When I left Canada to pursue a master’s degree in England, I expected my life to change. But I never expected this.
As I write this, I am living in London, UK during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. My International Journalism program at City, University of London has moved entirely online; our university campus is closed. Students are leaving my residence in droves, moving back to their home countries for the foreseeable future. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has implemented strict lockdown regulations: we cannot leave the house unless we are buying essential groceries, seeking medical treatment, or getting our daily exercise.
As the panic over the pandemic ramped up, people began asking me if I would return home to Canada. Many of my fellow students seemed surprised that I would rather ride out the crisis in London than at home with my family. It’s a very strange time to live so far from home, but I have decided to stay overseas. Here’s why:
I’ve made a home in London
Over the past eight months, London has started to feel like home. I’m not a tourist anymore. My dorm room is cramped and messy, but it’s mine. My student accommodation is full of great friends that have already begun to feel like family (a feeling that has only increased since the lockdown began). This crisis reminds me how much I want to be here—and how badly I want to continue exploring the rest of the UK and Europe when we can finally travel again.
I could go home to Canada, but I love London. Before the crisis began, I already envisioned myself staying in the UK long after my program ends. As I watch friends head home to spend time with their families, I get it; but for me, going back to Canada was not on the agenda. At least, not for a while.
Over the past eight months, London has started to feel like home. This crisis reminds me how much I want to be here—and how badly I want to explore the rest of the UK and Europe when we can travel again.
If I leave, I don’t know when I could come back
The other reason I do not want to return to Canada, even temporarily, is the uncertainty over flights and border restrictions due to the virus. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called on all Canadians abroad to come home—but it is becoming increasingly harder to get flights in and out of Canada.
Plus, since I would be arriving from Europe, I would need to self-isolate for at least 14 days upon my return. Even if I left England, it would still be weeks before I could leave my house or visit with family and friends.
I’m not ready for my study abroad experience to be over
This is a strange situation, and the uncertainty about how long this pandemic and the lockdown will last is extremely stressful. I worry about my family, of course; I worry about getting sick myself. And I’m concerned that I will not get to see my parents for much longer than anticipated. They had to cancel their trip to visit me this April. My best friends were supposed to visit at the end of the month, too—but that’s looking more and more unlikely by the day.
I am also disappointed that my graduate program has moved online. Our winter term was interrupted first by weeks of faculty strikes; then, COVID-19 hit. We had a few classes on Zoom, but attending class from my bedroom is just not the same. I moved to London for this degree, and was psyched about the courses—particularly the upcoming third term, where my classmates and I would collaborate on a print magazine. Now we will have to schedule virtual editorial meetings—and the magazine will exist online instead.
I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for myself. Selfishly, I’m sad that my year abroad in London has been affected. I was so excited about this program, and now it’s nothing like I expected. I didn’t want to take an online course—now I don’t have a choice. I feel like I’ve taken my life in London for granted—it feels strange that only a few weeks ago, I was hanging out with friends on campus, going out for brunch, or grabbing drinks at the pub.
I know that being cooped up inside my dorm room is certainly not the biggest issue in the world right now; staying indoors and flattening the curve through social distancing is the most important thing I can do to prevent the spread of the virus. But I’m still sad—and that’s okay. According to psychologists, what we’re all feeling—as we lose our daily routines and cancel plans—is a form of grief.
How I’m coping
Even though I’m in lockdown in London, I feel just as—if not more—connected to my friends and family than ever. I’ve been separated from my family for months now anyway, but with all of us sequestered in our homes with lots of time on our hands, we’ve been chatting and FaceTiming almost every day.
I’ve had some great spontaneous calls with friends back home. Normally, we’d schedule calls well in advance, since we had to account for classes and in-person plans. Now we can just turn on Houseparty and chat for no reason other than to check-in and see how the other is doing.
The strangest part about this lockdown is that I have never been one to stay in my room for too long. Before the lockdown, I always went to the library or a coffee shop to do schoolwork—I can work anywhere but my desk, which is much too close to my bed—a spot where I can easily waste time watching Netflix. I live in a two-bed flat in a student residence, but my roommate has gone home for the time being. It is nice to have the place to myself, but I am quite isolated in my tiny room.
Luckily, living in a student dorm means there are quite a few of us in the same boat. My closest friends here are from the United States and the Netherlands; they, too, have decided to stay in London for the duration of the pandemic. I'm lucky that I can still walk around my residence and sit on the roof to get some fresh air. My friends and I are meeting up in our residence common spaces for workouts and online Zumba and yoga classes. Hopefully the exercise is making me healthier—and less likely to lose my mind. Plus, chatting with friends on a walk around the neighbourhood is so refreshing—it’s actually a nice change from meeting at the bar. Though the occasional happy hour (in-person or virtual), is also necessary.
I hope the lockdown will be over soon; but for the time being, I’m trying to stay positive and look for silver linings.
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