Thousands of foreign students from countries such as Nepal, Ghana, , Afghanistan, South Africa, Bangladesh, Croatia, and Uganda among others are staying in the PGs and hostel spending their time playing video games and with limited food supplies.
While most of the Indian students have gone back home when the centre directed the closure of all educational institutes on March 18 leaving behind only foreign nationals who have to stay put.
Jigar Inamdar, regional director, Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), Ahmedabad, says that the council is taking all necessary measures to ensure that these students do not face any problem. “There are around 600 foreign students in Gujarat and the regional office is in regular touch with all them through WhatsApp and faculty/advisors. All their day-to-day needs including groceries, medicines are being looked after by the council,” says Inamdar. Most students were preparing for the semesters before the exams and were not planning to go back to their home countries, he adds.
For Jebessa Amenu from Ethiopia, who is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science and Technology from Marwadi University, Rajkot, Gujarat, the lockdown has increased his anxiety and despair as he has not been able to contact his family for the past 2-months.
“Owing to the communication shutdown by the government in the conflict-ridden Western and Southern Oromia, I have not talked to my family for the past months. Now with this pandemic, I am completely unaware about what is going on at my home and if all my family members are safe,” says Jebessa.
Academically, not much has changed for him as the classes are now being held online. “The classes are being held online, starting at 9 am as opposed to the 7:30 am schedule that was followed during regular classes. Once the classes conclude around 2 pm, I go back to self-study as soon I will be appearing for my final exams,” says Jebessa, who is currently in his last semester.
Since no outsiders are allowed to enter the campus during the lockdown, students have to do all their chores including cleaning rooms, he adds.
“There are no sanitation drives in the hostels but we are following the general guidelines and using sanitisers and washing hands frequently,” says the 24-year-old.
As students staying back in the hostels have also been advised to self-isolate, the authorities have closed the libraries, gyms and leisure rooms to restrict gatherings. Afghanistan’s Mohammad Shafiq Rahimi, a fourth-year BTech student at NIT Rourkela, Odisha, is getting anxious, homesick and slightly frustrated with each passing day.
“I am either studying or playing video games, chatting with my family back in Kabul on Skype and being in regular touch with my friends via social media,” says Shafiq, who is pursuing Electronics and Communication engineering.
He adds that it is difficult to study online with the same focus as it is not as interactive as the routine classes. “We miss teamwork and group assignments.”
For South Africa’s Sharen Thamboo, who traces the roots of her great grandfather to India, there is no time to waste as being a master’s students she is busy completing her assignments, research and writing her thesis.
Sharen, an MA in Journalism student at Bangalore university, did not make any attempt to leave for home amid the crisis to avoid the risk of getting infected. “The youngest member in my family back home in Durban is 4-year-old and the eldest is 76. I did not want to risk their health by flying amid the outbreak,” says Sharen, who is using the spare time to hone her paper crafting skills and creative writing.
Zeljka Ciganovic from Zagneb Croatia, who is pursuing a PhD in Yogic Science from Mangalore University, says, “The university provides apartments to international students and most of us have been doing the cooking and cleaning ourselves,” says Zeljka.
The faculty members and ICCR officials are in constant touch during the epidemic which helps us keep the panic at bay as we are able to share our fears with them, she adds.
“Since I am a researcher, my schedule has not changed much post the lockdown. But I am now busy organising online Yoga classes for fellow foreign students to help them relax and de-stress in these times of worry,” she says.