I have been prompted this morning to blog the last 3 weeks in our crazy world. There has been a whole heap of work quietly happening behind the scenes which has received very little media coverage, I am sure there are many out there who do not know the enormity of the current situation surrounding the international students who are studying in the UK having to have made the decision, should I stay or should I go……
I am almost ashamed now, looking back at messages shared between myself and our Operations Manager just 3 weeks ago, not truly believing back then that Covid-19 would affect us to the extent it has. We were then, still out at meetings planning for the summer months, fully aware of what was going on in China and Italy but little realisation that we would be where we are now in just days. As the situation escalated in just a week from then, around 12th March we began to realise that we were now about to play our part in this. We were 13.5 days behind Italy, stats were being released , our death toll had risen to 5 and predictions were being made that the UK would also have to place the whole nation under quarantine.
The role Airport Angels played in this began; from the 14th March international students in the UK were having to make tough choices, they faced mixed communication and signals as to whether they should stay or leave but the harsh reality of going into lock-down in a foreign country away from their families took over any thoughts of staying in the UK. Flights were starting to be cancelled, borders erected, some nationalities were being given 72 hours to return, some needed medical certification to enter their homelands, flight prices were rocketing and availability on those flights was scarce. The logistical and financial challenges to help these students home went unnoticed, it was the ever growing toilet roll and pasta problem that was flooding the media !
We as a company stepped in and stepped up; our team worked tirelessly with all our schools, guardianship companies and parents to assist these students at Heathrow, Manchester and Gatwick. We faced challenges as desperation sometimes led to not adhering to airline rules for young children travelling home alone, understandable as a parent but unacceptable by authorities. These young people were astounding, their maturity in such a situation was incredible, some were forced to transit through unknown countries with long layovers, others transiting through the UK had their onward flights cancelled and had to overnight in airport hotels with our staff whilst here in the UK we were stockpiling in supermarkets !
These are young people, from the age of 12 upwards, having to almost ‘flee’ the UK, reliant on their Guardianship companies, Language Schools and the help of Airport Angels in the airport to travel across the world to face this situation at home with their families. We are pretty much there now, most of those going have left although many are now quarantined in hotels for 14 days ‘alone’ before they can see their loved ones.
I wanted just to raise awareness for these young inspiring people and what they have been through over the last couple of weeks. International students are the backbone of the United Kingdom’s world class education system. They contribute upwards of 14 billion pounds to the economy as well as bringing with them a wealth of knowledge, cultural identities and languages, their impact on our society is vital. The UK welcomes over 500,000 students into primary, secondary and tertiary education as well as over 580,000 students to learn English each year from over 80 countries around the world.
We have been proud to help on behalf of all the Guardianship companies, universities, Language Schools and Independent Schools we work alongside. They all deserve to be recognised for the long hours they have worked over the last 2 weeks ensuring these young people are home with their families. A huge thank you too, to all of my staff and colleagues who have had to make the journey into the airport on public transport and spend time surrounded by the uncertainty the airport environment holds right now – you are the best !
When this ends…..AND IT WILL……everyone will want to travel !
We are looking forward to welcoming all those international students back into the UK – our Airport Angels will be out in PINK at UK airports but until then, these are some precious times, we will never get the time to stop like this again.