Hi everyone! My name is Anna Shoultz and I am a senior spending my last semester here in London, England with USAC. My home university is the University of Alabama where I major in Spanish and minor in both creative media and global and cultural perspectives. I am finishing my undergraduate experience here by taking modules that relate to the creative media portion of my degree and am excited to continue learning even as my college career comes to an end.
In this piece, I talk a little bit about what it was like to come to London during the most recent lockdown, quarantine and USAC support. Here’s to hoping that we can all get back out there and travel in the near future! This piece was originally written for my personal travel blog which you can read here.
Study Abroad During a Pandemic
As I sit in the international departures terminal of JFK, I can’t help but think about how crazy this all is. Being able to travel anywhere, let alone to the United Kingdom during a pandemic that has been raging for nearly a year now. – A note I wrote to myself on January 28, 2021
I actually began my personal experience with this pandemic in Chile last March during another USAC program, so this moment feels really full circle to me. I have not only been fortunate enough to study abroad multiple times but have been able to navigate doing so during a global pandemic. I don’t know that this would be possible without the support that USAC has given and am so glad to know that I chose an organization that is not only affordable, but that genuinely cares about the wellbeing of students and goes out of their way to offer whatever support is needed.
Travel to London
My experience at the airport was a good one with masks worn everywhere. The only times I really noticed people without masks was when they took a few minutes to eat or drink, and most were good about putting them right back on. As I took some time to complete some remote work and spread out in an empty section of my gate, I noticed the same woman coming back with disinfectant to continuously clean every open surface. The experience felt more familiar than I expected after such a long time away from this type of travel.
There were no more than 10 people in the entire back section of my international flight from New York to London, not surprising given the lockdown the U.K. is under, but comforting nonetheless. Hand sanitizer was absolutely everywhere, and many people had on face shields, not as a substitute for a mask but as another layer of protection on top of their masks. Social distancing was pretty well in place but some people followed this a little less than others so I did have to be aware of my spatial area more diligently. I was reminded that the ability to travel at any given moment, let alone during a global situation such as this one, is such a privilege. It is one that I am hoping to make the most of and not for a second take for granted.
The first communication I received upon my arrival to London was no more than 20 minutes after I stepped off the plane when our Resident Director checked in with me. I was impressed by how quickly he reached out to make sure that I got through the customs line alright, as procedures are ever-changing to accommodate the current situation. The same can be said about London Metropolitan’s study abroad department who confirmed that I had arrived without trouble that morning.
These two separate communications really set the tone for the support to come during my quarantine and adjustment period. The staff at London Met has been nothing but attentive, quickly responding to any and all questions I have had thus far. Jeremy, our USAC Resident Director, has done a great job at helping us feel supported and engaged through online classes, navigating this experience once our self-isolation periods ended and getting us excited about what is to come as London works toward loosening lockdown restrictions.
My quarantine period was 10 days long and was filled with yoga, journaling, sessions through London Met and daily USAC reflections. It also involved Netflix and FaceTiming friends and family daily (something I wouldn’t normally be doing) to feel connected, especially since only two other people are on my USAC program this time around.
During that period of self-isolation, I received daily emails from Jeremy about the 8 Dimensions of Wellness which included prompts for the topic of the day and some updates about COVID. Included in these emails were also points highlighted from our study abroad handbook, self-guided walking tours so that we would have something to look forward to once quarantine ended, lists of places to safely explore in our neighborhood, and lots of links to articles about London.
Along with a few FaceTime check-ins, we had a virtual USAC orientation (induction here in the U.K.) session that covered the typical points about school, culture shock, and what to expect, but also offered ample health and safety information.
This semester, while atypical, has been exciting and unique because we are getting a chance to see London in such a different light. My first week out of quarantine, Jeremy even met up with us briefly, outside and masked, to give us some baked goods and USAC merch! While he designed self-guided walking tours in the beginning of the program for us to use as the lockdown continued, he has also been great at letting us know what we may or may not be able to do, as a (very tiny) group of three, as some of the restrictions are beginning to lift.
As these restrictions are changing and we have had the possibility of doing some day trips to places like Oxford and Brighton over our spring break period, I am further reassured that I made the right decision by coming here right now.
It has been an educational journey that has reminded me once again about the importance of flexibility in our daily lives but also with the plans we are making for the future. Sometimes the unexpected really is the best thing for our personal growth and I know that can be applied to my life here as I continue experiencing the most authentic side of London in a safe way.