view there and we got to take a train to the top of the mountain to look over the small town below. It also borders France, which is a place I would like to visit one day. If you ever go to this landmark, make sure to take the train…it was worth it!


 18 March – 1 April: Third & fourth week living in Karlsruhe

By my third and fourth week, covid-19 became a big issue. Everything seemed normal, people were studying hard and I was getting to know Karlsruhe and my peers. But then covid-19 escalated very quickly, into a global crisis. In order to prevent problems and having more people get sick, they stopped having classes in the classrooms and moved all classes online.

From 20 April 2020 until now I still continue to study in online courses. The first two weeks of online study were difficult for me because I have never had to learn online. Sometimes there were issues with my Internet connection or my device would not connect. I think this may have been because everyone was using the Internet in my dorm so it made it slower or weaker.

I was also disappointed about covid-19, not only because it is very dangerous and I worry about the health of everyone, but also because I came here wanting to have a normal experience of what life is like in Germany and right now I can not experience that.

I hope that the danger of covid-19 will go away before I have to leave. However, the pandemic of covid-19 will not allow us to continue classes at the University this semester, but it does not mean we lack the connection with each other and we also continue some activities just change the way to communicating instead of meeting face to face and some times we are able and allowed to meet friends outside, but we must follow the rules of the state or government that we did not allow to meet more people like a big group and they allowed only 2 or 3 people in maximum and we have to maintain social distancing between 150 to 200 centimeter.

In my opinion, the benefit of the covid-19 pandemic is making the people aware, wake and alert up before they doing everything like we could say that we reorganize the social, people look back their life and known to share to other, make people who work hard turned to love themselves more than money or business and we can see most people like to exercise in every morning or evening depending on a time suitable for them.

To prevent of this situation (covid-19 pandemic) the Government of Germany, they are to be stringent to prevent and solve the situation quickly and claim the right time, which is when the infection began inside the country they decide to close the border, every organization, supermarket, department store, the office organization, and education institute because if they allow people go to meet each other in these places they would be communicated in a big group and overcrowded, it is the main reason that makes people more susceptible to infection and easier to spread the virus and it has happened in many countries around the world. In this case, Germany has noticed the problem and has been able to prevent and control the spread of the virus in a timely manner.

Since the lockdown ended in June, I can now live like a German and explore more of this city, this country, and this continent.

During the Covid pandemic in Karlsruhe the president of my university contact to Karlsruhe university to ask me to go back to my home country (Laos) or not that I have two choices: I can stay in Karlsruhe and go back to my home country, when they ask me It hard to answer because I was a little nervous about the situation and feel homesick and missing my family because I think about the Covid situation in my home country too, but I decided to stay in Karlsruhe because of trust and believe with the medical and doctors team of Germany as well as the Karlsruhe city that they will be able to handle and control the virus situation.
Otherhand, Germany is my dream country of education that I would like to come to study and my dream come true! and I do not want to destroy my dream if I can stay in Karlsruhe and I can continue my study it would be great for me to get the new experience from this situation like the living experience, education experience, cultural experience. I do not know how to get these experiences and I do not know if I return to my home country when I can come back to Germany again thus, I do not want to lose this wonderful opportunity in my life.


Text by P. Xaikongkham

Photos by P. Xaikongkham, C. Souyidalay & J. Friedl



1  A “buddy” is a volunteer student who works undertaken the organization, university or international office and always help international students when they arrive the university in the first time and whenever they have the problem with their study while they are the students or participant of the organization or university.

2 The biggest problem that the world face now and this problem is very difficult to resolve because it happened by the human hands such as daily life activities: no proper garbage management, use the plastic bag and burning of the garbage when we burn the garbage more and more in every day it could be global warming, one reason of global warming comes from the agriculture activities that the human destroy the nature and forests for their agriculture like they cutting woods to support their crops regardless of the damage that could result in natural disasters due to the deforestation and the resulting drought, resulting in seasonal rainfall and global warming.

3 “Farang” or “falang” (“French”) is the name that Lao people usually called the western or European people or the person who looks like the western or European people because French is the first group of western people that came to Laos in the past.

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