Coronavirus: how I was able to travel from Brazil to study in the UK

In a follow-up blog, Brazilian student Lucas Lavoyer outlines what the last few months have been like waiting to find out if he will be able to do his PhD in the UK

September 23 2020
Studying abroad: Do I stay or do I go?

In March, I wrote a blog post for Times Higher Education Student sharing how the coronavirus pandemic had affected my plans to study abroad. At that time, I was a master’s student in Brazil holding a fully funded offer for a PhD in the UK. I had no idea how I would meet all the deadlines, get my visa and travel to the UK. A lot has happened since then.

Being in Brazil during this pandemic was my biggest challenge. Sadly, we were one of the worst hit countries, so my family and I decided to quarantine ourselves in the middle of March, only going out when it was absolutely essential. As the virus is still actively circulating here, we are still shielding. It takes a considerable mental toll but we know we are doing the right thing and that we are lucky to be able to do that in such an unequal country.

My university in Brazil rapidly closed its campus (and this is still the case, with all classes being held online) and gave students the option to defend their dissertation/thesis remotely. This meant I was able to defend my master’s on time and receive my degree.

The University of Warwick (my university in the UK) also helped me a lot through this process. They made sure I would be able to meet all the requirements and that the pandemic would not negatively affect me. They have been, and are still, in contact often and are always ready to help me to the best of their abilities, even in these uncertain times.

As they set out a plan for blended learning, I was thrilled that I would be travelling to the UK for the start of the academic year. This year might look different, but our safety should be the priority and I am proud of how Warwick is making sure that is the case.

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A few measures in place include mandatory face coverings on campus, face-to-face teaching only where social-distancing measures can be in place, hand sanitiser available everywhere, constant and deep cleaning of all the facilities, masks and thermometers for students and staff, and ensuring people can social distance within the facilities. This means a lot of comprehensive signs around campus and reducing the number of people on campus. They set up a test-and-trace system on campus, where any student and staff can get a free test if they develop symptoms.

There is also a lot of information available on Warwick’s website, with guidance on mental health issues, how to stay safe on- and off-campus and also how to keep our local community safe. 

On the other hand, getting my visa on time was no easy task as UK visa application centres around the world closed when the pandemic hit. Even though they started to reopen in June, the centres in Brazil remained closed for a while longer.

After much pressure from various organisations and prospective students, centres reopened in Brazil in late July. I was able to complete my online visa application and booked a slot for the end of August, which would give me time to travel to the UK for the start of the term. It was going to be tight but I was hopeful.

As the centre in my city, Brasília, did not reopen, I had to travel to São Paulo to attend my appointment. São Paulo is 1,000km away from Brasília, but since I didn’t want to get on a plane during this pandemic, my father and I decided to go on a road trip. It was safer but exhausting.

After my appointment, I decided it was time to book a flight to London and sort out my accommodation. I knew my visa could be refused, but plane tickets were already scarce and expensive, so I could not wait any longer. Thankfully, some travel companies had resumed operations in Brazil, so I booked a direct flight to London without major problems – other than the higher price, of course.

I also booked an Airbnb in Warwick for the first two weeks because I knew I would have to self-isolate on arrival. The self-isolation period slowly became my biggest concern, but Warwick were very helpful, offering free transport from Heathrow and Birmingham airports, as well as practical advice on how to get your groceries delivered, how to get a SIM card and how to open a UK bank account before arrival.

With regards to accommodation, I was offered a room in one of the halls, which would have been the safest option, as getting private accommodation in the UK as an international student is no easy task.

However, I was lucky enough to already know one of my future colleagues and he invited me to share a flat with him. My future flatmate is British, so he was able to sort out everything and we had secured a place within days.

I know I was particularly lucky on this, as the flat was previously occupied by two other students we know, so we knew the flat was nice. We also knew we could trust the estate agency. However, I know that many international students struggle to get their accommodation sorted out, especially if they want to stay off-campus.

Three weeks after my appointment, my visa was approved and I had everything ready to travel to the UK, with a flight booked for the next week! 

I had never been so anxious; there were lots of uncertainties concerning my studies, living in Brazil during the coronavirus pandemic and having to make last-minute decisions. I believe it was all worth it.

I am thankful to Warwick for all the support they offered. Not only were they in contact during the whole process but they were very clear about what next term is going to look like, preventive measures and so on. I have been meeting my future supervisor and colleagues online, and I am sure this will help me a lot with the transition to a new country.

In the end, I guess I was lucky. Unfortunately, some very popular student destinations have not opened at all to new international students. I have friends who postponed their plans or are going to start their studies remotely here in Brazil, which brings practical difficulties and prevents the student from having the full experience of studying in a different country.

I believe British universities and the UK government came out with a nice plan to allow international students in the country, especially considering that this is all new and hard to manage. This just adds to my belief that I made the right call in choosing the UK as my study destination. Thankfully, I can now say I will be a PhD student in the UK.

Read Lucas's first blog here: Coronavirus: will I be able to complete my master’s and study in the UK?

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