A tricky Eurostar journey, quarantine and a newfound love for Marmite…

Marcel from the University of Zürich in Switzerland reviews what a difference a year can make, from the point of applying to study abroad, to finally getting here…

Over a year ago, after visiting a few events and talking with some people, I got excited about doing an exchange semester. I talked about it with my girlfriend and she jumped on the bandwagon. We decided to both leave our home in Zürich (Switzerland) at the same time in pursuit of a new place to call home, if only for half a year. Since we’re both committed to living sustainably, flying wasn’t really an option, so we set our targets inside Europe. For me it was clear I wanted to meet a new culture, but I also wanted to be able to speak with locals in their mother tongue, so it wasn’t long before I settled on the UK.

As I said before, this was over a year ago. When I filed my application, the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU was yet to be signed and stories of a newly discovered infectious disease in faraway China were just starting to get some media attention. So, it’s a bit of an understatement to say that things didn’t turn out to be quite the way I was expecting them to be. But, if this ordeal has taught me anything, it’s that planning for the future is never risk-free, you just have to take your chances.

I ended up starting the semester still in Switzerland. In part because I still had on-site exams at my home university (although I probably could have arranged something to avoid that), in part to get to enjoy some free time with my girlfriend before parting our own ways (the autumn semester had just recently ended by then). Having online classes obviously made this a lot easier and I knew I wouldn’t miss out all too much by waiting two weeks before going to locked-up London.

When the expected day came, I took a train to Paris to then get the Eurostar to cross the channel. Funnily enough, my coronavirus test wasn’t accepted by the border authorities. The reason: German was not an accepted language. Surely no one would’ve misunderstood ‘negativ’! Well, that and I forgot to fill a form needed to enter the country (but those are minor details!). In the end I didn’t have the time to get both things and had to stay for the night in the City of Light.

Now it’s been three weeks since I arrived in London. Getting to my dorm on campus after that longer-than-expected journey was a relief. Not only because I wouldn’t have to carry all that luggage around anymore, but because what used to feel like only a possibility, was finally a certainty. I was here, the exchange was actually taking place! Obviously, I first had to do some quarantine, so I was stuck by myself in my dorm for the next ten days. I’ve got to say, it wasn’t a huge deal. I still had an (online) oral exam to prepare for and not being able to move around, I made quite a few calls back home that I probably wouldn’t have done otherwise. Looking back, it was a calm time and it felt like a journey on its own. I felt like I was in a parallel universe with a time and space of its own. It gave me a moment to reflect about the past few weeks in preparation for this moment and to contemplate the new reality I was getting into.

Since then, I’ve gotten to explore the neighbourhood and to know a few other students. Because of all the restrictions put in place, it’s hasn’t been that much yet, but I enjoy every new person and experience I get to have. Visiting the parks and canals, trying new things out (e.g. I’m on a marmite journey now) and just immersing myself in the general vibe of this vibrant city, even at a time like this, is a privilege I’m not going to let go to waste. And to all of you reading, I hope you do so too, wherever that is!

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