Studying abroad mid-global pandemic. Life in Lockdown London.

Hanne Sofie joined the Queen Mary University of London Study Abroad programme in January 2021, in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, when London had entered its third Lockdown. Discover more about her experiences of these strange times below, and how you can always gain something from every experience, no matter how far from ideal that experience might be…!

Hello! My name is Hanne Sofie and I’m an exchange student from Sweden. I study business administration at Stockholm University and in semester 5 we are given the opportunity to study abroad, something I’ve always wanted to do!

When it came around to choose where you wanted to go, the ongoing pandemic of covid-19 played a big part in my options and the possibility that everything would be canceled definitely lingered in the air. Autumn went by in quite a blur, as all the administration was taking place and even though I had been given a place at Queen Mary and everything seemed to fall into place, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wouldn’t be able to go. I said to everyone who asked that I was “fingers crossed” going to be able to go. It made it hard to actually get excited and when I bought the plane ticket to London, I woke up everyday before departure anticipating a “your flight has been cancelled” message, but it never came…

After a few weeks of rapidly increasing cases of Covid-19, London had gone into a lockdown, and as I packed up the last of my things and drove to the airport, I still didn’t think I would actually end up sitting down in a flight chair, something I hadn’t done since January when I went on a ski trip to France right before the virus started to spread globally. It felt surreal as the plane touched down and I was in London. As I travelled to campus, I reflected on the fact that this would be the last time in 10 days that I would be around people since I had to self-isolate. Honestly, the self-isolation period went by so quickly. I had been given plenty of food and I was alone in my flat, so I could move around freely inside, and by the time the 10 days were up, it almost felt like I had done something bad when I went outside for the first time.

I’m not usually someone who cares about what other people think of me and what I do, but this time I felt a bit of guilt that I took advantage of the privilege to travel in the middle of a pandemic. Since being here that guilt has gone away as I’ve gotten to know other exchange students also here in London, and gotten support both from them and my loved ones back home. For me I did question whether I should go or not before coming, but I then came to the realisation that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, especially after Brexit, where moving to London will never be as easy as it was. Yes, lockdown is not the most ideal situation, but honestly my life back in Sweden kinda felt like living in lockdown with the exception that I still worked and nothing was closed.

My approach has been that this is an experience, and as my mom said “think about how good it will look when you apply for jobs – you moved to a country in lockdown, not knowing anybody, on your own. That shows how you handle set-backs and adapting skills.”. Of course I did not move to London to boost my CV, but because this is a city I love, and I wanted to have time to explore more than you can do on a weekend trip. London is a beautiful city and on the good days that I’ve had since moving here I have been able to enjoy long walks and actually getting a feel for the city. In the end I don’t regret going on this exchange program and I try to tell those in doubt that you have nothing to worry about, all will be well and you will have an experience you won’t forget.

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