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What its Like For Us: An International Student’s View of the Pandemic

March 23, 2020: The scene was simple; a dishevelled prime minister stared blankly towards the cameras, warning the UK public that the coronavirus disease was not something to take lightly. It was time for a three week lockdown, starting immediately. 

May 6, 2021: Over a year and three lockdowns later, only now are we beginning to see the vague flitters of hope that things will return to normality. Now, as I rub my eyes from screen fatigue, I contemplate how this year has impacted my learning experience.

If you were looking for non-partisanship, please, read another article. This is my piece on the neglectful nature of the UK government towards students, and my story shows how international students have been left out of consideration throughout this entire fiasco. 

As an international student, my experience in this country is filled with subtle microaggressions, anxiousness, and neglect; during the pandemic, the Government merely confirmed this. On the basis that lockdown would only be three weeks, I stayed in University accommodation. I planned to catch up on studying for the exams I was unprepared for (due to a year of strikes) and due to the unravelling situation. In hindsight, perhaps I should have returned home: if Raab was telling Britons abroad to return to the UK, I should have fled at the earliest opportunity. 

Unfortunately, the pandemic was capitalised on in the first few weeks of March, and flight prices were unreasonable. Instead of stressing myself out, I stayed put, since it would only be three weeks. How wrong I was. While many of my peers were able to heed government advice and spend lockdown with their families, I was entirely alone for a good couple of months. Online Zoom socials, exams, birthdays, all of them would be spent by myself, my flights were cancelled, and whilst people complained that they wouldn’t be able to go on holiday, I found myself wondering if I would be able to return home at all. Either way, I toughed it out and, like many students, got excited at the prospect of returning to University campus the following Autumn.

September 2020:  The next Governmental error was convincing University students that this year would continue as usual. On the premise that face-to-face teaching would commence, Universities invited students in their thousands to return to campus, a silly mistake but one that ultimately was rooted in false assumptions. Freshers were soon trapped in their dorms, away from parents and isolated with people they had only just met. As suicide rates soared in the UK, the Government didn’t bat an eye. The pandemic overwhelmed the already underfunded mental health services in this country, and the students that unfortunately lost their lives just became a part of a growing statistic. 

I had mentally prepared myself for the second lockdown, or so I thought. My mental health was in tatters, and I pushed past it by watching hour upon hour of Zoom lectures, trying to cope with pandemic anxieties. The November three-tier system left me stressed as my flights were once again cancelled. This time, luckily, I was going to return home. Through tears, I was able to secure an opportunity to fly home. Many of my fellow international students weren’t as lucky, and they spent the holidays alone due to Covid-19, with many coming to the UK based on the belief that University would be in-person. 

January 6, 2021: University students were now told not to return. Unfortunately, I was mid-transit when this was announced. My University was unwelcoming at the best of times, but I returned either way. During this time, University students were being presented in the media as demonic spreaders of Covid; lawbreaking youths were all holding underground parties. In returning to University, I was now a subject piece of the media onslaught that targeted supposedly selfish students who did not stay put. The media and University failed to consider that many students cannot learn at home due to time zone differences, lack of study spaces, and WiFi troubles. We couldn’t win.

February 15, 2021: Quarantine and mandatory testing announced for those entering the UK, while the vaccine was being widely administered around the country. I think I can speak for many international students when I say the 10 day quarantine, as well as the £210 Covid-19 tests for internationals, put me off going home during Easter. I have never felt more isolated in this country, and, despite understanding the Government’s reasoning, jealousy festered inside me as I watched home students returning to see their families. It’s been almost five months since I saw mine. For some of my friends, it’s been nine. 

May 6 2021: As I sit in front of my laptop, I realise how strong we all are. This piece has allowed me to reflect on my experience in a community of academics and students that not only have had to combat the failures of our Government, but equally a pandemic that has halted the world. I can't know for sure that tomorrow will be better than today, but I'm optimistic, and that's the best I can say.


Saray Imlach

Durham '22

Saray is a Second Year Liberal Arts student specialising in English literature, History, and Sociology. An organised mess by day, video game connoisseur by night, she has an impressive 160+ hours in Animal crossing (let’s not talk about the effort she puts into the Sims, though). As a Gibraltarian, she loves to take siestas, eat stupid amounts of cheese, and sleep at odd hours of the day – currently trying to cope with the cold North Eastern weather of Durham and most likely daydreaming of when she can return to the beach.
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