WOW | Coffee Break

Returning Home As An International Student In The Time Of Pandemic

Life during lockdown for students forced to return home mid way through studies overseas.

Text: Anushka Shrestha
Photos: Ram Tandukar/Gokul Shrees/Sabina Mainali

Garima Golchha
Age: 21
Student of: Imperial College, London
Country: UK

What has it been like to come back during the lockdown?

I came back to Kathmandu right before the travel ban when my university was still officially open. For me and many other international students, it was a moment of uncertainty and doubt. Nobody realised the gravity of the situation at the time, and I left my university without even saying goodbye to my friends, thinking I would be back next month. I was also very worried about being an asymptomatic carrier of the virus, and spreading the disease to my family.

Are your studies interrupted or online?

Since I was already approaching the end of my degree, I only had a few remaining lectures that were conducted online. It was the strangest experience for me. However, I had to give my final exams online. It felt surreal finishing university this way. My family organised a home graduation ceremony for me which made the moment a little more special.

What do you miss and what has it been like to be back home?

I think this situation has highlighted the things we took for granted in our pre-quarantine life. So, although I miss going to the gym, restaurants etc, it is having the choice to do so that I miss the most.

I am grateful to be in the position to have my family’s support during this time. It has also been a very frustrating and anxious period. I left university abruptly, my post-graduation’s plans have been disrupted, finding jobs is getting increasingly harder, and dealing with so much ambiguity has been tough for me.

Did all your friends return or some stayed behind?

I think the decision to return home from university was quite complex. On one hand, it was tempting to return to the comfort of home, but on the other hand, there was an underlying fear in potentially exposing my parents and older relatives to the virus, which made the decision.

What has this pandemic taught you?

One thing that this pandemic has highlighted is how connected we all are on a global scale, facilitated through both technological and physical measures, and the benefits of human interaction (in whatever form) for our mental health. Although technological advancements have been rapidly evolving, this pandemic has proven that there are still natural limits which are beyond human control. We can’t control nature; we can simply control its consequences. As seen in this pandemic, managing consequences (such as strengthening health care system) is a cumulative result of long-term efforts. I feel that this is an important lesson to learn to make our systems more sustainable and agile to counteract future consequences (such as the effects of climate change).

What do you feel life is going to be like post Covid 19?

I think and hope there will be a shift in prioritising health care on a national level, and in terms of education, I think there will be a huge shift towards online classes for schools and universities. I feel that this lockdown has given us the time and space for self-improvement and self-reflection, and I am keen to see this change.

Shrima Basnyat
Age: 19
Student of: Economics Honors, Second year, St. Bedes College
Country: India

What has it been like to come back during the lockdown?

I caught a flight back home two days before the lockdown started in Nepal. During that time, India had less than 150 cases and not a single case in the state Himachal Pradesh where I study so I hadn’t felt the urgency of the situation then. The panic started to begin when the college started to shut down and we were asked to go home as soon as possible. Most of the flights had been booked but I somehow managed to get one. Flying back home this time was different than usual since all passengers were wearing a mask, wary and cautious and trying to limit their interactions with one another. As soon as I came back home I was kept in self isolation for 14 days in my room and maintained a distance from my parents. As the nation went into lockdown I was grateful for being able to stay with my family during this hard time that the whole world is going through.

Are your studies interrupted or online?

We were finished with our syllabus in the first week of March so I was staying back in college just to give my year end exams which were supposed to happen in April but I still haven’t been notified by my university about the exams and there have been no online classes going on either.

What do you miss and what has it been like to be back home?

I miss eating out and seeing my friends but knowing that there are still stranded immigrants in foreign countries trying to find a way back to their homes has made feel fortunate to be back home safely. Moreover, I have no complaints.

Did all your friends return or some stayed behind?

All of my friends have returned back home safely.

What has this pandemic taught you?

This pandemic has taught me to be grateful for all the little things in life, to stop waiting for “the right moment” to do things and those health care workers, store employees and other essential workers are the real heroes.

What do you feel life is going to be like post Covid19?

I think that social distancing will continue to be practiced in public places with a certain limit; health care will be given more importance; a new set of rules and restrictions will be implemented while travelling and not all things will go back to being the same as before. Over the time, I am sure all of us will get used to the “new normal” and hopefully the people who have been most affected by this pandemic economically, psychologically or physically will recover.

Aayusha Shrestha
Age: 20
Student of: New York University, Abu Dhabi
Country: UAE (Was studying away in London last semester)

What has it been like to come back during the lockdown?

I managed to return before any of the travel restrictions were imposed and NYUAD was extremely responsive and helpful when we were changing our flight itineraries, so travelling for me, wasn’t that much of a hassle. It was quite disheartening having to leave after a mere six weeks in London instead of what we expected to be a full semester of exploring the UK and Europe.

Coming back home and adjusting to the restrictions imposed was challenging, especially since I was transitioning from a busy bustling academic and social environment to staying home. But I think I am now settling into the “new normal”.

Are your studies interrupted or online?

My classes have been going on online. No doubt it has been a very strange experience, but it has been quite an interesting one. I love how the students and faculty try to keep up the class engagement as we participate remotely from all over the world.

