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Eruption scatters students across the globe

By Carl Lewis

news@oxfordstudent.com

22 April 2010

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When second year Lady Margaret Hall student Matthew Nicholl flew home to Northern Ireland for the Easter holiday last month, he knew it might be a hectic time of the year to travel. What he didn't know, however, is that a volcanic ash cloud would get in his way.

"It's the last thing I was worried about. And now I'm in an awful situation. I have absolutely no idea when I can get a flight back," Nicholl said.

Hundreds of Oxford students like Nicholl are stuck abroad after ash plumes from a volcanic eruption in Iceland last Thursday forced closure of UK airspace indefinitely.

Many of Oxford's more than 6,000 international students are stranded at home, and still more students who went on holiday during the break are scattered across the globe, unable to return for pending exams and lectures.

The University Athletics Club has been stuck in Portugal since Friday, where it was conducting warm-weather training during the break.

Claire Baouduin, a member of the club, said she and her teammates have decided to abandon their flights and instead make the 30-hour long journey back by bus and train.

But Isabella Eichler, a postgraduate student at the School of Interdisciplinary Area Studies, was not so lucky.

After her flight to Heathrow was canceled midair Thursday, Eichler found that all the train tickets to London were already sold out, forcing her father to make the nine hour drive from Germany to get her back to Oxford on time.

"Thirty minutes into the flight the pilot suddenly announced that we were about to turn around back to Dusseldorf because Heathrow had just shut down. I wasted hours of precious dissertation writing spending Thursday afternoon trying to get out of Germany and make the car journey back," Eichler said.

Students are not only missing exams, but social events and other obligations as well.

At Exeter College, a number of stranded students have requested refunds for the college ball, which is scheduled for this Saturday.

The Ball Committee has so far refused to offer refunds, saying that "on the list of things we didn't plan for, right below 'alien invasion' was 'volcanic ash cloud closing down European airspace."

Some colleges have begun organising help for students whose flights have been delayed. St John's' alumni have given accommodation and financial assistance to members of the College choir who were delayed in New York.

But for Nicholl, who will be unable to return to school for at least another five days, nothing can make up for the frustration of being stuck in limbo.

"I'm missing my collections. I'm missing getting to spend time with my friends before term starts. And the worst part is that I don't know whether to start packing or to start studying. It's quite annoying," Nicholl said.