Shravya Singh Karki
MBBS 2018, BPKIHS
While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected humanity as a whole and sent Nepal into weeks after weeks of absolute lockdown, a uniquely affected group is the Nepali students pursuing their higher education abroad.
IN A STATE OF NO LOCKDOWN
Ayam Shrestha studies in Iowa—one of the few states in the United States, that still hasn’t issued a mandate for people to stay home—with over 2000 cases, over 50 deaths from COVID-19, and surrounded by other highly-affected states. The city he resides in, Cedar Rapids, is the hardest-hit area, with over 250 cases in the city with just 200,000 people. And the fact that the state has not issued a “stay-at-home order” stands as a major concern as the number of cases surges every day.
“Although cases are rapidly growing, businesses are running and people are moving around as usual. I’m scared to even step outside my apartment as you don’t know if you stumble across someone affected and get infected yourself,” said Shrestha.
As Shrestha’s college decided to officially shut down hours ahead of Nepal closing its borders, he did not have the chance to return home. Shrestha had initially planned to fly back home if classes were to go online. Yet, as leaving his school before the official notice would make it tough to return if classes were to resume during the fall and by the time he received the notice, it was too late to get on a flight back home as Nepal cancelled all flights from the middle east leaving only the route via India open for him for a window of a couple of days before that too wasn’t an option.
“It is a mixed bag, it does feel like if I had acted faster, I would be back home, but at the same time, travelling meant risking myself to be exposed to the virus or being stuck at a foreign airport,” stated Shrestha when asked if he regrets staying back. “So while there is this slight feeling that I missed an opportunity to go home after nearly two years, I also know this could also have an outcome far worse than being bored to death in my college, so all-in-all, I think I made the right choice.”
When asked about how COVID-19 has affected him, Shrestha expressed his experience not being able to focus in his room and lack of work on campus due to the closure.
“Being someone who focuses best in the library, it’s tough for me to focus on my studies now. Furthermore, during regular school days, I would have work on campus and now with all offices working remotely, as someone who tries to make my own money to cover food and personal expenses, this won’t be possible because of the closure.”
Shrestha finds it very tough to stay indoors as groceries eventually run out.
“I prefer leaving for the stores on the weekends—as soon as it opens—to avoid crowds. I gear up in masks and gloves before leaving and clean everything with disinfecting wipes before getting in.”
Shrestha is lucky to be one of those students who have a campus apartment, those who don’t, have to use the communal kitchen, which isn’t ideal for social distancing. “I am thankful towards my college as they allow international students along with any students who cannot go back home due to any reason to remain on campus to finish off the semester.”
WORKING AMIDST THE PANDEMIC
With thousands of active cases, the Australian government has already made an announcement instructing its visa holders to make arrangements to head back to their home countries. This decision has left Nepali students in The Land Down Under in quite a conundrum.
Ankan Subedi studies Computing at Deakin University, Melbourne. He too, like most Nepali students in Australia, depends on his job to pay for his living expenses, and while the pandemic has rendered many jobless, he is lucky to still have one working at a local fast-food joint.
“I am one of the lucky ones who still has a job and can sustain my living in times like this. I don’t mind working as it takes my mind off of these situations, but it’s getting to work and interacting with people, which is scary. My workplace is 45-minutes away by bus, and the place gets quite busy these days as other eateries have closed down,” Subedi explains.
“The pandemic has also brought about racist sentiments amongst the Australian populace. There have been cases where native Australians have spat on people of Asian origin. I’ve had an uncomfortable situation myself. I was travelling to work, and a lady next to me had a very strong perfume, which forced me to clear my throat. The man in front me saw me do so and he kept glaring at me until I got off the bus. Though it wasn’t a serious episode of racism, I was still distraught. The fact that people living in such a progressive multicultural country have to encounter and hear about such incidents is very sad,” he adds.
When asked if he has any regrets not heading back home he replies, “Not at all. Though it’s tough being apart from your loved ones, there is a high chance of contracting the virus when travelling. I live with my grandparents and if something were to happen to them because of me I would never be able to forgive myself.”
LOSING THE WHOLE SEMESTER TO COVID-19
Nishtha Rajbhandari was a semester away from completing her schooling in China until her country became the epicentre for the ravaging pandemic, closing her school indefinitely. Rajbhandari acted fast. She took the earliest flight out, just days before the Chinese government decided to head into lockdown. It’s almost been four months since she arrived in Nepal, and there is no chance of her going back anytime soon. Classes have been shifted online, examinations cancelled, and the mere possibility to maybe graduate along with the rest of her class sounds far-fetched.
“I really couldn’t process the whole situation at first. I felt like I’m coming back home for a couple of weeks—a good break. But knowing the fact that I won’t be graduating with my friends was very difficult to deal with. It was heartbreaking not being able to say goodbye, leaving everything and abandoning all the plans. I was devastated, but at the same time, I felt I made a good decision about coming back home on time. Otherwise, I would’ve been on lockdown in a foreign country. I wouldn’t have been this calm and at peace elsewhere,” she explains.
Though she had her fair share of schoolwork as it is, Rajbhandari wanted to make most of her time in lockdown. “I wanted to be more productive but it was difficult because I procrastinated and spent a lot more time on my phone. I thought about all of the things I’ve always wanted to do but never managed the time to.” She then decided to take small steps every day, making a to-do list, she started indulging in what she felt to be more productive activities. Now, she spends her mornings working out—she has even begun practising a bit of yoga—completes her online classes and schoolwork, and then spends her day reading books, gets involved household chores, and tries her hand out in writing.
Rajbhandari enjoys home workouts and also started to value home-cooked meals, and she uses her phone mainly to keep up with the news “It was tough, but I realised all you need to do is start, and the rest will flow”, she opines.
“My loss is nothing compared to so many people across the globe, and I think it’s been a good time to think about people who live like this on a normal basis and how difficult it is for them. So the end goal is to make the best of every situation and be appreciative. I am grateful I am safe, with the people I love, have a roof to live under, enough food to keep me going and I have the internet where I can find anything to make use out of my time,“ she adds.