May 14 2020. view 124
Online classes, delayed exams, and lost opportunities; the Coronavirus outbreak is leaving students with a bittersweet experience of college life.
Pic Credit Andrea Piacquadio
For many, the university is their final hurdle to clear before they become fully-fledged adults entering the job market and fulfilling life long plans of establishing who they are and what they want to do. However, Sri Lankan students studying abroad were forced to make a tough decision; stay abroad as the situation begins to escalate or return back home and wait for the best outcome. Abandoning internship and employment opportunities and swapping carefully crafted plans for an uncertain future, many chose to return to the comfort and safety of home. Despite the ambiguity of what the next few months may hold; most people have chosen to adjust to their new reality and remain optimistic.
Sarah, studying for her Bachelors in Communication in Singapore, came back to Sri Lanka on the day that authorities announced that the airport was closing. She is sitting for her last semester and was set to graduate in August - although now she’s not so sure how the graduation formalities will take place. “Doing my classes online isn’t inconvenient and the deadlines for our assignments haven’t changed so it’s been a welcome distraction. But I was looking forward to ending my last semester with all my classmates and having my family fly out to Singapore for my graduation. I was hoping to enroll in a Master’s program this year as well but even that has been put on hold for the moment till everything settles down. It hasn’t been all that bad. Depending on how I’m feeling, I enjoy being at home and I use the time to read, catch up on TV shows and do chores around the house. But there are moments when I feel upset because of the uncertainty this pandemic has brought on. Reading the news is very depressing, especially when it concerns low-income workers and their difficulties or people without access to food and essential supplies and the increasing numbers worldwide. It’s difficult to adjust sometimes but it’s been a great source of comfort to talk about my worries and anxieties with close friends and family.”
Returning from the UK with just a semester left to finish her Masters in Law, Roma is currently observing the mandatory 14-day isolation at a state-provided quarantine centre and is diligently following up on her university work while there. “My university converged all their workshops, lectures, and courses including our exams to an online medium. Even our dissertation supervisor meetings are online! I would have loved to have completed the full experience of studying abroad but I’ve made my peace with the fact that I can’t. The biggest inconvenience for me was losing out on my job and not being able to complete a year in the UK, but being back home with my family and loved ones during such difficult times means more to me and I look forward to going back to say a proper good-bye.”
For others, the setback in university has created a domino effect on their career path. Mihitha is on his 5th year studying abroad for his Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) and was visiting his mother in Doha with plans to come back home, before the Sri Lankan borders closed. While his University had started online lectures according to its usual schedule, a few practical difficulties in course work and delayed exams has raised concern over how his training to become a doctor will play out. “I’m sitting for 9 subjects this semester and five of them involve clinical practicals in hospitals which are now conducted online as case discussions and our main exams have been delayed indefinitely till we get back. We were also supposed to begin our internships next month but the university has decided to start it as an online class which I don’t think will be productive or effective. We were all happy at first about the delayed exams and the sudden free time, but now I am pretty anxious and worried about how the degree will go on, as there is no definite date for our return to university, which might be few weeks or even few months. I’m also worried that graduation will be delayed, which can delay us getting back and preparing and facing medical council exams in Sri Lanka (ERPM) or others like PLAB (UK). This has pushed future plans back, which seems a bit uncertain right now. But on the other hand, free time has also allowed me to reflect on other aspects of my life and inspired me to try out an extra course or diploma in another field.”
Returning home has been equally disorienting for freshly graduated students working their first jobs. Malki, having graduated from the University of Berkeley with a Masters in Law just last year, was living by herself and working as a Legal and Compliance Associate at an Engineering start-up in California before she chose to come back to Sri Lanka amidst the pandemic fears. She continues to work remotely from Sri Lanka, though adjusting to the hours and new operational mechanisms hasn’t been easy. “My legal and operations team are all based in California so I have to work during Pacific time which initially, often translated into me working well past 5 – 6 am in Sri Lanka. But since my work hours are flexible and once I got into the groove of working remotely, I planned my schedule in such a way that allowed me to make the best of my days and nights. I was also a little anxious as I was in the process of switching from a student visa to a work visa when I came back but it was sorted out by making a few changes to the visa process. Initially, of course, it was a little difficult to adjust but I’m really happy that I came back. This is a new situation and I can’t imagine being by myself at a time like this so I’m very grateful to be back with my family.”
The pandemic has caused an equally uncertain situation for local university students set to face their final set of exams to graduate or receive their professional qualifications to begin work. With no certain date in sight for the opening of universities and commencement of exams – students can’t help but feel a little anxious in their current status quo.
K. Perera* was set to sit for the Examination for Registration to Practice Medicine in Sri Lanka (ERPM) exam before it was delayed indefinitely. Having spent nearly 7 years abroad studying medicine, this exam would have been the final hurdle that would allow foreign medical graduates to practice medicine in Sri Lanka. “The exam was already being dragged on but with the turn of the year, we all looked forward to it and prepared hard for it. Unfortunately, the pandemic meant that it would drag its feet for much longer. Ironically, if the exams were held on time, Sri Lanka would have had a fresh batch of intern doctors joining the battle against COVID-19. Now it’s just an opportunity gone a-begging with most of us having spent close to 6 and a half years of our lives waiting to become of service to this country.”
For aspiring Attorney-at-Law, Naomi, the delay in sitting for her bar exam is both welcoming and worrying at the same time. “I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t super relieved when our exams were pushed back. I’m grateful for the break because it has allowed me to get my work done and examine all my subjects more thoroughly. But I never thought this break was going to be indefinite. Studying without knowing your deadlines is exhausting and stressful and I can’t help but feel a little irritated and anxious about this state of limbo we are at knowing that it would be difficult for universities to arrange for a large number of people to sit for an exam while complying with the proper safety protocol. Ideally, I would have been done with my exams by early June and looking for work experience before my next set of exams, but I realize that this is something I would have to forego this time.”
*Names changed for privacy.