Foreigners Reveal What Shocked Them Most About Pandemic Life in the UK

“I was very shocked about COVID parties. I just thought, ‘Why would you do that, what are they thinking?’”
December 8, 2020, 9:15am
International students Viktória, Francisca and Kay.
International students Viktória (left to right), Francisca and Kay. All photos courtesy the subjects. 

This year is one we’ll all remember – if for the wrong reasons – but it has been particularly tough on students. In the middle of a global pandemic, international students were encouraged to come to study in the UK. Once here, they found themselves subject to patchy online learning and extortionate rent, and even quarantined in their new halls of residence

I spoke to some overseas students at British universities about how they coped in 2020, and what shocked them the most about pandemic life in the UK. 

“Some people posted things like, ‘Oh, there’s a cool party here’”


Viktória. All photos courtesy the subjects.

I was very shocked at hearing about COVID parties. I’m in a university group on Facebook where there are thousands of students living in Cardiff. Some people posted things like, “Oh, there’s a cool party here.” I just thought, “Why would you do that? What are they thinking?” Fortunately, most of the other students commented things like, “Why would you risk your life? Why would you risk your family's health?”

Parties happen mostly in shared houses. I live in a student hall now, and we actually can't have any guests. They are quite strict about it, which is really good. Viktória, Hungary

“I knew I was taking a risk coming over”



My life here in the UK is a little bit less than what I expected it to be – but I also kind of expected it, if that makes sense? I was preparing mentally for the worst. I knew I was taking a risk coming over: there was COVID and everything was very uncertain. I'm in a very fortunate position because I have a scholarship. A lot of my friends are studying as self-funded or it’s their parents who pay their tuition fees, and they are really, really disappointed. They’re not getting value for money.

Online learning has been quite a challenge and, at the end of term, I don’t even know how much I've truly absorbed in terms of knowledge. It definitely is not as engaging and I'm quite concerned that I haven't learned as much because I haven’t spoken to people a lot. Joy, South Africa.

“Not having a graduation ceremony was really sad”


It wasn’t exactly a shock because we knew the impact of the pandemic, however, not having a graduation ceremony was really sad. Any student wants to make their parents proud but as a European student, you leave your family behind and you come to a different country to study. You feel that you have to prove yourself to your parents. You dream of inviting them to the graduation, and having them see you along with the other students and finishing on a high.

It’s also a very difficult time to be a graduate. You have these expectations based on what people tell you. We were supposed to spend years at university and, once out, find a job. It’s not like that for this year’s graduates. I finished university but I couldn’t find a job, so I felt stuck in a limbo. Francisca, Portugal.

“Socialising is not easy”



Socialising is not easy. I was supposed to have a flatmate but he didn’t join, so I’m alone in my home. Before coming to the UK, I had planned on staying with flatmates but it’s impossible now – I’m left on my own. Luckily, there is a neighbour who I can talk to. He comes from India as well, so at least I am able to interact with him. Shammi, India.

“We are in crazy times, so it's a bit weird not being able to party”



We are in crazy times, so it's a bit weird not being able to party. My freshers week was online, so I didn't even go because I couldn't see the point in staying in my studio instead of visiting new places. I went on hikes instead.

Until a few weeks ago, I was still in Scotland. I was so surprised that people there were just so respectful in terms of social distancing and wearing face masks. At the moment, I’m here in France to work during the holidays and people are not like that. I went grocery shopping with one of my friends and people are just not paying attention. Eva, France.

“I was very surprised that people were so against wearing a mask”



I was very surprised back in March when the UK didn't realise there was a problem. Way before lockdown, my parents, who are doctors in Singapore, were calling and telling me to be careful, get hand sanitiser and be aware of what I was touching. We should have had a lockdown immediately in the UK. The herd immunity strategy was absolute bullshit to me. 

I was also very surprised that people were so against wearing a mask when their argument is that the mask might not necessarily prevent the spread of COVID. To me, masks are one additional thing that you can do that helps. Kay, Singapore.

“It's ridiculous that have to pay £9,000 for completely online lectures” 



Pandemic life is completely different, it’s just so alienating. I feel really sorry for first-year students because when I was a fresher, it was nice to just do things with my classmates and other students, or go for coffee.

It's ridiculous to me that we have to pay £9,000 or more for completely online lectures where you're basically teaching yourself. I personally have maybe learned one new thing in the three and a half months I've been at uni. In terms of tuition, that’s three grand.

Obviously, the government hasn't provided any relief to universities, otherwise they would, hopefully, have lowered tuition fees for students. Marta, Spain and the United States