What do you miss and what has it been like to be back home?

I’d say I miss the ‘college experience’ and in particular, the ‘study abroad experience’ and I mean all of it: exploring and falling in love with a new city, late night study sessions and typing at the speed of light two hours before the deadline, one-pot meals, theatre visits every week, endless travel plans for spring break, etc. I could go on and on. I really miss moving around and being around people.

It has been a very unique experience being home right now. I must say that I am beyond grateful for being able to return amidst the pandemic and for this privilege in having a sense of security here at home. It had been quite some time since the five of us spent much time together at home with one person or the other being abroad at any given time. This has been an amazing opportunity to reconnect with my family, and truly understand and learn from one another. Apart from being able to spend time with my family, being home has been about a lot of ‘phitteko coffee’ with breakfast at 1 pm, momos, ludo, scribble, some very insightful conversations as well as lighthearted chats with friends and family, and well, a lot of Zoom.

Did all your friends return or some stayed behind?

Most of my friends have returned to their home countries by now but some of them are still on campus in Abu Dhabi due to the travel restrictions imposed by their countries. Even the Nepalese students and staff haven’t been able to come back home yet.

What has this pandemic taught you?

I think it has taught me that I can really keep myself entertained and occupied at home for quite a long time. More importantly, I think this pandemic has brought to light a range of issues, both global and local, that I hadn’t really explored before. It has really pushed me into looking beyond the ‘Kathmandu bubble’ that I was born and raised in and look into and understand both contemporary and age-old issues. The treatment of migrant workers coming back to Nepal; the plight of the daily wage worker brought to light by the pandemic; the rising violence, and the stark difference in people’s perception and experience of the pandemic has made me more aware of the existing disparity among people belonging to different socio-economic groups. It has taught me to go beyond my bubble and my comfort zone and to engage with and understand issues of contemporary Nepal.

What do you feel life is going to be like post Covid19?

Looking at the past challenges we have had to face as a country, I feel that Nepalese will demonstrate a strong sense of resilience in going back to the ‘old normal’, or perhaps even moving forward and creating a newer sense of normalcy. While the impacts of the pandemic on the economy and the environment, the morale and mental health of people, and changes in social norms will definitely manifest into the rebuilding of the society and economy, I do hope that we as individuals, as a community, and as a country will be able to take what we have learnt during this time and incorporate it into individual and collective actions as we progress towards establishing a better sense of normalcy.

Shivalika Noor Rana
Age: 21
Student of: New York University
Country: United States

What has it been like to come back during the lockdown?

It was obviously an unexpected reason to have to leave school. I was in the middle of my semester so it took some time to adjust myself into a routine, but I am grateful to be able to be back.

Are your studies interrupted or online?

My studies became online as soon as New York went into lockdown so I was lucky enough to finish off my third year without too much of a problem.

What do you miss and what has it been like to be back home?

I miss being able to live my life as I used to before. I miss New York, my friends, and my university. I haven’t been home for this long since 2015, so it is a bit strange for me but I am grateful for being able to spend so much time with my family and my dogs.

Did all your friends return or some stayed behind?

Most of my friends have returned but I have some friends still stranded in America. They are all safe and have a home to be in though, so it doesn’t seem like it is too much of a problem for them.

What has this pandemic taught you?

I have learnt to acknowledge my privilege during this pandemic. More than anything, I am grateful to be in a home where my needs are met and exceeded. This is obviously not the case for everyone as I observe. There are a whole lot of problems that desperately need to be untangled and sorted. I am learning more about Nepal and the way things work here during this lockdown so that perhaps I can find a way to alleviate some of the difficulties that are being faced by people here.

What do you feel life is going to be like post Covid19?

I think even after the lockdown ends, it will take some time for us to go back to the kind of normalcy we were used to in the past. Perhaps masks will become a necessary part of fashion and hygiene will become something of utmost priority. However, I hope that the sense of agitation that we, collectively, are feeling currently is sorted. During this lockdown, people have had the time to really reflect on the things that they have been displeased about. Be it the Black Lives Matter movement around the world, or the dissatisfaction some Nepalese are feeling about their government, I hope even after life goes back to the new normal, we move forward with the same demand for change.

Chirag Choraria
Age: 19
Student of: University of Delhi
Country: India

What has it been like to come back during the lockdown?

As I came to know that the university is going to shut for a few weeks to reduce the spread of Covid-19, I along with my friends made an immediate plan to return home. It is better to be with family during a pandemic situation.

Are your studies interrupted or online?

Initially it was interrupted but later on, the university cultivated the online mode of teaching.

What do you miss and what has it been like to be back home?

I miss my college days and friends; playing volleyball and football and exploring the food culture of the capital.

Did all your friends return or some stayed behind?

All my friends are back home.

What has this pandemic taught you?

Pandemic has taught us some of the key lessons like the importance of human interaction with animals, self-sufficiency, consequences of lack of water, and the fact that nature will treat us the same way we treat nature.

What do you feel life is going to be like post Covid19?

Life after Covid19 is not going to be easy. The future will be more focused on technology, including the education system. Masks are going to be a permanent accessory. More focus on hygiene and health and our behaviour with nature.