Christmas consequences: the reality of the student travel window

By Molly Gray |

The Sports Centre on Penryn Campus is usually a fun and lively place where people go to be with friends, let off steam and get their all-important exercise. Now, the picture is very different. The building is now a COVID test centre, guarded by a team of student ambassadors, all donning masks. Unless you have booked a test, you cannot enter. On the inside, it barely resembles a Sports Hall anymore. It is simply a mirror image of a doctors waiting room, and the eerie silence fills the space. You can hear the Christmas music being played outside, which reminds you why you’re there in the first place – so you can reunite with your family and try and have a ‘normal’ Christmas. 

You could say that students pulled the short straw. Some universities have cancelled face-to-face teaching altogether, even some courses here in Falmouth are now entirely online. In September, students returned to university with an air of enthusiasm that was soon shattered by more restrictions. The sight of messages in windows of students houses became all too familiar and the big question on everyone’s lips was ‘will we be able to go home for Christmas?’ 

“In September, students returned to university with an air of enthusiasm that was soon shattered by more restrictions” | Markus Winkler/Unsplash

Thankfully, the answer was yes. In November, Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, announced that students were able to go home during a student travel window, starting on the 3rd December and finishing on the 9th. 180 universities across the country have now brought in rapid testing, so that students can receive a free test before travelling home in time for the festivities. Amelia Banton, Students’ Union President for Student Experience, has said: “I’d really urge students to get tested before they travel; the government have made this opportunity available and it will allow students to return to any vulnerable family members more confidently.”

However, it isn’t as simple as this for many students, specifically international students. Bobby Angelove is a first-year Journalism and Creative Writing student at Falmouth University, and he is from Bulgaria. Bobby told me why he has decided to remain in Falmouth this Christmas: “A lot of people going home for the holidays could be very dangerous. In my case, I have to fly with multiple planes, which for me is very stressful in times like this and I would prefer being safe myself, and in a way, saving my family as well. I think it will be better for me to spend the holidays here.” However, Bobby didn’t let this affect his spirit: “As long as there are big beautiful Christmas trees, I think the Christmas spirit will go on. And let’s just hope that 2021 will bring us hope and very happy moments.” 

“This year has been full of sacrifices and demonstrated the selfless nature of many, including students” | Dimitri Karastelev/Unsplash

Another student, Noah Abbott, is hoping to travel home to America for Christmas. Noah believes that the travel window is “one of the better ideas by the Government.” He continued: “It certainly is smart because if universities really are kind of ‘COVID-centres’ we don’t want to risk our families, and I certainly don’t want to risk my family getting COVID.” It certainly is a challenging time for students who may feel that they are putting their families at risk by travelling. I also spoke to Noah’s father, Dwayne Abbott, to understand how he feels about having Noah home for Christmas: “Although we will be super excited to have Noah home, the trip itself has us concerned, and the test positivity rate in Kent County Michigan is around 18% right now, which I believe is much higher than in Cornwall. We did not have anyone over for Thanksgiving to ensure that we would not contract COVID-19 and jeopardize Noah being able to come home. It was the first time in 30 years that we celebrated Thanksgiving without children or family celebrating with us.”

This year has been full of sacrifices and demonstrated the selfless nature of many, including students. It is important to remember why we all so desperately want to go home for Christmas in the first place. Whether it be a mulled wine round the fire with your parents or a pint at the local with your friends, Christmas is a time to be together and be grateful, a time of hope. The Falmouth Christian Union reminded me that “even though there is a window to go home, that doesn’t necessarily mean everyone is going to have an idyllic, joyful Christmas. Some will go home to strange or difficult circumstances, while others may not be able to go home at all. For those people, we pray that they will have a good Christmas and hope that they will be able to see the light at end of the tunnel.” 

This article is in our Opinions section. As such the views within are those of the contributor and do not represent an editorial stance.

The views expressed in this publication are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Falmouth University, the University of Exeter or Falmouth & Exeter Students’ Union.