A logistical labyrinth: Studying abroad post-Brexit and Covid

A guide for what to do when your future location can only be narrowed down to ‘Planet Earth’

In the history of exchange programs, no doubt did I pick the most challenging year. Year 3000 had arrived, not much had changed, but the government had finally concluded Brexit negotiations, and international borders were finally open.

Being in the final year of my law degree, I had never had any plans to study abroad. Online learning from Covid had quashed my passion for learning, and I was eager to walk away from academics briskly. Little did I know that six months later, I would be writing this article from my beautiful Italian apartment, looking out onto my balcony as I begin my Erasmus exchange program in Italy! But the world has certainly made me work for it.

Narrowing down a location

Lancaster’s international department emailed me detailing how Covid had led to the planned exchange programs in my degree cycle being cancelled. They asked if law students would like to opt-in. Suppose we would accept the financial and other risks associated with travelling during a pandemic that had scared many others away. Without hesitation, I began writing my application essay to be considered. Initially, I was offered Australia, my first choice. I was ecstatic but told to remain indifferent, plan to graduate in Lancaster in June, plan for other countries. So I formed contingencies for every outcome due to the precarious world situation.

It took a lot of resilience to be cool because I could only narrow my location for the end of the year down to ‘planet Earth’ for many months. Would I be graduating this year and moving six hours away back to Lancaster? Or would I travel twenty-four hours away to Perth, Australia? Europe? America? I just knew I had to pack for whatever or wherever was next. It was an incredible privilege to have so many doors open but brought many new emotions and challenges.

With Australia’s borders remaining firmly closed, it was decision time. If I sent out applications for other countries, would they too cancel because of Covid? How much time and money would I be risking on opportunities that might never come to fruition? I took a couple of months away to collect my thoughts and started putting down roots in the legal industry in case I was graduating this year. Then an email flashed on my phone, it was a formal acceptance letter for Trento, Italy, and I had instant butterflies.

Administrative Jumanji

The true administrative Jumanji was the visa process for Italy. Thanks, Brexit. I travelled to London, anxiously clutching my paperwork, to discover that the Consulate’s website does not inform you that the only agency they allow you to book through, VFS, have their requirements… With tears brewing, I was given half an hour to make phone calls and emails to summon the rest of the paperwork. A 15-minute appointment turned into three and a half hours. I felt like Tom Hanks in The Terminal watching applicants come and go.

Sure enough, I pulled it off. Finally sat and had a snack and a beer, when I received a phone call from their office saying she had given me a document back by mistake, could I come back tomorrow. I told her I was down the road and could run back before they closed in 15 minutes. So I tipped my remaining pint into a to-go coffee cup and ran like Forest Gump.

A million setbacks

All was calm in Whoville until two weeks later; I received an email stating my visa application had been denied and required further documents. The eye-watering figure of funds stipulated online and verbally requested to evidence increased three times. Alongside other discrepancies between their regulations and the communications I received. All in all, this happened three times. Meaning I had to move my flight (and pay for it) three times, incurring more costs, and I missed a month of classes in Trento.

I had increasing pressure to cut my losses from people around me, “it isn’t meant to be”, but I have never been one to back down. Instead, I began writing a letter. I explained my situation, copied in sections of their regulations, explained how I had complied and pleaded that they reconsider their decision due to their contradictions. There was unsettling silence for weeks until I received a text that my visa had been, at last, been dispatched – my letter worked! Can I consider making a government consulate change their mind as my first win as a lawyer?

All’s well that ends well

Of course, there were always going to be discrepancies in understanding the new rules we all face in the international plane from the aftermath of Brexit and Covid. I am so grateful to have had this opportunity and immensely proud that I stuck it out. In the best way, this new, if temporary, life I have made for myself here in Italy is both nothing and everything like I could have hoped.

Looking back and reflecting on the process now, I am settled here. I believe those hurdles provided me with the resilience and confidence to make the most of this opportunity and all others my life and career will bring.

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