“It was strange to return to the UK this year…”

Newcastle student blog

Introducing Joylynn: International Student Guest Blogger

Joylynn is an international student from Malaysia. She is studying Speech and Language Therapy at Newcastle University. Here she shares what it was like coming back to the UK in the middle of a global pandemic.

It was strange to return to the UK this year as a second-year student. I knew that Covid-19 brought along a new norm, but I don’t think I truly understood what that would mean for the new academic year. How could I when this was so unlike anything else that I had experienced?

Coming back to Newcastle this time round I was incredibly excited to catch up with my friends, join the university frisbee team and travel around in the UK. However, it has been difficult to do any of these things due to the restrictions. Furthermore, some of my international friends have not come back to the UK for the start of this new term like I did, but are only doing so next year.

During my first year, I found myself in university on most weekdays and the importance of physical attendance was routinely highlighted. Now, it is actually a requirement to not show up on campus for lectures and seminars. While I miss the social interaction and the experience of being taught in a classroom, it is quite nice that I get to carry out each pre-recorded lecture at my own time and pace. It also means that I get to sleep in more as I have fewer 9am lectures to speed walk to, which is a win for me!

However, I find that being stuck indoors, alongside an increase in screen time, does become tiresome. On top of that, there is also a massive load of material to be covered during the start of each week which can get stressful. I am very thankful for my support system which consists of my housemates and some other friends from my course and church which made easing into my second year easier.

Looking After Myself

It can be tough to push through on the not so good days, when everything seems overwhelming. As I struggled with my mental health during this new academic year, and from the day-to-day responsibilities that come with being away from home, I knew that I had to find a balance with the different aspects of my life. So, I would take a step back (or a few) and cut myself a break whether it was through watching shows on Netflix, treating myself to an Uber Eats delivery or giving myself a day off to go to the beach. I also find that it’s nice to sometimes be intentional in my actions, as in intentionally reaching out to go on a walk with a mate or ringing up some of my friends from back home. However, it is not always easy to properly catch up with my friends from my home country due to the difference in time zones. I think it’s especially easy in this time to drift apart from people due to fewer opportunities of actually coming into contact, but it’s refreshing to initiate and have a catchup session.

Throughout this year, I am reminded of how easy it is to get caught up in everything that is happening around me and of the anxiety that comes along with the uncertainty in life. At the same time, I begin to grasp the importance of taking care of my physical, mental and emotional health. I realised that as well as all the other responsibilities I had on my mind, it was also my responsibility to prioritise my wellbeing. This could mean taking some time off from my day-to-day tasks to find some headspace through journaling, cooking more often and eating healthier snacks, limiting my use of social media, going for a quick run or walk and so on. I used to not be bothered to incorporate exercise into my week but now it’s just a good reason to get myself out of the house so I don’t feel cooped up. In some ways, I realised that I have many things to be grateful about although it’s easy to lose track of my blessings especially now. I am now starting to appreciate the little things in life even more, a yummy meal or good weather will make me smile.

Connecting With Family

During the summer break, I was supposed to meet up with my siblings back home but was unable to do so due to international travel restrictions. As of now, the time difference makes it hard for my siblings and I to all communicate together. Still, I get to talk to them individually through video calls and text messages which is not ideal but is something that I am glad I get to do. My parents properly stocked me up with some masks (standard closet item now, really) before I flew back here and now call me up each week. It is very nice to know that they are still looking out for me even though they are so far away.

This is no doubt a challenging time and I am learning to be patient both in the process of what’s happening around me in the world and with my own personal growth. Now, I can see this season as a blessing in disguise where I get the opportunity to take a step back from the usual buzz of life and reprioritise myself.

I hope that you, my friend, will find the little joys in life to keep you going, take care!

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