Cancelled flights and extended visas: we spoke to Lancs students spending their year abroad in lockdown

Florida’s alligators have nothing on Lancaster’s ducks

When you sign up to a year abroad you don’t exactly expect a pandemic to happen. In fact, the last thing you expect to hear is: “Everything is cancelled because of a global pandemic.” However, this is a reality for many Lancaster students.

Deciding to participate in a year abroad degree scheme can be an exciting experience that is said to change your life. As expected, when you are thousands of miles away from home it can be incredibly daunting. Imagine how much more daunting it would be when restrictions are put in place and the plans you have spent months looking forward to are cancelled.

We have spoke to two Lancaster students for whom this nightmarish turn of events is a reality.

Haddi Malik

Haddi is a second-year Politics student who was studying a year abroad in the US. Due to current events he is now living in Mexico.

How was your US experience before it was interrupted?

“My experience in the US was bloody great, parties, politics, and good old American junk food. Sorry Lancaster but the module options were a lot better, more personal, and rigorous. I was involved in the outdoor adventures club and we went climbing in places like the smokies in Tennessee.”

Have you had plans cancelled because of coronavirus?

“Well I was supposed to be back in the UK last week, but now I’m in Mexico so I guess things turned out pretty well. I know this wasn’t the same for everyone as Lancaster was intent on forcing students back home even though the UK was was one of the hardest hit countries in the world.”

Why did you decide to move to Mexico, as opposed to coming back to the UK?

“So a mate I’d made in the USA is from there and hence I got to stay with him and his family. Fresh air, picturesque scenery and learning a new culture was miles better than going back. I’ve been here for 2 months, ever since my university abroad cancelled in-person classes.”

How are you finding life in Mexico?

“I’ve loved Mexico ever since I got here, the people, the language and the culture is pretty beautiful. I wish I’d learned a bit more Spanish! My favourite things about living in Mexico are the fresh food, living in a small community and basically near a huge mountain.”

You’re very active within the refugee community, how are you continuing this work in Mexico?

“So I’m living in the state of Tlaxcala or the so-called “armpit of Mexico”. The community is pretty rural and suffered its first death a week ago. Many working class people can’t afford to stay at home in self isolation or take a day off work, so they have to continue about their daily lives. I saw there was an absence in government providing emergency resources so my mate (Oscar) and I decided to ask family and friends for money to buy resources.”

“We were then able to distribute basic essentials such as beans, oil and rice amongst others, as well as a small cash allowance to 45 families. We have some money left over so we’re giving another 10 families a cash stipend too. But this has been part of a bigger campaign of awareness raising (about how people can catch the virus) as well as pressuring the local government for aid. Honestly, if it wasn’t for my mate who could speak Spanish I couldn’t have gotten anywhere.”

What was your US university’s response to coronavirus & lockdown?

“They cancelled in-person classes but didn’t eject dorms. A load of my mates at other unis like WashU in Missouri had 4 days to evict their dorms which really impacted poorer and working class students who had nowhere to go.”

Do you feel that you have been given sufficient support by Lancaster and your host university during the pandemic?

“Lancaster has given a little support in the form of emails, etc. But there was a lot of pressure to come home because they said that they may cancel insurance which hits hard on students who come on a budget.”

Olivia Thackeray

Olivia is a Lancaster student who is currently on a study abroad programme at the University of Florida.

Where are you stuck in lockdown?

“I’m in Gainesville, Florida! I was on a study abroad programme at the University of Florida.”

Did you choose to stay in Florida?

“My flight back to England in May was cancelled and my visa was extended so I decided to stay out here in the sun for a few extra months. Luckily my accommodation lease ended in August so originally I was going to sublease my room but seeing as I’m staying now it’s worked out pretty well!”

How did lockdown affect your study abroad programme?

“The last few months were all online which was a shame as campus was shut down so I didn’t get to enjoy my final months on campus with all my friends. Some of my friends have also left Gainesville and gone home so I probably won’t get a chance to see some of them before I leave!”

What is the situation like where you are isolated?

“Things are actually beginning to open up again. I feel like it’s been less serious out here than England based on what I’m hearing. I’ve been mainly chilling by the pool and enjoying the sun… there could be a lot worse places to be stuck! I’ve also been getting involved with trends like tie-dyeing, and of course – baking banana bread!”

What have the universities done to support you? Do you think they could have done something more?

“The uni have been in frequent contact, making sure I have the support I need. There’s not a lot more I could ask them to do, to be honest. My only concern was that study abroad students weren’t being as compensated for in terms of grades as much as Lancs students, as the universities in the US altered grading for their students according to their specific degree structure which is, of course, different to England. This means that the schemes they put in place regarding grade changes were of no benefit to me. Lancaster have said they will address this issue though.”

What do you miss most about Lancs?

“I miss the ducks! Having alligators on campus is cool, but they’ve got nothing on Lancaster’s ducks! In fact, the ducks at Lancaster are probably more aggressive than the gators out here!”

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