Introduction to the interviewee :
Navnika Sudhir is an alumna of NITK (2019 batch) who is currently a graduate student at Cornell University. She is majoring in Structural Mechanics and Materials. She is residing in an apartment right next to the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York, United States of America, with her three roommates.

This interview gives a glance into the life of many such Indian students abroad who are leading a life away from home during the COVID-19 crisis.

1. When did you get exposed to the seriousness of the novel coronavirus outbreak?

Information regarding the coronavirus outbreak was all over the news and social
media from January but it didn’t have as much effect on students like us because we
believed it would all calm down in a few months’ time without having deeper implications. In early March, one of my professors mentioned the possibility of having virtual classes soon because of the situation. I dismissed the idea at the time, thinking about how inconvenient online instructions might be. However, on 5th March, the President of the
University announced that all classes after Spring Break (5th April) would shift to online
learning. Our current classes however, continued until we suddenly got another email on the 13th saying that all classes until 5th had been suspended in order to increase social
distancing and reduce stress that students may be experiencing due to the situation. We even got several emails from the University authorities to practice social distancing in
addition to the constant reminders regarding necessary precautions from our parents back at home. This is when the idea of how huge this threat can get started materialising in my mind.

2. What were the measures taken by your university?

There is no official lockdown anywhere in the country yet. But the campus has been shut down, most non essential services have been stopped, and we’ll have online classes starting on April 6th onwards. They extended our Spring Break basically, which was supposed to be from 28th March to April 6th. The break started on March 13th when classes suddenly got cancelled. A lot of students went back home, but most international students couldn’t obviously, and others stayed here despite being from other places around in the US, either because they did not want to travel and spread it, or because the places where they are from had more cases of the virus and they wanted to be safe.

3. When you found out about the gravity of the situation did you consider flying back

I never really considered this because my initial reaction to this issue was to stay put. When I left for the US I knew I would probably have to stay here long term, but obviously this situation wasn’t something I expected to deal with. Even if I did have the opportunity to come back to India now, I probably wouldn’t because my classes are going to be held in the US time zones. Besides, I don’t think it’s wise to travel under these circumstances. The county I live in has 85 cases as on 4th April and I don’t want to
take any risks.

4. What are the major issues you are facing?

Internships are getting cancelled, research on campus is at a standstill. We had until 19th March to use campus facilities like libraries, laboratories and offices, after which they shut the campus down. Many of our part time jobs got suspended too. There is a big question mark about the admitting of international students in the next semester also because of the unavailability of visas. I think online classes are also going to be difficult to get adjusted to. People who went to the other coast of the US or who went to other parts of the world will face a lot of problems due to time zone differences because classes are going to be held at the original times as per schedule. All these factors are creating lots of uncertainty in the very organized and structured world we have been living in so far.

5. How are you and your friends managing funds with your part time job gone?

I thankfully have enough left for rent and living expenses even without my part time job, but saving up and spending judiciously is the need of the hour. One of my roommates has started selling bakery items to make money. Many students have resorted to smarter methods, mostly by working online, to get things going.

6. What have you been doing lately to cope with the situation?

It gets really difficult at times. YouTube and Netflix only work so much to distract you. I have been doing productive things like finishing off my assignments, playing guitar
and improving my job search in order to use this time the best that I can. Sometimes that’s all you can do without being able to control the situation. My roommates are doing
various things like painting, playing instruments, baking etc., We do spend some quality time together to check up on each other and make sure none of us is feeling lonely.
Taking care of our mental health during this time is extremely important. Thankfully most
people I know are being responsible and are dealing with this really well.

7. How is your community as a whole dealing with this crisis?

There is a mutual aid facebook group created to uphold the idea of being there for each other during these testing times. They keep sharing information about resources (like food and masks) and sometimes updates about the number of cases and such details. There are also a few people who have been uploading pictures of the campus on Reddit everyday for people who went home so that they feel somewhat connected to their life at the University. I feel this is a small way the Cornell community is looking out for one another.

8. What are the precautions you’ve been taking?

Some people still go to grocery stores, but we have resorted to ordering online. Everytime we get a parcel or anything that comes from outside, we make sure to wipe it with disinfectant spray. We also designated this “outside shoe area” a few feet after the door to keep only shoes that we used to wear outside the house, and then we change to “inside shoes” beyond that line, so as to maintain cleanliness and hygiene. I make it a point to regularly wash my hands, eat healthy immunity building food and also minimise stepping outside the house.

9. How is your family dealing with this?

They are very worried, considering how bad things have gotten in the US, and in New York in particular. They speak to me everyday and tell me the same things, to take precautions, to not go out without a solid reason, to wash my hands regularly, eat things to build up my immunity etc. Constantly keeping in touch helps ease our minds. Being strong and positive will surely get us through this.

10. What would you like to tell other students like you out there?

I know this is horrible. It really is. Not just because you’re stuck at home, but because of all the other consequences – internships getting delayed/cancelled, university admits possibly being deferred, and all your end of the year events being postponed. Sometimes things happen that aren’t in our control, and the best we can do is sit back and wait for it to pass, while distracting ourselves with small things here and there. My mom sent me this WhatsApp forward (I know, I know) that said “this is the only time you’re going to get in which you can save the world by doing nothing but sitting at home. Use it well.” And I choose to do just that, and you should too. Think about it, you have all this free time and you are allowed to do with it whatever you please. Pick up a new hobby. Improve your resume. Speak to loved ones. Explore new music. Or even watch Netflix the whole day, it’s all up to you. Keep yourselves busy as much as you can until this whole thing is over, and one day, this too shall pass.

A reader who muses herself with occasional philosophical thoughts.
A writer who enjoys beading her complex emotions with poetic threads.
An Ambivert who knows peace and wild at the same time.