Why I stayed
Anna Romanovska illustrates how displaced international students bear the brunt of COVID-19
COVID-19 has caused a lot of disturbance in people’s lives. You may have noticed a wave of your international friends packing their bags and leaving – fearful of not seeing their homes and families. But there are those who stayed. All of us have been taunted by lectures. That we are irresponsible for going home. That it is our fault that we didn’t go home when we could have.
Perhaps what you don’t know is that we weren’t given the green light to go home until it was too late. The university provided the support systems needed to undertake our degree responsibilities abroad at a time when many borders had already closed. I was told to go home a day after my borders shut. I know people who have had to interrupt their studies to go home before it was too late. I will, however, clarify that the blame should not be completely placed on the university. They had no guidance from their government.
I was told to go home a day after my borders shut.
The choices we make are not our own and we are thus stuck in an impossible situation. The following is an account of why I chose to stay, despite my own protests, and my coping with my decision. Perhaps it will provide you with a feeling of solidarity or empathy.
I keep in touch with my dad daily. We send each other memes (he’s 61 and I am a proud daughter) and rants about the incompetence within the UK and Czech leaderships. I miss him dearly and do not know when I will see him next. I worry every day. Two days ago, my mum sent me an e-mail, telling me she too was now being asked to work from home. The issue with this? She has no internet. I cannot reach her any other way and I have never felt so distant from my family than now. At the moment, chances are I won’t hear from her again until May, or June, or July. And that scares me.
…I have never felt so distant from my family than now.
I feel lost. I see posts telling me to ‘stay positive’, to ‘be kind to myself’. But I can’t. There is so much on the line. If this pandemic means I’ll be unable to settle down in the United Kingdom, I will simply be screwed. I cannot work in my home country, my qualifications and lack of writing proficiency in my mother tongue prevent me from doing so. I am currently without a job and the way this has impacted my studies means I will be unable to obtain my degree until September. That’s five months without a full-time graduate job, without a stable income. And there are many more people in my situation.
I chose to stay in the UK throughout this because the Brexit-infused hostile immigration climate here would have reset my future application for settled status or a residence permit, and the last three years would have gone down the drain. I chose to stay because everything I own is now here. I chose to stay because there is someone here with whom I see a future. And I chose to stay because I am estranged from my homeland. I am Czech but my mind is not. It’s an Anglophonic intruder, staining the language and culture with its imperfect grammar and pronunciation. I feel so judged by a non-existent audience peering into my life, a creation of my anxiety-ridden brain.
I am Czech but my mind is not. It’s an Anglophonic intruder, staining the language and culture with its imperfect grammar and pronunciation.
According to them, I am a terrible daughter who has chosen living with her boyfriend over being at home with my dad and stepmother. What they forget is that I would be in a two-week quarantine. Alone. With a guaranteed spiral into the deepest depths of my depression and PTSD. That I cannot risk, not for me, not for you, not for anyone.
I feel guilt. Guilt for not taking the last flight home when I could have. Guilt for imposing on my boyfriend’s family’s life. Guilt for not having the energy to reach out to my own friends because I am too exhausted from worrying and keeping track of deadlines and trying to keep myself afloat. I carry a constant hollow feeling. That something is missing. That my future is uncertain. That I am not there.
But I am lucky. So incredibly lucky. My boyfriend’s family has welcomed me into their home with the greatest understanding anyone could hope for in this situation. He continues to support me and distract me from my fears and there is no doubt that he has become my rock throughout all my panics and all my tears. I may be away from my own blood, but if my battles with untenable family relationships have taught me anything; the family you have is the family you choose.
…if my battles with estrangement have taught me anything; the family you have is the family you choose.
So, if there is anything you can take from my rambling, make it this: reach out to your friends who are estranged from their families; your international friends; those who are alone with no loved ones; those who grieve. Use your comfort and your time to reach out to those who may not want to impose on others. They need you.