Through Quarantine and Beyond!

Hi! I’m Jasmine, and I’m doing an MPhil in Engineering this year, focusing on computational neuroscience research.

It’s taken me a while to get this blog up — returning to the “real” world is very overwhelming after hermitting away for 6 months. I was nervous about flying over, but I was lucky — my plane was less than 1/3 full and I had a whole row to myself, which was nice both for distancing, and for sleeping on the redeye.

In case there are any future scholars or US–>UK transplants reading this, here’s an overview of some logistical things:

  1. Phone things: I have kept my US number active while I’m here in the UK by transferring it for $20 one-time to Google voice. I’ll be able to transfer my US number back to my normal service provider at the end of the year. In the meantime, I make and receive texts and calls to my US number for free while on WiFi or data, and I don’t have to pay my provider to save my number for me. You can transfer to Google voice when you leave the US or after you get here — you just have to be able to receive a phone call to verify the transfer at the beginning of the process. I got my UK SIM card through giffgaff, delivered to the US. I activated it the morning I left the US so I would have service when I landed at Heathrow. Giffgaff is nice because you can get it set up without a UK bank account, and any phone plan here is super cheap compared to the US (£10 for 9GB a month, unlimited calls and text).

  2. Biometric Residence Permit: I signed up to have it delivered to my college, scholars who ordered it to the post office were able to get it much faster and get their bank accounts sooner.

So, what was quarantine like?

I got super lucky. I was in the Wolfson flats for quarantine — I had huge windows facing east and west, a kitchen, and 8 places to sit between some couches, desk chair, and kitchen chairs. There was also a divider between the living area and the bedroom/office area. Churchill college delivered 3 meals a day for a total of £10, and they were pretty good! They gave us really cute jams to go with breakfast, and the vegetarian food had some dishes that I’d love the recipe for. Some funny things were — the overabundance of paper bags after the first couple days, and the myriad sauces that came each day (I don’t think I tried even one packet of HP sauce). Some other scholars didn’t have kitchens or refrigerators in quarantine, which meant that they couldn’t keep their breakfast yogurt cold for the next morning when it was delivered with the previous day’s dinner.

For the beginning, the porters brought amazon packages to quarantiners door-steps, but towards the end they got overwhelmed with move-ins so my yoga mat sat in the package room for a couple days and my elbows and knees continued to get bruised by the hardwood floors. (A couple other scholars and I did zoom workouts in the mornings to get ourselves up and adjusted to the timezone, which normally ended up in us hanging out over zoom until lunch. Now that we’re out of quarantine, we are still doing the zoom workouts, but sometimes mixing in runs). When one of my housemates got to campus, he offered to help if those of us in quarantine needed anything, and so he dropped off my yoga mat and other mail.

From what I could tell of the other colleges, Churchill did a much better job providing for those of us in quarantine — the meals were good and cheap even if they didn’t always arrive at regular times, and we had the ability to order groceries as well (that arrived same or next day) from Churchill Catering. Of course this was mostly only relevant for people who lucked out with quarantine kitchens.

Back to the real world!

Moving post-quarantine and returning to the “real world” after 6 months of being very isolated and 2 weeks of complete isolation was very overwhelming. The first day out I walked 20k steps between moving, going to the grocery store, and going into town to mail my ballot and get laundry change. Churchill is a 20-30 minute walk from town, and a 12 minute walk in the other direction from the nearest Sainsbury’s.

My third day out of quarantine, I biked to go meet some of my labmates to watch a conference, and took a path I found on google maps that turned out to go through a cow pasture. I veered off the left side of the hike and bike path in the pasture (I was concentrating on staying on the left) and fell into mud and asphalt. I was wearing a helmet, but gashed my temple which bled a lot. Passersby were very helpful, and one woman called an ambulance and waited with me for the 1.5-2 hrs it took to get there. By that time the bleeding had mostly stopped and some people had helped me clean up, but to cover their bases the ambulance company had told the person who called to make sure I stayed still and didn’t eat or drink. The medics found me and cleaned me up some more and then said I had the option of going to the hospital if I wanted to get checked for concussion or get the wound cleaned more. I decided to play it safe and went (especially after I made sure that, yes, the NHS system is actually free to me after the visa health charge). I’m glad I went because they gave me a glue stitch which helped things close up better. I got very lucky and am not concussed and was pretty much fine after!

After that I didn’t get back on a bike for about a week, but am now back up and cycling. Churchill MCR (the postgraduate organization within the college) has been great organizing safe distanced events like a gelato outing, a tour in town, croquet, a tea, etc. which have been nice for meeting people. I’m living in a household of 13 for the year so I also get to socialize through that — I’m excited to get to know my housemates better! We’ve talked about starting cooking communal dinners, so I’m looking forward to that.

I’ve also been starting on my research and really like my lab so far, but this post is already ridiculously long so I won’t go into that here. I’ve gone on a couple runs with some of the other scholars that I worked out with on quarantine, and some of us went “rambling” aka hiking on some footpaths this morning. I’ve also been getting dinner with some of the other Churchill Scholars in tents Churchill has set up outside for Covid-safe socializing. We can pick up food from the dining hall for takeaway (or for eating in, but I haven’t braved that yet) if we schedule the pickup time in advance. I’ve been trying to cook more though. Like I said, it’s been an overwhelming but fun start, so I think it’ll take me another week or two to settle in and get myself into some sort of routine.

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