Indian students studying overseas had a tough time getting back to India after a lockdown was announced amid COVID-19 pandemic.
As India is one of the largest sources of international students that sent more than 7 lakh Indian students abroad as of July 2018, bringing all of them back was a major challenge with airlines cancelling their flights.
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Kerala boy Thanveer Abduraheem (25), who is enrolled in an MBBS programme at Guangxi Medical University in China, where the first-ever case of coronavirus was detected, had to sleep at the airport for a night before he left China on January 31.
“I got lucky and left just in time. I was backpacking in the countryside of northern China when the news broke out and the restrictions were announced. I immediately wrapped up my trip, reached the nearest airport and flew to Shanghai. My flight to fly out of China was a day later and I chose to sleep at the airport instead of finding a hostel amid the tensed environment,” says Abduraheem.
He recalls the atmosphere as “grim” where very few people could be seen on the streets. Entry and exit points at the airport, shopping malls and railway stations were guarded by the policed with health officials who were screening people’s temperatures. “I flew out from the Shanghai airport, which is one of busiest airports in China, but back then it was disturbingly quiet and people were extremely scared,” he adds.
Aashlesha Maslekar, who joined MA in Heritage Conservation and Site Management at the Brandenburg University of Technology in Germany in 2017, was in India to complete the last leg of her research and case studies. But, she went to Germany on February 25 to extend her resident permit that was to expire on March 26 and has been stuck there since then.
With all the government offices closed, Aashlesha has not been able to either get her visa extended or return to India. “The authorities have been addressing the queries via emails and hence, I have been able to get a provisional letter from the visa office stating that my permit is valid till the offices start working again,” says Aashlesha, who has been allotted a shared apartment in the dormitory at the university.
“Frankly, there is nothing to do apart from spending my days in a room as the university and all other offices including the libraries are closed till April 20. I go for a walk or grocery shopping once or twice a week as required. Earlier, we used to hang out in the cafeteria, work in the library or meet at each other’s place to cook dinner together but socialising in the recent past has been minimal,” she adds.
The situation is more or less the same in other parts of Europe. Sameeksha Satpathy, a student of Masters in Management at the Essec Business School in France, came back to India on March 1.
“The outbreak had already started back then in Europe, but most countries were in phase1 while Italy was in phase 2 of the pandemic. When I was leaving, everything was normal in France, but once I came back to India, President Emmanuel Macron announced the lockdown,” says Sameeksha.
She has been attending the online classes conducted by her university, scheduled as per the Central European Standard Time.
“All of our assignments are online. We cannot have presentations and hence, we engage in a lot of group reports and individual submissions. For classes that are organised late into the evening, they end by late night for us in India. Our last class for the day ends at 7 pm, which is 11:30 at night in India,” says Sameeksha.
She hopes to return by the end of April for campus placement, as companies might still be keen on meeting for a personal interview.