COVID-19 has had a drastic impact on the education sector, with students sent home to observe social distancing and study shifted to online. While our education has continued, learning isn’t the only reason students travel to study at university. It’s the social life outside of school work that contributes to the students’ holistic development and broadens our perspectives. For international students like me, who are pursuing one-year master’s degrees in the UK, half our academic experience has become something we never could have envisaged.
Let me tell you my story
I came to the UK with full of ambition after working for a few years as a communications professional. Graduating from a university back home with a major in finance, I figured a communications degree from a prestigious institution in the UK would allow me to build on my knowledge from a theoretical perspective and equip me with the global skill set required to become successful in my career. These skills are not simply acquired in class, but rather through active involvement in extra-curricular activities and employment opportunities, but COVID-19 has now affected this.
The UK is known globally for its world-class education, research-focused approach and practical learning opportunities. Many students like myself also find the idea of a one-year master’s program appealing, but it means every single moment has to count and we have to do everything we can to make sure our time here is worthwhile and well-spent.
What’s happened since lockdown
For some of us, our time studying in the UK has been the first time we’ve left our home country and lived independently elsewhere. This can be an exciting, scary, nerve-wracking experience and it’s easy to feel a little lost. It takes us months to adjust to our new surroundings, and when the pandemic began to spread we had just started to make good friends, learn our way around the city and figure out what we would do with our first summer abroad.
Then COVID happened.
Our classes were shifted to online. Our clubs’ activities were called off. Our part-time jobs were either put on hold, or moved online and our volunteer work was unfortunately cancelled.
We were confused, we were nervous, we wondered what would come next. As the number of infected cases rose, we panicked, we felt helpless, we feared for ourselves and for our loved ones at home. We faced the dilemma of whether we should just return home as soon as we could to be with the ones we love, or stay where we were to protect everyone and limit the potential spread of the virus. We couldn’t analyse the pros and cons of each option at that moment, because it seemed impossible to find the correct one. Staying put meant your family couldn’t stop worrying and your finances would certainly be affected. Travelling though also carries risks. Countries’ borders were beginning to close and tight restrictions were being put in place around the world.
Being thousands of miles away from home trying to weigh all the options was extremely challenging on our mental health, leaving us aimless and with constant feelings of anxiety. We didn’t know what to do but to hope for the best.
The lockdown has been going on for nearly three months now and restrictions are beginning to be eased. Some of my friends are now safe back home with their families and enjoying some quality time with no plans to return to the UK. Those who remain in the UK are filling their time with study and recreational pursuits. After the initial panic, we have all acknowledged the situation and come to grips with the ordeal.
We are scared to think that our program has ground to a halt with the exam period already wrapped up. Arriving in the UK still feels like yesterday and there are too many unfinished plans. An idea of a summer spent travelling around the UK and Europe is becoming a luxury we can no longer afford. Instead, some will book flights to go back home as soon as the restrictions are eased as they crave time with family and friends after a long time in isolation. A dreamy year to study in the UK has come to a close in a way that no one could have ever expected.
While we cannot do much to change the present, I believe the future is still worth looking forward to. We can go back home and pick up our career with a prestigious master’s degree from the UK. We can find a way to come back here again on an exchange program to experience what we have missed.
COVID-19 will eventually pass, lockdowns will lift and society will go back to some semblance of normalcy. What remains is the great support we have given each other in time of loneliness, the moments of shared kindness, and the resilience we have built up in this unprecedented crisis. There will be a day when we look back at this strange study abroad experience and take pride in ourselves for being so brave and extraordinary in such a unique event of our lifetime.