Students at universities across the UK are yet another sector of society which has been through hell as the country grapples with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Not only have thousands of students been forced to self-isolate in their halls of residence following a number of coronavirus outbreaks on campus but many have expressed that they have turned to drugs to deal with the stress and boredom.
This week, as England emerges from its second national lockdown and enters another complicated system of tiers, many students are taking advantage of the 'travel window', lasting from 3rd to 9th December, which will see universities offer COVID-19 tests for students who want to head home for the holidays as part of Boris Johnson's pledge to "get students home safely for Christmas".
Lauren McGaun, a second-year politics and American studies student at the University of Nottingham, says she will be going home to Leeds to see her family as she hasn't been getting on with her housemates this year. "We got on well for the first two months but with everyone being locked down, I think it has impacted us all really badly and now I don't speak to my other three housemates as we were constantly arguing about little things."
She says she only uses their house's shared living spaces to eat, has already informed her housemates that she will be moving out and is looking for someone to take over her contract. "My housemate isn't happy. She'll do things now to deliberately get me to leave, such as moving my food or hoovering the living room when I'm trying to eat."
The 20-year-old has had a rocky start to the term and feels that the pandemic has only worsened her time at university, noting its impact on her mental health. "It has been really isolating and I've missed my family a lot," she says, adding that her housemates were wary of catching COVID, which meant none of them could leave the house to meet other friends on campus. "Although my family are two hours away in Leeds, it isn't easy for me to get home and I couldn't get home for my birthday either, which was difficult."
My room has started to feel like a prison cell.
Understandably, then, Lauren has jumped at the opportunity to visit her family. "I'm just excited to go home for the holidays and not have to worry about what's going on at university and chill at home, eating and watching films," she says. "My mum is looking forward to me coming home too, we're going to make the most of it."
Paris Williams, a 22-year-old student at Goldsmiths in London, has also had enough of being cooped up in her university accommodation. Although she was pleased to head back to university at the beginning of term, she's fed up of paying rent to "just sit" in her room.
"My room has started to feel like a prison cell as I'm also working from home," she tells Refinery29. "I'm desperate for a change of scenery."
"I've been incredibly sad recently, especially with the dark nights with nothing to do," she says. "Usually I can have friends in my room but due to COVID, it's been really isolating as all my friends and boyfriend live in flats or at home, so I can't even visit them."
Paris, who is studying politics, philosophy and economics, says she'll be heading home to York on 15th December. "I'm so excited. There will be someone to talk to 24/7 and I'll get to see my gorgeous pug called Dennis."
Magazine journalism student Amy Missin, who is studying at the University of Gloucestershire, won't be going home during the travel window. "I use Adobe software and a recording studio for my studies, so I need to use the facilities here for assignments that are due in December and early January."
Seeing my family and my cavapoo, Bruce, is my top priority. But I've got to say, eating roast potatoes is up there too.
While some universities have a testing system in place for those leaving campus within the travel window, students opting to travel home at a later date will only be able to get a test if they are symptomatic.
"I'm annoyed that the government isn't offering testing for people going home later. I really want to see my family but I don't want to put them at risk just so I can go home." However, the 20-year-old says she will be returning to Peterborough to see her family on 18th December when term ends. "I'm looking forward to just having a chill Christmas after such a weird and full-on year," she adds. "Seeing my family and my cavapoo, Bruce, is my top priority. But I've got to say, eating roast potatoes is up there too."
If you are struggling with your mental health, help is available. Contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or text 86463. If you need urgent help, call the Samaritans on 116 123.