Globe trotting! COVID-19 can't stop the campus capers

Updated: 27 September, 2020 07:31 IST | Aastha Atray Banan | Mumbai

Mandatory masks and hybrid classes. As Indian students head to universities abroad, even as the pandemic rages on, they find ways to adjust to the new normal

Preet Sanghvi has returned to Italy to pursue her studies at the University of Gastronomic Sciences
Preet Sanghvi has returned to Italy to pursue her studies at the University of Gastronomic Sciences

Preet Sanghvi has just taken a bus from college to head to her apartment, which she shares with two others, in Pollenzo, Italy. It's 4 pm local time, and she has just finished her day's classes at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, where she is pursuing a Masters in Gastronomy: World Food Cultures and Mobility.

She came to Italy in October last year, but had to return to Mumbai when the pandemic broke in February, with Italy being one of the first hard-hit countries. "I had gone to Mumbai for my sister's engagement, and then got stuck there," says the 29-year-old, who headed the brand marketing for the Pritam Hospitality group before deciding to study further. In March, her college announced online classes, a decision that students protested. "My course only has 25 students. And my faculty, which is also from all over the world, is amazing. My school is actually referred to as the Hogwarts of food. So, I didn't want to do online classes as the main advantage of studying here is interacting with other students and the faculty." So, the university rescheduled the classes and students returned to campus in September for classes, pandemic or not. 

A survey conducted by—a Stockholm headquartered education portal run by the Educations Media Group—found that, "The dream of studying abroad is still alive and well. Only 5.4 per cent of prospective students intend to cancel their study abroad plans in light of COVID-19." Almost 54.8 per cent of the approximately 7,500 responses that came in for the survey, still expect to be travelling abroad to study on campus. For many like Sanghvi, who returned to Pollenzo over 20 days ago, the focus is on real-life experiences, which only comes with staying on campus. "There are food tastings to attend, and field trips. I didn't want to miss those." Life at college is back to normal, except the mandatory wearing of masks, and larger classrooms to aid social distancing. "We used to have a lunch service, now that's only takeaway, and we sit outside and eat. But, Italians are much less wary of the virus than Asians. We are much more careful! I don't go to any bars or restaurants, I just pick up a coffee and go for walks instead," says Sanghvi, who has taken a COVID-19 insurance before arriving in Italy, and got tested too. "In Italy, you can't get tested unless you have symptoms."

Anuja Sanghvi, who went to Boston College (in picture), says the college is one of the few in America that is fully operational.
Anuja Sanghvi, who went to Boston College says the college is one of the few in America that is fully operational. 

Before COVID-19, enrollment at the Council on International Educational Exchange was spiralling. CIEE operates 65 centres in 40 countries and was the largest sponsor in the UK for inbound foreign students. After the virus struck, about 4,000 pupils were sent home and the non-profit suspended operations in 33 locations. The US is no different. In an interview online, Jessica Sarles-Dinsick, associate dean for international programs and special projects at Columbia University, said she expects that between 30 per cent to 40 per cent of international students might not come to the US this year. That could cost colleges about 4,00,000 students and the American economy about $15 billion.

Anuja Sanghvi,  Boston
Anuja Sanghvi, Boston

Anuja Sanghvi is not one of those students. She decided to head back to Boston College to complete her Masters in Education. Currently, she has a four-course load, and plans to finish all her pre-requisite work before December when she will return to Mumbai. "My school is fully functional, and all the staff is ready for campus instructions. We have a facility that tests you randomly, and if you have symptoms you are isolated and meals are delivered. You can choose between studying online and being on campus. For me, it was getting tough as I had to be awake and aware between 2 am and 4 am from Mumbai, as I was working on American time," says 33-year-old Anuja, who went to Boston after teaching nursery for 12 years. Masks are mandatory at the college and every classroom has assigned seating, which has to be wiped down before and after each class. "There are many who don't wear masks, inside college you have to. Outside, there is enough space to social distance. I am not going to socialise so I am careful. I am happier here really, and there is less paranoia than India, which also has a lot of restrictions. I can walk to my college and back without a mask, and there aren't people on the road as it's not densely populated," says Anuja, who has medical insurance provided by the college as well.

ndergraduate students move into the on-campus housing.
Undergraduate students move into the on-campus housing

For Abhishek Kulkarni, 26, who has gone to Trinity College in Dublin for a course in international management, coming to campus was an easy process. His college had been in touch since his admission in March, and had assured him of safety and hybrid classes—where half the lectures are held online, and group discussions are held in person. "Only one entry and one exit gate is open, so that movement is regulated. Corridors are also demarcated so that social distancing can be maintained. You have to show your event invite when you come in—you can't be on campus without a purpose. So, hanging around, is not acceptable."

Abhishek Kulkarni has gone to Trinity College in Dublin, and says that parks have become the new hangout for students
Abhishek Kulkarni has gone to Trinity College in Dublin, and says that parks have become the new hangout for students

Unlike India, masks are not mandatory outside in the open in Ireland and there is no compulsory testing. "But we have to fill up a form every week which asks us different questions about our health. If you answer yes to any question, it triggers a response from a special team set up to handle COVID-19. And then they descend upon you." But Kulkarni is not letting the Coronavirus impact his life too much. "After college, we all take food takeaways and coffee, and go sit in the park. It's becoming the new bar!"

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First Published: 27 September, 2020 07:00 IST

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