How Indian students stayed at foreign varsities during pandemic

Here is a look at the experiences of Indian students who were at foreign campuses as the world came to a halt due to the pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic swept the world, students across the globe were asked to return to home countries. Educational institutes and hostels shut down physically and began functioning online. While most of the students made it back home, many were either stuck or willingly stayed back at their campuses.

Here is a look at the experiences of Indian students who were at foreign campuses as the world came to a halt due to the pandemic:

Roshini Bahri, University of East Anglia

The 22 -year-old Jaipur native is currently studying medicine in England. She opted to stay at the campus despite the country being badly hit by the Covid-19. “When it started we thought that it would not last beyond two weeks and we did not want to face a shortfall in our attendance when the varsity would reopen. By April, the situation reversed and there was a need for healthcare workers. Since I had already worked at some healthcare facilities as part of my course, it was a no-brainer when I decided to stay back and help,” said Bahri.

She attended her lectures online along with helping at local facilities four days a week. While she terms it to be emotionally as well as a physically draining experience, she insists she was lucky to have been busy and at work during the time.

“It was hard to convey the loss of a loved one over the phone when people could not even be with their family during their last moments,” recalls Bahri, who said the pandemic was noy only a learning curve in her career but also gave her a new perspective towards life.

She also said that working in a PPE kit for hours due to shortage of masks was a challenge. “We realised how real was the issue of shortage of PPE kits and masks when we would not have water or go to pee because we did not want to remove/ discard the one we were wearing.”

Tithi

Tithi Gandhi is from Gujarat and is pursuing biomedical science in New Zealand. Her degree is more research-based which is expected to have more relevance after the pandemic is over. What made things worse for Gandhi was that she lost her job soon after the pandemic struck.

“I had invested in my rent and other expenses here and decided to stay as there was no clarity about coming back to the campus. I did not want to return home and lose the chance of rejoining physical campuses when they reopen,” she said of her choice to stay back despite job loss.

Calling her journey hard, Tithi said, “It was very difficult as I lost my part-time job and I did not like relying on my parents. Now that the situation is getting better, I am hopeful of working harder during my summer break and making it up for the lost hours.” She also said that even though it was emotionally difficult staying away from parents, however, both she and her family were confident that as New Zealand has a small population, it would recover faster. She, however, missed community bonding in India during the pandemic.

A couple of months after the lockdown, she along with other students was allowed to work on campus for research-related work. Calling it a “fresh breath” during her pandemic struggle, she said that online practical classes are not as good as the real hands-on experience and her staying back had been of some help.

Richa Berde, University of Otago

For Richa Berde who is studying masters of tourism at the University of Otago, staying back in New Zealand was a way of making the most of her one-year course. She joined her course in February 2020 and the lockdown was imposed in March. She decided to stay back even if it meant attending online classes while on campus.

Hailing from Mumbai, Berde had missed on travel and field trips as part of her degrees. “The teaching and delivery, the overall education scenario is very different here. That made me stay back. I am happy about it,” she said.

Now close to finishing her course, Berde is worried about the job scenario. “I might not get a suitable job as the borders are still closed. Domestic tourism, however, has started and there is a lot of scope to grow in a smaller hotel or domestic space,” she said.

During the pandemic, she recalls having her “moments of doubts” as she felt alone. She says she would apply for a PhD after gaining some experience. She says that despite the pandemic, “the course has given her a survival kit to get over the worst of circumstances”.

Soumil Roychowdhury

When the pandemic struck, Shoumil, a 19-year-old resident of Kolkata, had returned home and did his classes online. However, as soon as the classes resumed, he headed back to Hong Kong University (HKU) where he is pursuing physics at the undergraduate level.

“I had spent nearly a year at home and was eager to start face-to-face classes. From second-year onwards, I have to work as a research assistant and the professor wanted me to be here. When I decided to return, Hong Kong had the situation under control, so my parents were also assured that I would be safe,” he said.

During Soumil’s stay in Kolkata, he not only had to balance the time difference and low internet bandwidth but also had to face Cyclone Amphan. He said his teachers in Hong Kong were supportive.

While the campus now is very different from what it was in the first year, it is still better to be here, said Roychowdhury who was in a 21-day quarantine after rejoining college. “While the classes are still going on in hybrid mode, it is better to be on campus as we are getting access to labs and meeting friends. Students who are planning to join as freshers should rather take the opportunity and get accustomed to the atmosphere here now than waiting for later. The digital infrastructure here is also better,” he said.

— As told to Shyna Kalra

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