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Navigating My Path to University in a COVID-19 World

an illustration of a girl going through paperwork with a suitcase and other items scattered. a map of the world with covid hotspots behind her
"Traveling alone across the world will never be the teary-eyed departure for the same reasons as before." Illustration by (c) Reset Fest Inc, Canada

Education

Navigating My Path to University in a COVID-19 World

It feels like a “Black Mirror” episode come to life.

When the months before starting university become the worst in your life, you begin to question why you were taught to look forward to graduating high school. With WHO declaring “the worst yet to come” with the COVID-19 pandemic, the path to higher education becomes rockier for me. 

Forget grad trips, these days, my friends and I feel lucky to take a walk around the neighbourhood together. In the last few months, missing my graduation ceremony, prom, and other milestones felt like the end of the world. They seem banal in comparison to the obstacles planted in front of me now. 

If adults are tired of hearing and reading about the ‘uncertainty’ in our lives, imagine how exhausted we are. Trying to navigate moving to another country, health concerns, gap years, financing, and choosing the university I’ll be attending at 17-years-old while a deadly pandemic rages feels like a “Black Mirror” episode come to life. 

When I was looking at university options, I wanted the schools to be in the cities ranked in the top 10 in the world, not top 10 in COVID-19 hotspots. Traveling alone across the world will never be the teary-eyed departure for the same reasons as before. This time, your life, along with others, is at risk. The danger doesn’t end when you land either, as you face navigating public transport, living in close quarters in a dorm, shopping to set up your new life, and quarantining at a hotel in an expensive capital city. Seriously, I have to pay for staying at a hotel with a water heater over a fortnight along with my ridiculously expensive dorm fees?

When I was looking at university options, I wanted the schools to be in the cities ranked in the top 10 in the world, not top 10 in COVID-19 hotspots.

The cost of living in a pandemic as a university student is far worse than any daily cup-ramen nightmares I previously had. Who knew universities could be exploitative during a health crisis? Moreover, governments in countries like the United Kingdom are giving universities complete authority to charge full academic fees despite classes being moved online. I’m not entitled to reimbursements if “the quality is there,” making my decision-making process of where I want to study more distressing. 

It doesn’t end here sadly, at least not for students planning to study abroad. For a moment, traveling abroad to get the “complete university experience” while paying full fees came with a deportation risk. Recently Immigration and Customs’ Enforcement (ICE) in the U.S. has been vacillating over whether foreign students should return home if they have no in-person classes or be allowed to stay in America. Students around the world can only hope that other countries wouldn’t follow suit. 

At this point, many students are considering postponing admissions or deferring. Taking a gap year was another headache that I hadn’t even considered until last month. Do I trust higher education institutions and continue my studies online, which would make sense since I’m pursuing a non-practical degree? Or do I really want a “better” and in-person university experience, something that seems more likely for next year, if the world is well on its way to recovery from COVID-19. Everyone has some contradictory advice to give, but in a situation that no one has experienced before, I can’t judge whose words hold the most weight. 

The only thing I used to be sure of was my degree. I was going to study law and figure it out from there. Now I’m wondering if it’s the right course for me and whether I can do well. I need to figure out if I’m beginning to have concerns about my degree, or if it’s just the side effect of being stuck at home for five months. If you’ve noticed, overthinking has become a pattern here.

If students like me can count on anything while stuck in this limbo from hell, it’s our own resilience. I have to remind myself that surviving a pandemic and practicing social safety is a big deal, and whatever is happening in the world isn’t my fault. Blaming myself at such a desperate and traumatic time is horrible for my mental well-being and will only cause me distress. Talking to friends about the sources of my anxiety and anything other than higher education or COVID-19 is essential in my daily routine. If everything in my life is tumultuous, at least I can keep myself grounded. 


Also read: No Lunch Breaks and Extracurriculars: How Indian Schools Are Planning to Reopen


 

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