For many students, finals week is one of the most dreaded times on the calendar.
But for Osho Priya, a junior computer science major from India, finals week is a necessary reprieve from the grim reality in her home country, which is currently experiencing the world’s worst COVID-19 outbreak.
“Physically I’m at UB, but mentally I’m at home,” Priya said in an interview with The Spectrum. “Relatives are on ventilators and I’m getting news of the death of people I know almost every day.”
Priya says her father is on supplemental oxygen and that she has lost a number of relatives to the grisly disease. She says the crisis in India has added financial stress and that she “definitely can’t go back” home during the summer, because traveling is a “bad idea.”
Indian students at UB have been forced to cope with the ongoing COVID-19 catastrophe in their home country. The pandemic’s second wave has ravaged the South Asian nation, leaving 153 people dead every hour and creating more than 2.7 million cases in the last seven days alone. As grim as these totals are, they may even be an undercount, experts say. And despite mounting pressure, the Indian government has resisted calls to impose another nationwide lockdown, leaving the decision to the states to establish lockdowns and curfews. Students say the crisis has negatively affected not only their mental health, but also their financial well-being.
“It is a really difficult and mentally excruciating time,” Priya said. “I am just praying for the best, keeping myself distracted with [my] end-of-semester routine and acknowledging the fact that I really can’t do much [to change things] from this distance.”
Hardik Goel, a sophomore computer science major, says the pandemic has taken a toll on him “emotionally and financially.” Goel is studying remotely and lives roughly an hour away from the capital city of New Delhi.
“The pandemic has had a significant impact on me,” Goel said. “I don’t have a job and am forced to attend classes at midnight, which has taken a huge toll on my mental health… As a student, my life is totally disrupted; I don’t get to see my friends due to my odd schedule and the COVID-19 lockdown.”
India is currently facing “shortages of testing kits, hospital beds, medical oxygen and antiviral drugs,” according to NPR. These are just some of the many reasons why experts believe the death toll has risen exponentially over the past few weeks.
Goel says some people — including himself — have tested positive for COVID-19, even after getting vaccinated. He says the hospitals in his town ran out of oxygen cylinders, so patients are being referred to other cities.
Goel says the nation’s economic slump — due to repeated shutdowns over the past year — has hurt his family’s financial fortunes. He says his education is funded primarily by his parents and a third-party institution. But the repeated lockdowns have prevented his father from running his business and Goel from receiving third-party funds.
So Goel was forced to take out a “huge” loan to attend school.
Nini Pandit, a freshman architecture major living on campus, says the crisis has profoundly impacted her family’s financial situation.
Pandit says her father, a civil engineer and “the sole breadwinner” of the family, “isn’t getting paid” by his clients because the economy is reeling from the last year of shutdowns.
Some Indian students say they are finding it difficult to find enough money to scrap by. As The Spectrum previously reported, many students who worked in on-campus dining halls were laid off last spring due to the pandemic. Some still haven’t found any work.
“They can begin by supporting their students in any possible way, be it financially or academically,” Pandit said. “They’ve made it difficult for all of us to live here comfortably since the limitations of the pandemic hit. To top it off, the campus laid off so many students who worked on campus.”
Priya says she thinks UB should plan on offering hybrid classes next semester. The university currently plans on holding 84% of courses at least somewhat in-person, according to university communication.
“I think the least UB can do now is offer hybrid courses for the fall semester which can give students who are stuck in India or anywhere abroad some mental relief,” Priya said. “It would be [a] good decision to… not leave international students in an uncertain position.”
Priya, Goel and Pandit are just three of the many Indian students dealing with the current difficulties in their home country. With a seven-day death average of 4,001 on May 11, Indian students are feeling ineffable grief and suffering.
Cases have also continued to climb, partially due to the virus’ more infectious variants: the B.1.1.7 variant from the U.K. and the B.1.617 variant from India. The country’s lax COVID-19 restrictions, large crowd gatherings and insufficient vaccine supply have also been attributed to the uptick in cases.
In the U.S., vaccines are widely available, and 32.1% of the population is fully vaccinated. UB students have easy access to vaccine sites and the university even opened a Johnson & Johnson vaccine site on North Campus in late April.
Meanwhile, India has two vaccines of its own: Covaxin and Covishield. India has partially vaccinated 9.9% (135 million) and fully vaccinated 2.6% (35.9 million) of its 1.36 billion citizens. India’s Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine maker, has sold or donated many of its vaccines to other countries. Now, they are having trouble meeting the country’s demands.
Rachit Meshram, a masters student studying engineering science, says that on top of all the other problems Indian students are facing, he and his fellow Indian students need to figure out how to navigate their student visas for next semester.
“Another problem is the availability of visa interview slots. The earliest slot you can book right now is December, which is just not possible for someone whose classes start in the fall,” Meshram said. “I know one thing, though: I won’t be studying online [again]. I can’t pay the same tuition fee and study online. That’s not worth the money.
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