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Pandemic: HEC Paris Students from the Côte d’Ivoire Share Confinement Experience

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, around 500 students have stayed on the HEC Paris campus in Jouy-en-Josas, where they have had to respect France’s official quarantine rules. They number among those 300,000 foreign students attending French universities and Grandes Ecoles. Of these 500, three students from Côte d’Ivoire  have enrolled in their first year of the Master in Management (MiM) at HEC Paris. How are they coping with the quarantine imposed since March 17? What is the impact on their studies? How do they maintain a good balance between working and rest periods? Here are their testimonies.


HEC Paris - Etudiants ivoiriens

"Four months ago, I would hardly imagine such a scenario.” One can easily understand Elie Kreman's initial distress. After two brilliant years in commercial preparatory classes at the INPHB in Yamoussoukro, then three years at Ecole Supérieure de Commerce d'Abidjan (ESCA), here he was, on the point of spending three years studying  the prestigious MiM degree at HEC Paris. Over the past years, several exchanges and joint projects between Côte d'Ivoire and HEC have enabled the business school to offer more opportunities to the country's most promising young talents. "I was looking forward to this new year with enthusiasm," he tells us from his campus accommodation. "I had made several new resolutions, I knew more or less where I was going at this period of the year," he says. “Unfortunately, that's when the Covid pandemic started," he explains. "Things changed dramatically, schools were first shut down and then a general lockdown was declared. HEC had to close down, but decided to transfer all courses online."

Teaching methods profoundly renewed

Faculty members responded very quickly: "We had just a few days to modify our teaching," explains Anne Michaut, LVMH Chair Director at HEC Paris. "You have to remember that uncertainty was high, we had a constantly changing context and we did not have much visibility on upcoming decisions to be taken for our operations.”

"When we start teaching online, our role as a teacher changes," adds Kristine de Valck, Associate Dean and PhD Director at HEC Paris. "We are no longer the captain of our ship. We become the map that students use to guide their learning. It also means that our students need to accept their role of steersman. It requires harder work than the pleasurable experience of letting your boat rock on the waves of a good lecture.”

A unique experience

Bachir Savadogo's initial struggle to adapt turned into an enriching experience with many lessons learnt. This engineer from the INP-HB accepts the imposed changes with positivity: "The courses are going well in general. The professors are trying to make themselves available as much as possible for the students, despite these particular circumstances. Moreover, in this new environment, we participate more during the courses, we no longer hesitate to share our thoughts on certain points in class, either through the Zoom tool's chat discussion, or simply by speaking up.”

His MiM classmate Désiré Kakou, who is also from Yamoussoukro, underlines the experience's singularity. "The blackboard, our fellow-students and the teacher standing in front of us are no longer there to remind us that we are attending a class," explains this passionate financier.  "This requires more flexibility, as well as a lot of concentration,"  he explains. "I take it as a good dress rehearsal for adapting to wildly changing circumstances employing helpful behavior (such as  settling behind my desk, moving away from my phone, etc.)".

Finding a balance

Adaptation is also required for some daily habits. The supermarket, which is a seven-minute walk away, is the main place where students get their food supplies. "At the beginning of the confinement, a lot of products went out of stock because of panic-buying," says Désiré, "but since then, the flow of goods has become regulated and you can find almost everything." However, the transition to basic gestures is not always easy for Elie: "Unfortunately, we cannot vary our cuisine".

Meanwhile, all three students are under even more pressure as a result of their families' preoccupations in Côte d’Ivoire. Their home country has not been not spared by the global pandemic: it closed its borders rapidly to limit the development of the virus. "Knowing how quickly the virus spreads and the health care system in the country, I feel very worried and keep asking my family to take all precautions," says Elie. "General confinement is difficult to implement. A large part of the population works in the informal sector. For these people, confinement would have dramatic consequences, leading to social upheaval. It would be a social confinement crisis," he says. Désiré remains more optimistic: "I find the population's civic discipline remarkable. I have seen pictures of places that used to be very busy, that are now completely deserted. Ivorian’s are aware of the situation and take their destiny seriously in hand, with all the necessary sacrifices. This is a very positive achievement."

Campus benefits

Despite the ongoing challenges, the three are finding many ways to decompress on the campus's 134 hectares. Elie and Désiré share the students' general passion for jogging, particularly the run to the lake: “These days, we are enjoying the pleasant and sunny weather, alongside the beautiful landscape view we have.” For Bashir, the courses and all other duties reduce the amount of time for entertainment. "But every day I manage to relax with online games.” He adds: “The only thing that stops me from feeling this isolation is telling myself that, in the end, unless a vaccine or a method is found and fully approved by the authorities, the only way we can get rid of this virus is by respecting these measures of social distancing and confinement. Also being aware of people in a worse situation than mine really helps me to put all of this into perspective."

Elie Kreman also finds strength in relativizing the challenges of being in quarantine: "This situation pushes us to reflect. Even if it’s against our will, it allows us the opportunity to meditate on our lives, to review our plans and objectives, and to refocus on essential issues. It is also an opportunity to train ourselves, build skills that will enable us to meet the world’s needs after confinement. I remain positive and optimistic about the outcome. However, this crisis will leave its mark, and we must be prepared for the consequences, both morally and intellectually”.