My experience as an international student during the pandemic

Joining a university and beginning your undergraduate studies is a huge step, one which can make students anxious about every detail. I certainly felt nervous, always thinking about the same questions: Will I meet the entry requirements? How will I live away from home for the first time? Will I be able to finish my course successfully?

To make matters worse, the Covid-19 pandemic broke out. As a result, the May examinations in Brazil were cancelled, travel restrictions were raised and I was feeling as lost as a goose in a snowstorm.

Thankfully, Lancaster kept notifying me with any updates, assuring me that everything would be fine, which really helped me to not freak out. In addition, the year before I visited Lancaster and met with professors, students and a member of the Recruitment team, who gave me contact details if I had any doubts. This was crucial as I had no idea how I would meet the entry requirements due to the unprecedented situation. I entered into contact with the member of the Recruitment team, who understood my position and helped me through. In May, my offer to study at Lancaster was accepted.

After celebrating this achievement, everything was going quite smoothly. I picked my two choices for accommodation and received an offer from Fylde College two months later. I was already planning on what to bring to university and reading every kind of guide, when disaster struck! I was informed there was a problem with my visa. Once more, I contacted the Recruitment team, who helped me again by going step-by-step through what I should do. It took a little time, but my problem was solved and my visa arrived.

However, this issue  delayed my arrival at Lancaster, meaning I missed Welcome Week, as well as the first week of term. Thankfully, the Management School took a blended teaching approach, enabling online workshops for those who could not arrive on campus yet. Therefore, I was able to participate in department day and societies fair all the way from Brazil, making me even more keen to  arrive on campus as I interacted with staff members and fellow students.

Arriving late also helped me. As an international Management School student, I have a secured place on the LUMS Leading Lights programme. This programme consists of second year Management School students giving tips and advice about studying and living at Lancaster University. The first meeting was during Welcome week, thus, if my arrival was not delayed, I would have been already on campus when it happened. So, I was able to clear my doubts about campus before arriving, such as what to bring, what to expect and other questions that only a student could answer.

Finally, I was all set to go to university. Unfortunately, I would need to move to my new home alone due to self-isolation restrictions. However, once I disembarked at Manchester Airport, I was warmly greeted by Lancaster’s student reception, who were waiting for me and helped me get to the shuttle and to campus.

When I arrived on campus, I was guided to the Fylde porter’s lodge, where I was given the keys to my flat, received the international student essentials kit and directions to my room. When I arrived at the front door of my building, still with my luggage and the student kit, I was not able to open it. Fortunately, a fellow student saw that I was struggling and not only opened it, but also taught me how to use it. Embarrassingly, it was very straightforward.

I was kindly welcomed by my flatmates, who added me to their WhatsApp group and were keen to know more about me, even though I still needed to self-isolate. During my isolation period, they offered to buy food from nearby restaurants as well as groceries.

On my first day of freedom from self-isolation, I decided to celebrate by buying a pizza on campus and visiting the city centre. This was right before Halloween, so there was another excuse to celebrate even more. In the next week, I started attending in-person workshops, which I had missed after months of online classes. A countrywide lockdown has now happened, but, as with all the obstacles before, I am sure this will not dishearten my Lancaster experience.

João Mauricio Pinho Neto