Far from Home: International Students During Covid
My first-person story is about international students who are unable to go home during this pandemic, struggling to decide whether to travel to home, and the difficulties they have faced during and after travel. The intended audience is anyone in the Trinity community but I think anyone in general can feel the story at the time of this pandemic. I feel so attached to this story and I believe many other international students around the globe will relate to this.
It was morning time in my place when I received a video call on WhatsApp from my friend, Harieth, an international student at Trinity College from Tanzania. I picked up the call without delay as I realized it was almost midnight in the USA. She was cooking rice at midnight to tone down her stress. As she stirred the rice Harieth said, “ Trinity has become so quiet and it is frustrating to stay in college when you all have already left home.” She had decided to stay in college as she had a summer research in the USA, and she did not feel going back home and coming back to Trinity again within a month would be feasible. But every mobile notification brought sad news and fear about the explosion of the virus, the death toll, and the uncertainty to follow. “I’m starting to wonder if I should go home and be with my family,” she said. She turned her camera back and showed her room. Most of her things were packed in a box except few of her necessities, as if she would leave her room within an hour. She turned back the camera to herself and said, “I cannot decide, Archana. I have been packing and unpacking for the whole day.”
Going back home was not easy by then. The epidemic was at peak and travelling internationally for more than a day was riskier. Fourteen days of compulsory quarantine in the government’s place did not seem easy and trustable. Online classes added difficulty due to the requirement of the internet connection. These circumstances left her stuck in her room overwhelmed by the thoughts that were trying to predict and see through those uncertainties. I completely felt her stress. I knew the pain of loneliness and indecisiveness. I knew the feeling of anxiety and bursting desire to be at home with family especially after watching friends’ parents come to drive them home. I had been experiencing this feeling for the endurable summer, haunting December, and agonizing first few days of this spring. My thoughts clashed – can I get back home safely? Will I be putting my loved ones at risk? The guilt of risking my own family members due to my exposure was not less than that disturbing loneliness. But staying on campus was not easy either when I could not predict the possibilities.
I could not help Harrieth with any decision. There was not a concrete answer. The post travel was not easy either. As much tough the decision was, I knew the earlier she made her decision the better off she would be.
Talking with Harieth reminded me of my other friend, Sujata, an undergraduate student in Canada, from Nepal, who is now stranded in Canada because she could not get back home. I had called her the morning I left the USA to let her know that Nepal would cancel all international flights starting next midnight. By that time, we only had 1 and half days to decide, pack, and travel 27+ hours to be at home. She had not thought about returning to Nepal as her college residence was not closed until then. But she called me six hours later, when I was at Boston airport, panicked on receiving an email from college, which asked her to leave college residence within 4 days. She scrambled to search for the flights to Nepal but unfortunately she was six hours too late. There was no flight she could catch to travel to Nepal. The email six hours later made her clear that she should return back home, however, those six hours left her stranded in Canada with no home.
I did not want Harieth to be stuck without any other choices in the USA like Sujata in Canada. I told her to decide as early as she could though I knew none of the decisions had an easier path.
On hanging up the call with Harieth, I wanted to check in with Sujata. I scrolled through the Facebook messenger, but she was not online, and I realized that it was already past 1 am in Canada. I waited until the night in Nepal and called her a second after she was online. She was then staying in a friend’s empty apartment, who left home after that short notice from college. She shared how she had been short on her groceries but scared to go to the market. She told that she would come back home right after lockdown, but she also knew that the day would not show up anytime soon with this increasing crisis. She understood that her oncampus job would end soon but this epidemic would not, neither her requirements for money to pay rent and food would.
We both had left Nepal almost one and half years ago on the same day and had discussed returning together. I was already at home, aware how worried her family were for her. I could see fear, growing impatience, and willingness to be at home in her eyes too. That did not feel right to me. I could not talk; we both could not talk, and we hung up a call after a long silence.
I stared at my laptop screen for so long. Every thought crossing my mind reminded me how lucky I was to be with my family during the uncertainty. As I had met my parents after one and half years, I was upset about not being able to hug my parents, be around them, and talk to them all the time due to my home quarantine, but that did not feel like a problem at all after talking to my friends. I could not think anything but just be grateful to be with my family, my loved ones.
My phone blinked. I received a text from Harieth, “I am on the way to the airport.” I sent my thoughts and prayers to both of them.
Copyrighted by Archana Adhikari. Editorial assistance provided by Erica Crowley. This work is part of the “Telling Our Covid Stories” project by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College.
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