Freshers’ Week isn’t anything like what it used to be…
By Khushi Shah
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many college students who’ve travelled for studies abroad had to follow several protocols and measures before meeting others. This may have consisted of staying in a tiny room alone, taking multiple COVID tests, managing with the food provided (that’ll always be subpar compared to didi’s samosas), and refraining from any interaction with the outside world for up to 21 days, for some.
To that end, many public and private universities have set aside special dorms, hotel rooms, and campus-affiliated apartments for potentially exposed students and travelers. However, not only does this delay students’ Freshers’ Week experiences and other practical tasks like moving in, banking, phone setups, and groceries, but it’s often mentally exhausting for them. While some may have had good experiences despite this, many have considered this time arduous, to say the least. As a student myself, I’ve found that education has truly transformed in a daunting way over the past couple of years! We reached out to some university students from the community who shared their insights with us.
Simran Kaur: University of Toronto, Canada
Days in Quarantine: 14
Being stuck in quarantine was a very different experience for me, but not an entirely bad one. Initially, I expected there to be waves of sadness and loneliness that would often hit me, but that is not quite what happened. Although there were surely many setbacks and disappointments, I got through it.
To keep myself entertained, I would often browse through YouTube and Netflix for hours. When I wasn’t doing that, I would be on FaceTime calls with my friends and family. Even though they weren’t with me, constantly being on call with them ensured that I did not feel lonely during my quarantine. Speaking to them became a part of my simple daily routine. I would start my day by calling my parents, trying out the breakfast that the hotel gave me, continuing talking to my friends and family, and then watching new movies and shows. After eating the same food repeatedly for a couple of days, I became addicted to UberEATS, which I was fortunately able to use while in quarantine in Canada. Even though I had brought along tons of snacks and mama noodles, they weren’t the healthiest option available. Because of UberEATS, I would now wake up every morning looking forward to trying out new restaurants and different cuisines. Yes, it was draining on my bank account, but it was something that had to be done. Although my quarantine experience was a whole lot better than I had expected, it was still not something that I would willingly want to go through again.
Viral Mehta: Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Days in Quarantine: 21
Entering the vast unknown that was Singapore was an amalgamation of excitement, since it was a new place, and fear, because I was all alone. My flight of around 200 seats embarked with only 10 seats taken by passengers. The only upside was that I finished immigration, picked up my luggage, and did a PCR test in under 30 minutes. After that, I had only one thing to really stress and worry about, which was my quarantine hotel. The process for quarantine for us was quite different compared to Hong Kong or Thailand. We had to pay SGD 2000, and we would be randomly allocated a hotel. As an anxious person, I pulled up my Google Maps on the way to the mystery hotel, and started looking up potential ones that I could be assigned to. However, I lost interest after seeing the harmony of nature and concrete in Singapore, including the various gardens and of course, the Marina Bay.
Much to my surprise, the bus stopped at Stamford Swissotel, a five-star hotel! I was super happy and feeling fly, with a luxurious room and amazing service, albeit disparate from your usual hotel experience. Since you’re under observation for COVID, cleaners can’t enter your room, so you have to place trash outside, vacuum, and clean the bathroom by yourself. However, the cleaners will give you an extra trash bag, new bedsheets, and other items requested. I’m vegetarian, so the food provided was merely ok. Some days, I ordered from Foodpanda to switch things up.
Initially, I was jubilant because I felt like I was on a vacation. My classes had begun so I’d be occupied with that, but only for certain hours. However, as days went by, I kept on seeing the same view, so it became mundane. Fortunately, I had a balcony to enjoy the fresh air and an amazing view of the bay area. But I would get jealous when I saw people swimming in the pool and having fun, and I learned to realise the value of hotel activities and facilities, because I was not able to enjoy any of them. On the last day, I did a PCR test, left this memorable place after testing negative. Overall, this entire experience didn’t make me homesick, since the room was spacious and had an advanced TV to distract me.
Ari Qistina Haszlan: Webster University, Netherlands
Days in Quarantine: 10
My quarantine experience was full of ups and downs. As an introverted person, I didn’t mind isolating myself due to the pandemic because I was used to staying at home and enjoying my own company. The hobby of cooking was popular during quarantine, and although my mother had already taught me recipes that were passed down our family for generations, I took this opportunity to learn even more recipes that could benefit me in the future, especially as I would have to fend for myself in college.
Other than that, I had time to improve my music skills, such as playing the guitar, and challenged myself with different types of genres. As a bookworm, I had brought along a bunch of books to keep me company and so I wouldn’t be restless whenever I got bored. The books were mostly poetry, because I tend to write a lot of free verses during my free time. Despite how prepared I was for isolation, however, I missed socialising with friends, such as going out to dinner, or even activities such as snooker or jamming out.
Video-calling made me feel safe during this time, so I would often call my family, who were located in different parts of the world, as well as my boyfriend, who helped me not feel so lonely. There was a short phase where I would just stay in bed all day, but I soon realised that was too toxic and unhealthy for my mental health. The quarantine period did take a toll on me, because I felt like I had social anxiety due to not being able to go out that often. Knowing that I was going to university soon, I tried to get myself used to having to interact with people, in-person and often, through Exposure Therapy, and I managed to overcome it bit by bit.
Mokshil Morakhia: Hongkong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), Hong Kong
Days in Quarantine: 21
Quarantine was an unforgettable experience that, prior to COVID, one can only imagine going through. I had to quarantine in Hong Kong for 21 days, which was the longest quarantine period required by any country. Before even traveling, just the thought of it made me extremely anxious and terrified. However, once I reached my hotel, my room was way better than I had expected. I was filled with joy, thinking these 21 days will be over in no time. I had no idea how wrong I was.
The first few days were mediocre, as I was still settling in and everything was new to me. I needed some alone time as I’m an introvert, so I focused on myself and started to get different tasks done. I talked to my family and friends almost every day, and made the most use of my spare time. I also had online classes which kept me busy and sane. However, once the weekend kicked in, I felt completely alone. Many of my friends were socialising and having fun, and I was quite jealous looking at their photos and videos on social media. The only thing that gave me hope was that soon I’ll be attending university and meeting new people.
Moreover, food was a huge dilemma as I’m a vegetarian, and the food options provided by the hotel were horrible. I had my cousin, who resides in Hong Kong, deliver food to me, and the other times I cooked myself. Over the next few weeks, I worked out, called many people, and binge-watched a dozen shows, and despite everything, I had a decent time overall. Quarantine was a very meaningful experience for me, as I learned a lot, and could finally focus on myself.