I travelled to the United Kingdom on September 14th, 2020.

Images: pinakinathc.me/image_gallery

This blog is going to be informative in the beginning – the difficulties an average student faced due to COVID-19 while he was trying to figure out a way to reach UK to continue on his dreams. The later half would be a rant about my life (yeah pretty boring for you but the only way to vent out my feelings).

So let’s start about the difficulties I faced, as an average student while trying to do the only thing you are not suppose to do during COVID-19 – TRAVEL.

The first thing that came to my mind after getting acceptance in April 2020 from my dream lab, and coveying the news to some very close people in my life; was – (i) how will I fund my initial cost to reach UK? (I was funded – but after reaching UK) (ii) how will I get visa, and flight tickets when both are closed for an indefinite period?

So I did the best thing (in my opinion) one should do with so much confusion – go to sleep !!

Upon waking up – I figured, the latest I can start in UK was September, so selected that option. Next, study a little about pandemics and how they worked in the past (try to get your head around how things typically work). While low-level dynamics will most likely be different – the broader patterns have some resemblance – one of which caught my attention was – a 1st wave and then a 2nd wave.

So basically – after “some” months into the 1st wave we were in April, there will be a drop in CVOID-19 cases when travel will likely resume a little – and that will increase COVID-19 cases and humans will reaslize how foolish they are and put in a second lockdown.

So if my hypothetical and incompetient analysis is true, the all I have to do is predict this “drop” between 1st wave and a 2nd wave and exploit this opportunity to reach UK.

This next part is even more hypothetical and incompetient. I predicted that Governments will have a “full lockdown” (or where a lockdown is taken very seriously) by about end of April or end of May (approx that 1 month), so ideally this virus would be spreading less (therefore low cases) and will start dipping slightly (or “see the peak”) by July or August.

Now India did not see any peak – but other countries did, because of which they relaxed a little and India never cared that much for common people and didn’t want to look as the only kid who failed so it relaxed rules too.

Hence, some travels were showing up by July end or early August 2020. This was in perfect sync with my devious plan of making my travel happen.

Note: even before August, I kept chasing my UK organisation (where I was joining) to get the documents done quickly. So that when the time came – I can apply for visa without any delay. And it did came in late July when India announced its plan to send flights to UK. I applied for my visa in the first week of August 2020. Visa applications officially takes 3-4 weeks, and this is if everything is okay. So (i) make sure everything is okay – organisations like VFS makes sure things are okay in exchange for a service fee. But I was too broke to pay so went through all official webpages, called up my friends and anyone who has applied before. Make sure you READ throughly and do not miss any point. (ii) Apply with 6 weeks in hand. 3 weeks official time – 1 week of common delay – 2 weeks for you to chase them if it was still not resolved in the 4th week.

I studies how fast flight tickets were sold out in end of July 2020. So in early August, I participated in the national competition of how can click fastest in their computer to buy a flight ticket from the website of Air India (go till the payment page and not pay – just avoid giving you bank details). This was more of an exercise for me – so that I get a ticket when I needed it.

Meanwhile – I have been constantly reading about rules of travel in airports that falls in all possible routes to UK (like Delhi, Dubai, etc.)

Keeping 6 weeks in hand – I bought my flight tickets in mid-August (when the next round flight tickets were available).

I got my visa by the end of 4th week and then had 2 weeks before I say goodbye to my homeland. Things were more or less sorted about travel.

Now coming to finance – that initial cost of reaching UK.

Between all of this, I was reading about ways student finance themselves via simple Google search and going to various articles. That is how I found about “VidyaLakshmi” an Indian governmental organization that helps students get educational loans easily. The application process is very lengthy and not much helpful – but hey I need the money so I did it by early June 2020 (I know things move slowly in India so applied as early as possible). I applied to 3 banks in India through that Government portal which is suppose to make my life as a student easier: (i) State Bank of India (government) (ii) Axis Bank (private) (iii) Allahabad Bank (government).

Note: my family started making financial arrangements on their own since April 2020 after they knew I got in. (this was important)

After 3 or 4 weeks the portal was updated and it said that I need to physically visit the bank during COVID-19. Anyways – I need the money so went there.

State Bank of India employees had NO IDEA what was Vidyalakshmi or why they should give me (a funded student) any loan. Axis Bank was a bit more helpful in that, they knew what Vidyalakshmi is, but they will not give me loans via Vidyalakshmi as taking loan directly from Axis means I have to keep something in gurantee whose value is twice the amount I am asking for (one option according to them was to keep my parents house as gurantee for a loan of 400k INR or 4k GBP i.e. the loan sanctioned was to be 10% the value of the security). Now if that is not “helping a student” I don’t know what is.

I was thankful to Axis Bank for being so upfront about it and asked them to write it down and send me an official email mentioning all of it. But interestingly they declined to “write any of this”. I thought they don’t want to spoil the environment by using paper – so asked to send an email instead. The employee agreed but after one week I did not recieve any email. Mysteriously that person never picked up my calls and when I visited their bank again (during COVID-19) the person would never be there.

I was also chasing State Bank of India meanwhile. After literally educating them about Vidyalakshmi and showing how their office asked me to come here – the person asked for a HUGE bunch of documents for this. Figuring that out was more difficult than the UK visa application procedure. But – hey I needed that money – so did it anyways. I got those documents done by 1.5 weeks and submitted it. It took the bank employees 1.5 weeks to take the documents from their drawer and open it. They send it to their “higher authorities”. This sending process took 2 weeks (yes I would constantly remind him after every 3-4 days which him angry. I mean how can I ask someone to do their job when my future is at stake?) After about a month or two when I went to their branch once more, they happily said that yes they can give me a loan. “Just put something like your house as security and you are done!!”. The entire point of Vidyalakshmi was to grant a loan without the need of burdening student with huge securities. Anyone will give you a loan when your loan amount is not even 10% of the security you provide. Why do I need the Government of India for that?

By that time – it was time for me to pay my visa, health insurance and flight tickets. I needed the money now as it was August. After chasing both a private and a Government bank for 2.5 months continiously where I was treated as the guy you don’t want to meet and trying to avoid and at times humiliating – I gave up (thank you Indian Government for helping future students).

I took money from my parents (remember my parents made their own backup plans?) and paid for all expenses to reach UK.

The strange part? After about 1.5 months in October end, I got an email from Vidyalakshmi stating that State Bank of India rejected my loan because I did not contact them. I got a similar email from Vidyalakshmi about Axis Bank denying my loan in December (about that time) that my loan was cancelled as I did not contant them also. Hence, officially – I never cared to contact the banks for loan since I made my application in the Vidyalakshmi portal 3 months ago. I am confident that my shoes were worn out due to the number of times I personally visited their branch – DURING COVID-19, while figuring out my travel complications, and working on my research projects.

Hope it helps and you must have a lot of time to waste since you read it all.