Leaving your friends and family behind to study abroad is not easy at all. Living in a situation where you are either under lockdown yourself away from ones you love or are seeing your friends in isolation miles away from you is even harder. Here at MDXSU, we want to provide you with spaces to meet others in similar situations as well as get involved with the work we do through our student groups and campaigns as it is commonly known that engaging in social activities helps you feel less isolated. Just during my time as a student here at Middlesex, MDXSU helped me find people with similar background and culture through their societies. It helped me come out of my comfort zone and express my views on what needs to change through their NUS Delegate elections. During all my years in Middlesex University, I have seen and experienced MDXSU’s commitment to helping international students have the same high standard of student experience as everyone else. Especially in these difficult times, I would like to ensure you we are here to support you all so that you can too feel at home away from home. Here’s some advice on how to look after yourself wherever you are.
Regarding any university information and communication, please check out Unihub for any updates relating to your studies and your support first and foremost, as well as communication from your lecturers. In terms of your health, the NHS website is the government recommended source of healthcare information for COVID-19. We’re sure many of you have been checking it, or have visited it at least once, but it is worth remembering amongst all the information you’re receiving. An app many people are starting to use is the COVID-19 symptoms tracker which is being used for research in lieu of the lack of government testing. Recording your symptoms here benefits and provides data to scientific researchers across the UK but primarily at Kings College London in trying to find patterns and hopefully lead to a more accurate picture of the pandemic across the UK, which is something we all want.
As an international student, other major concerns that you might have are your housing, your financial status and your VISA status under lockdown in the UK. A useful website to check out if you haven’t done already is ukCISA which reiterates government decisions related to tier 4 visas. As it stands, all visas which are due to run out earlier this year have been extended to the 31st May free of charge, where the government will review the situation so your status as a non-UK student living here is protected. The site gives lots of information regarding accommodation, communicating with your sponsor, but is also helpful in that it also provides detail on things that it cannot answer yet. Obviously answers would be great, but due to the barrage of information that students are being given, and the common lack of clarity from institutions and services it is helpful when organisations admit to not knowing, but commit to giving us the particular information as soon as they do.
Another helpful site regarding housing and accommodation, particularly if you are privately renting is Shelter, a UK based housing charity which seeks to put pressure on the government to provide accommodation and all types of support to those in precarious living situations.
If you are living in university halls, you can rest assured that you will not be asked to leave even if governmental measures extend beyond the summer- in fact, as per the UniHub page, MDX strongly encourages you to stay inside for your own safety but also appreciates that with a loss of income you might have problems paying your rent. If you find yourself in financial difficulty, please contact University’s Student Welfare Advice Team by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org for further information on support.
Acknowledging that conversations with the government are ongoing and may not satisfy everyone is not the best situation but move us away from the toxic positivity that inhabits a lot of the media. Pretending that everything will be okay and that we will soon be back to ‘business as usual’ devalues our concerns and our right to feel anxious, worried and isolated which are not helpful in situations that are bound to trigger many uncomfortable emotions.
As international students, your mental wellbeing is really important right now - being far from home can conjure up or highlight feelings of homesickness for friends and families miles away, and living in university accommodation isolated in your room can be very difficult to cope with. It can make studying that bit harder, even though you have relatively more time, which puts even more pressure on you in an already highly pressured situation. If you have any problems with your assignments, our MDXSU advice team can support you over Skype or on the phone. As such, be aware that the university and MDXSU are providing online services to support you in trying to make sense of the current situation. The Counselling and Mental Health team (CMH) are providing Connect and Support groups for many different communities of students, including international students to try and support your mental wellbeing. Email them to find out more at CMH@mdx.ac.uk. Also, MDXSU are hosting fortnightly international hangouts international students' hangout on zoom in place of our meet and greet events, and as always, our MDXSU international students Facebook page remains open to join and to post on.
Being aware of our own privilege in these situations because it’s important to support one another, as it is in everyday life. Volunteering for the NHS using the GoodSamapp, or joining your local COVID-19 mutual aid group to help others collect essential items if they are isolating, reassure those who live alone that you are thinking of them, and be able to chat on the phone to people who are nervous and worried makes such a difference in the community. As someone who may speak other languages besides English, your support can be invaluable for people living near you who find it difficult to communicate or who just miss their home. If you are far away from home yourself, supporting others is something that will help you feel more connected to your area, and give you some agency in a time where we can often feel useless. As an international student finding yourself either far away from your friends in your home country or isolated in the UK under lockdown conditions can cause you to feel homesick, either for treasured people in your life or for what your life was like before the virus.
Taking advantage of the activities provided by your Students’ Union, by the university, by your friends and family online, and by volunteering for others in the community, you can feel closer to others around you and help prevent feelings of isolation and helplessness overwhelming you and those in similar positions. Now more than ever it is important to remember how important collective support is. As Coretta Scott King (Martin Luther King’s wife) said, ‘The greatness of a community is more accurately measured by the compassionate actions of its members’. Let’s make use of the compassionate actions of those around us, as well as be as understanding and supportive as we can to go through this together.