This is really what it’s like to be stuck isolating in a UCL halls for two weeks

One student said she had to leave her food out the window

It’s that time of the year where freshers flock to university to have the craziest week of their lives, desperately trying to destroy their livers, avoid the dreaded freshers’ flu and attend as many club nights as is humanly possible.

But not this year. Freshers are coming to London in the midst of COVID-19 and are flooded with rules and regulations. Freshers’ flu will no longer be a slight irritation that gives you the snuffles in your Wednesday stats lecture, but a taboo associated with the dreaded rona that will leave you, and probably your entire flat, isolating for two weeks alone in your uni room. We’ve already seen from the chaos occurring at Manchester Met and across the rest of the country how stressful isolation can be.

However, regardless of the dreaded flu and busy nights out, many international students have no choice but to quarantine when they come to UCL to study.  Those from countries not on the exempt list must quarantine for two weeks to ensure that they do not show symptoms.

Initially, the thought of moving into your halls without being able to make new friends, explore and get comfortable with your new flatmates sounds torturous. However, some of the students we spoke to had a very different experience to our expectations.  Nadia, a first-year quarantining, told The Tab that she was actually enjoying her time in isolation. “I feel good about quarantine”, she said, “I’ve been keeping myself busy with different activities linked to university, family and others”.

So maybe after all that scaremongering it’s not all that bad?

Other students, however, had a less positive opinion of the experience. 60 per cent of the students we spoke to said it was difficult being alone and it was very hard being unable to familiarise themselves with new surroundings.

Cannelle, another quarantining student told The Tab: “14 days is a very long time especially when you are not allowed to get some fresh air or to have any human contact. Some of us just left our country and our family so it’s tough.”

For many students, university is their first extended time away from home, so having to add a quarantine to all the stresses of being in a new environment certainly doesn’t make this emotionally overwhelming experience any easier. Doing the two week period in isolation has certainly been taking its toll on UCL student’s mental health.

We spoke to one student Jenna, who said that she had suffered a break down at 3 am, and because of the isolation she had to deal with that with only the support from a video chat. Unfortunately, there’s only so much support you can receive through a bedroom door or via the UCL nightline.

Many international students are also incredibly confused as to whether they need to be isolating in the first place because they say the university has been providing unclear advice and the government website is no better. One student told us that because so many countries have different regulations they felt as though they were wasting their time. “Why should Swedish students only have to quarantine for 10 days whilst the rest of us quarantine for 14?”, one student said.

One of the biggest problems with the quarantine at UCL was logistics. Many students were constantly hungry and stuck wearing dirty, smelly clothes because of the limits placed on using communal facilities. Quarantining students aren’t allowed to use their kitchens in self-catered accommodation so they have to order non-perishable groceries that need little preparation or order all of their food in for two weeks. I don’t know about you but living off canned beans and dry cereal doesn’t sound too pleasant?

We spoke to Malena about her experience, which is honestly tragic. She said: “I had to leave food outside my window to keep it cool (to stop it smelling) and some birds tried to eat it”.

Mmmm that’s a great alternative to a fridge…

Whilst this was the case in some halls, rules seem to differ depending on the accommodation, as other students have had a more relaxed experience with access to their kitchen and fresh air when needed. Whilst this is great for students in these relaxed halls it is even more infuriating for those who are trapped in incredibly strict environments. It is indisputably unfair that students appear to be being treated differently during their quarantine depending on what halls they were randomly allocated.

We spoke to UCL regarding the circumstances and a spokesperson said:

“We are sorry to hear about these concerns and would encourage anyone with issues to please contact our accommodation team as soon as possible.

“The health and wellbeing of UCL’s students is our highest priority. We have put in place a detailed package of support for our international students who have been quarantining – including assistance with day-to-day living such as supporting with food and medical deliveries and rubbish collection.

“To support wellbeing, the virtual Flourish programme provides daily sessions including yoga, fitness and social activities, such as quizzes, helping students keep active and facilitate community engagement.

“In addition the Student Support and Wellbeing Team’s Student Psychological and Counselling Services are providing dedicated online support to students in quarantine, with sessions on mindfulness, managing anxiety and sleep, as well as providing the chance of one-to-one or group discussion.

“Students Resident Advisors and the UCL Outreach team are also making regular welfare calls to students in quarantine in UCL accommodation.

“We will continue to monitor the measures we have in place and ensure those students who have to self-isolate have access to UCLs’ full range of education and welfare services.”

Ultimately, the message we got from students is that your mindset makes a huge difference whilst quarantining. The busier you keep yourself and the more routined you keep your life, the better the experience will be. Quarantine isn’t just staring at a wall and doing nothing, but a time to mentally and academically prepare for the beginning of term.

However, no mindset can completely fix mouldy plates of food, not being able to do your laundry and being trapped indoors 24 hours a day whilst some of your mates are taking their hour of daily exercise.