In March of last year, I spent a couple days in disbelief at the fact that my college had sent an email informing everyone to leave college accommodation as soon as possible due to the novel coronavirus, only hesitantly listening to their recommendation to pack all my things in boxes in the case that I would never be able to return to that room. About a month ago I left my second year house and travelled back to Greece with only a carry-on suitcase, leaving behind food in my cupboards, sheets on my bed and most of my belongings, with the same conviction I had last March that I’d be back soon enough.
Obviously, that didn’t turn out to be the case. When I was leaving the UK, I had come to think of the coronavirus situation as fairly stable, with the news full of reporting on the varying severity of lockdowns imposed across a Europe facing rising infection rates. A couple of days after I landed back home, news of the new variant broke – news which immediately made me very concerned.
Even prior to these developments, I belonged to the category of fairly careful and coronavirus-conscious people and learning of the increased infectivity of the new variant made me seriously question whether I would return to the UK. Only compounding this fear was my knowledge of how different the English conception of lockdown was to the (still fairly ineffective) Greek one. My experience in Greece is one of needing to text a government number to leave my house and to wear a mask outdoors, with the ever-present possibility of a police fine if these conditions aren’t met. In contrast, the English version I experienced in Michaelmas involved some people still throwing parties and walking around facemask-free.
Eventually, I made the decision to stay in Greece for the foreseeable future. My flight was eventually cancelled anyway, and though I could have chosen to rebook, I decided not to. I’m lucky to have even had that choice, as many EU countries have simply cancelled all inbound and outgoing flights to the UK. Now I find myself unexpectedly needing to do my uni work in my teenage bedroom, having left multiple books and resources back in Durham. I’m still paying rent on a house that’s sitting empty, and I’m almost secretly hoping my housemates don’t go back so that I don’t have to watch their Instagram stories from afar. I know this is a reality that even many English students are facing, but not having a flight feels fairly definitive. It means that I almost certainly won’t be coming back to Durham before Easter, regardless of how the situation in the UK changes.
Despite all this, I still think I made the right choice. As far as international students go, I’m lucky. The time difference with the UK isn’t too bad meaning online seminars won’t be as torturous as they could be, and flight prices between Greece and the UK usually aren’t prohibitively expensive.
Even though I’m not able to have even the watered down, coronavirus version of the ‘student experience’ for now, there are many hidden advantages to staying at home. Even though most of my friends have gone back to their universities, there is still the hope that the situation in Greece will improve soon enough that I can meet with the few friends I have here that made the same choice as I did to stay home this term. The weather is good, meaning going for my daily exercise is actually bearable. When talking to my friends these days, I’ve started to realise that the highlights in everyone’s lives are the little things right now, and I’m hoping to gain even more appreciation for them while I’m stuck here.
Illustration by Adeline Zhao.