Ever since I started Uni, I knew I wanted to study overseas at some stage. Doing a Global Studies degree, it only seemed natural to fulfil the ‘global’ part by going global. Initially, I planned on doing two overseas semesters, to faraway places. I wanted to explore the world and take interesting and new courses (but still pay local fees). Due to Covid, I missed out on doing my planned exchange year in my third year of Uni, 2020. So it was wonderful when I was given the opportunity to apply to study in Australia for semester two 2021. While Australia wasn’t quite as foreign or far as I was hoping, it was a great (and the only) opportunity to get that exchange experience. Little did I know that, to be a bit dramatic, my exchange experience would turn into a little bit of a nightmare.
So what exactly is the situation right now? Well, us exchange students arrived in Australia using the Quarantine Free Travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia in July and expected to be able to return home through it too. The exchange experience, for me anyway, has been two lockdowns, the second of which is currently in its eleventh week, undertaking University online, and not being able to experience any of what Melbourne has to offer. There has also been great anxiety and worry for us, as Covid cases continue to rise in the Victorian capital, and as we get closer to the end of semester there are increasing worries that we will be unable to return home to spend Christmas with our families. While five of the 25 Auckland Uni students on exchange have managed to secure MIQ spots, I personally have taken part in all four of the MIQ releases, and have had upwards of 19,000 users in front of me. I’m not one for maths but even I don’t think the odds are very good if 19,000+ people are going for approximately 3,000 rooms. These MIQ releases, which take place at random times during the day, have been incredibly disappointing, and it feels devastating watching my ability to return home to my family and friends dwindle as the release goes on.
Being a student in Australia taking part in an exchange operated by a New Zealand University, I came over with the knowledge that yes, there were risks to travelling during the pandemic. But I did think, perhaps naively, that the Government had considered these risks in establishing the travel bubble, and decided that the risk was worth taking. Well, it seems like they either didn’t consider this situation when calculating the risk, or perhaps they just didn’t care. It truly seems as though the Government has locked me out and thrown me a dingy little; a frankly unreliable, lifebuoy in the shape of MIQ releases, and forgotten about me. I truly do not feel like a member of a team of 5 million. I am now one of those team members who went away for a day and someone threw away their jersey and rubbed out their name on the team roster. But I digress.
Being the persistent, some may say overly so, person I am, I have contacted just about everyone I can think of to try and get out of this mess. The University of Auckland is currently advocating on our behalf, talking with various ministries and trying to get our plight heard. I also believe that they are not being given any tangible, helpful information on what the future holds. I have personally, along with one other student, written a letter addressed directly to Covid-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins, explaining our situation and desperately asking for help. We have yet to hear back, even though we sent the letters through the University in a concerted effort at a cohesive and organised approach, in early September. We would love to hear back from him at some stage.
What we have heard from Hipkins is that he “encourages anyone wanting to return to NZ to utilise those and MIQ rooms as soon as they can”. He clearly has not tried his own hopelessly ineffective MIQ system. He is also quoted saying “I understand that it is a tough time for New Zealanders who are overseas and who want to return home. Covid has limited travel for many,” as well as saying that anyone who has chosen to travel overseas since the beginning of the pandemic has done so knowing it’s “at their own risk, and that there are limited places to return through MIQ.” Well, my response to this is that I travelled, in full knowledge that there was a global pandemic going on, under a travel bubble established and operated by the New Zealand Government that allowed me to travel quarantine, and I thought, worry free, to a country where I was to undertake a University exchange programme to help develop my knowledge. Clearly I was wrong in trusting the New Zealand Government to think of the possible consequences of such a bubble. Guess I’m the one with egg on my face now aren’t I?
According to the Covid-19 website, “All New Zealand citizens and residents have the legal right to enter New Zealand regardless of their reason for travel.” Well, I am a double vaxxed, New Zealand citizen who left New Zealand for University exchange, who wishes to return to New Zealand. I just appear to have the absolute worst luck. UoA Mathematician Professor Thomas Lumley states that, statistically, I only had a 6% chance of being as far back in the queue as I have been in the last four releases. So, even mathematically, I have the absolute worst luck.
But then I guess so does anyone who travelled to Australia thinking they would be able to return home without jumping through a million hoops. It’s very stressful being in a situation where you don’t know what the future holds, and I can only hope that the Government, MIQ and the various ministries involved take a long hard look at how they have treated their citizens and residents and try to do better. My situation, and that of the other unlucky exchange students, could be a lot worse, and there are many more across the world in much worse situations than mine. I hope that they can return home soon, and that they will be heard. Because it sure doesn’t feel like we’re being heard.