By Marilena Kagkaraki,
Experiencing a pandemic at home is one thing, experiencing a pandemic living abroad is another. Each situation has its challenges. Thus, things are a bit different for those who choose to spend the quarantine in another country. I spent my quarantine in the UK. Let me start by the fact that I came to London to study and do my degree and I spent the last part of it on lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
At first, the bizarre thing was that the UK was two weeks late into lockdown and so despite everyone back home in Greece saying we are in quarantine and being in this new and unsettling situation, we were still strolling around like the pandemic was not a thing. And that is because, at first, in the UK they wanted to see if the lockdown could be avoided. But then, of course, lockdown measures were introduced in London and the UK in general as well.
I was living in a small room, in university halls. At first, I felt frightened as most people did, for I listened to the news and I saw that the situation is something humanity faces as a new threat and something we know so little about. Moreover, news covered how things started to become bad in the UK, but better in Greece, which makes you question things and creates fear.
Then, the second thought of course was that I would have to face that alone in a foreign country, without being able to see anyone I know and mostly without people I felt safe with. In these situations, the biggest challenge I found is that we seek safety with people we are comfortable with and we know really well in an unsafe environment. But, the social distancing requirement had made that impossible for almost all people. At the time, I had not been in the UK for a long time and so it was still not a place I could call home.
That made it harder. I was longing to have something familiar in my life, parents, friends, a constant, anything really. However, that was not the case. Travelling was not an option as it was a health risk but also an expensive trip due to the circumstances. Hence, I had to pack up my strength and stay on my own inside my room with a bed and a desk, gazing out the window or staring at the wall. The pressure was on.
Apart from this new situation and reality, the university assignments had still to be done. At that point, I had mental breakdowns, calling home saying how I just wanted to return and be with my family. Mentally, it was a really difficult period with a lot of pressure. Mostly, the challenge was to stay in between such narrow walks without having a familiar space or human contact. Nonetheless, in the UK it was allowed to go for a walk once a day. So, my routine became to do my assignments as soon as I woke up and then go for walks in the evening to watch the sunset along the riverside in my area.
Despite, all this unsettling situations and challenges, there were moments like these ones, I felt at peace and not unease. Then, things progressively got better and during summer things reopened. Then, the second lockdown happened, which was a bit easier to go through, at least personally, because I moved out of student halls, but also because it became, as sad as it is, a familiar situation to be in and something we all learned how to cope with.
Nowadays, the reality in London is that most things have reopened, which does bring a gleam of hope. Now, moving back into what is called “normality” and to how life was before, I am left with questions. Has this pandemic taught us anything? Will life resume or things will be different? All I know from my personal point of view, is that even in these difficult scenarios people can adapt and face the challenges and that valuing the people in your life is really important. I also discovered that sometimes we are stronger than we might think and that putting ourselves and our well-being first is always key.
This pandemic, I think, was a lesson in many things, and it definitely showed also differences but also key similarities between the different countries and how we all have to manage through crises. After facing challenges and difficult situations, the key is to reflect on those experiences and see what has come out of it.