Life in Lockdown- An International Students Questions
As an international student studying in York, I had been planning to fly home over Easter
break to spend time with my family and catch up. The end of term had been particularly stressful with
the oppressive energy of Covid-19 news leading up to the beginning of the break, so I was eager to
travel home as soon as possible. In early February, my parents had visited for a week. Everything was
normal. With lockdown was not even a rumour of a possibility, I was fine - I would be home on time,
no problem. By the end of term it was a different scenario. The world, myself and my environment
seemed to have escalated in anxiety almost immediately. With the rumours circulating, I made it a
priority to sort my way home. It ended up being a lot more complicated than I ever could have
It felt like a gradual growth, every day hearing more. First - about the first cases in York. Then
- about potential symptoms. Then: Warning. The news blasting information during my Specsavers
appointment I was trying to fit in before term. I was still getting ready to travel home - had even
started the process of purchasing tickets. To my dismay and confusion, suddenly there was
questioning over my flying home, and it was no longer just a question of me getting home - but asking:
is it safe? My family was very hesitant to have me fly home. Worries about the States being a more
dangerous environment for the virus spreading, louder worries about me traveling around so many
people on planes. I heard about fellow international students leaving University earlier than planned
to make it home. I heard about flights being cancelled.
There were immediate questions of being concerned with the impact on Covid-19 in both
countries I live in: the United Kingdom and the United States. My initial response was to struggle with
and confront the identity issues in response to this dual residency. I have been in the United Kingdom
for several years, and have found myself often looking towards the United Kingdom side of things
before considering the United States. This was the case of the early developments of Covid-19 and the
social impacts. Up until trying to fly home - in a characteristically American manner - I had ignored
any news other than the news surrounding my immediate life.
The panic leading up to the days before my departure were ruled by my own anxiety. I suffer
from an anxiety disorder, and this environment was leaving me helpless. All of my usual mental health
coping mechanisms were suddenly gone, and I felt myself feeling set back. How was I meant to focus
on my mental health when more important things are going on? How am I meant to look after myself,
alone? Since starting University I felt fiercely independent, and now I felt panicked. Self-sufficiency
was no longer fun.
I felt my world closing in, with the situation escalating all around me. Finally: I was faced with
a decision: Do I go home? Or do I stay in England? So much panic, uncertainty and no time to think.
Ultimately: I did nothing. By the time I could take a minute to work it out - to think - borders were
shut, all of my options were taken away from me.
So that was it: I was to stay in the United Kingdom during the Covid-19 pandemic. It had been
a choice of choosing to be with my family and potentially unable to return to University, or to be
isolated from my family and stay with close friends or alone in England. It was too much to grapple
with at once. Had I made the wrong decision, in my waiting to act, in ultimately letting someone else
make the decision for me? Is a travel ban a long term phenomena? Questions like these raced through
my head. Mainly: had this even been my decision?
The beginning of lockdown was spent trying to connect with students in similar positions. I
contacted other international students in my position for comfort, to see what they had done. I
assaulted myself with more questions: am I the only one who stayed? There was a girl living alone in
her shared house near campus. A girl bunkering with other international students in their student
house. Many attempted to fly home and were stuck in airports for days, others went to spend time
with friends. A few were in my situation - a limbo, unsure of where to go or what to do and ultimately
stuck with themselves.
Lockdown early on had been characterised, for me, by uncertainty and homesickness. A
process of rationalising my situation, being angry over my decision to stay, and rationalising it again.
More than anything, my main turmoil came from the fact that even if I wanted to get home (If I had
the money, if I had the plane tickets) it would still be impossible. No amount of wishing and
resourcing would get me home. I had never felt so trapped before. Not only afraid by the sudden
change of lifestyle and situation, but afraid of the change in my reality. A sense of choice and freedom
replaced by forced acceptance and barriers. The borders simply would not open for me.
It was not so much a question of missing my family, but the uncertainty of when I will be able
to see them again. Travel opening up again for me to go home is not the end, though, because then
there are considerations of safety and the time after. New questions, and new considerations of safety
and feasibility. One of my parents has lost their job, the other working non-stop since lockdown
began. It became more clear to me every day that it was not just me who was struggling with this new
reality, and concerns of getting home were not at the forefront anymore. Now, our main concern lay
with supporting each other. My parents and I usually go half a year without seeing each other, weeks
without talking. There was always something else to do: societies, homework and friends. Now that
these aspects of my life were no longer there, I suddenly felt like a child since the beginning of my
adult life and starting to University. All I wanted was my parents; I wanted someone else to make
decisions for me.
It became increasingly apparent to me that lockdown is not just for the time we are meant to stay home,
but for longer after. This is especially true for international students like myself. Questions of the states of other
countries, of other travel bans and guidances are in play. It is more than traveling by train a few hours to get
home, it is a twelve hour flight. When lockdown is over there will be more questions than before. I will ask myself
then: Will I be able to return to York from the United States to study? Would it be safe? Is it financially viable? I
try to reassure myself that those questions are for then, not now. For now, the decisions have already been made.
Now, a few months in - things are changing. I’m starting to feel more comfortable in feeling that my
decision was the right one. I am beginning to feel more secure in knowing that despite my efforts and hopes
surrounding returning to the States, the decision was never really mine. My days are still spent feeling especially
homesick, I still wake up most days really wishing I was home. But things are different now than they were at the
beginning, and some brightness has come out of this situation that I never expected. Despite multiple yearly visits
and weekly phone calls, I never really felt I put much effort into contact with my family while abroad. I settled
into living into the United Kingdom fairly quickly, and I had never missed home, except for maybe once or twice
early on, and around Thanksgiving.
The sudden yearning for my family has me reaching out more than usual. A zoom call with distant
cousins I had only heard of but never met, a shared family photo album on our iPhones. I feel connected to my
family more than when I lived with them. I find myself sending recipes back and forth with my aunt and spending
real time investigating father's day presents (which are consistently sourced last minute). Never before had I
video called my immediate family, and now we find ourselves asking: why hadn’t we done this before? This is the
best! I feel grateful for these changes, and in a weird way - I feel grateful for the situation Covid-19 has put me in.
Had I gone home, I would have felt much the same in the way of anxiety, and would have missed England. Had I
gone home, I wouldn’t have had to cross these bridges to feel close again.
I feel our interactions will never go back to the way they were before lockdown; our connection will
never go back. I suddenly am no longer the free-willed independent girl living abroad, but a daughter trapped in
another country. We talk every day now, updating each other on travel bans and combing through the news
together. Each day we get closer to being able to return to each other. Each day I get less anxious.