fbpx

‘It takes a mental toll’: Indian students tell their stories of waiting out the pandemic in Australia

Indian students in Australia haven’t had the experience they hoped and paid for. Campuses closed, they lost work and they watched helplessly from afar as COVID-19 ravaged their home country, writes PREETI VAYADA

Reading Time: 4 minutes

 

The stories of international students’ struggles amid the challenges and uncertainties of the COVID-19 pandemic seem to have reached the stage of psychic numbing. Despite their numbers, their voices have been largely neglected. They are still waiting to be heard, and that includes the nearly 100,000 Indian international students who make up the second-largest population of the international cohort in Australia.

The students I interviewed in 2020 were a part of my PhD study that examined Indian students’ experiences in student-staff partnership projects. They were all enrolled as international students in Australian universities.

The students offered personal accounts of their experiences of financial strain, mental stress and alienation amid the pandemic. This article is both a call for compassion and a reminder of the perils of treating international students as customers. And if we insist on treating them as customers, some of these customers are unhappy.

Are students getting value for money?

Students expressed disappointment about the quality of education they received in return for high international student fees.

Vani (all names are pseudonyms) is a postgraduate student. She had extensively researched the options of studying in Canada and the UK before narrowing down her choice to one of the Australian universities. She was dismayed when her university education quickly moved online within months of her arrival in the country.

“I completely understand everything was happening in a hurry in 2020, and moving online was the only option. The library, the labs and other facilities were not accessible. Still, we were paying the same fees for amenities. For what?”

Another student, Beena, said her university missed the opportunity to demonstrate human-centric education.

“Apart from a few academics, there was no checking-in, no poster of ‘R U OK?’ when I needed it the most.”

Many students talked about how mental stress affected their academic performance. One detailed how at the peak of the pandemic he struggled to book an appointment with the university-appointed counsellor. The wait times were very long.

Financial struggles add to burden

It was difficult for Indian students to find part-time work, which they depended on. Their struggles intensified as a result of the lack of immediate government support.

Raised in an Indian culture, the students felt it was their responsibility to take care of their parents. The students explained how, as adults, they felt overwhelmed by having to ask their parents for help to sustain them. Kinjal, a postgraduate student, shared her experience of dealing with plummeting job opportunities.

“At one stage of this pandemic, I was literally scavenging for work. I handed my resume to random offices and outlets as if it was a promotional brochure. Those were the moments when the gravity of the situation sank in.

“I remember attending the video call to my parents in pretend formal wear. The least I could do was not let them worry about me. I am already guilty of putting them into financial burden with a student loan for my overseas education.”

The politics of exclusion

When Prime Minister Scott Morrison told international students to head back to their country in April 2020 it had a powerful emotional impact. A 18-year student enrolled in a computer science degree said:

“I know we really do not belong in this country. I have made peace with random racial slurs. I do not feel threatened with the occasional loud screams on the quiet street – ‘Aye, you curry muncher, go back where you come from.’

“But the news headline was a tight slap. Words matter. I have engaged with various groups in a conversation about this statement, about righteousness and ethical dilemmas of politics. All I can say is that – you are asking a loyal customer to leave the store.”

For Indian students in Australia, the pandemic added another layer of hurt to the experience of many years of racism. Source: Canva
For Indian students in Australia, the pandemic added another layer of hurt to the experience of many years of racism. Source: Canva

Students also drew comparisons with other countries’ treatment of international students and skilled workers, specifically Canada. They felt developed countries such as Australia need to follow the humane approach of other countries.

Feeling helpless as COVID swept India

The students were also terribly concerned for the well-being of their family members, relatives and friends as India’s healthcare system collapsed under the second wave of the pandemic. Many students expressed difficulty in managing the stress of living a double life.

“It was business as usual in my university, while Indians were fighting for their breath. When I saw my dad in the hospital through a WhatsApp call, it was devastating. It was a hard call to make. Leaving the country would mean never coming back and still paying fees for a course run online. Not going back may mean a lifetime of regret. These decisions are complicated, and it takes a mental toll.”

The experiences of these students affirm that it is time to rethink higher education and look beyond just the economic imperatives. We need to have the moral courage to stop commodifying education.

In future, one of the metrics for universities’ rankings should be how humanely they treat their students. There needs to be a place for respect and compassion for international students in educational policies.

The article first appeared in The Conversation, you can read it here.

READ ALSO: #LetUsBackToAus: International students still left in the lurch


Link up with us!

Indian Link News website: Save our website as a bookmark

Indian Link E-NewsletterSubscribe to our weekly e-newsletter

Indian Link Newspaper: Click here to read our e-paper

Indian Link app: Download our app from Apple’s App Store or Google Play and subscribe to the alerts

Facebookfacebook.com/IndianLinkAustralia

Twitter: @indian_link

Instagram: @indianlink

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/IndianLinkMediaGroup

- Advertisement -

Related Articles

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

- Advertisement -
- Advertisement -

Podcasts

Ep 9: What do young Indians want from love?

0
  Growing up in Indian culture, most of us know that love has never been as popular as marriage. Even in the movies, the main...

Ep 8: Indian links in Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann’s...

0
  To celebrate NAIDOC week 2020 (between 8-15 November) I spoke to Yakunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann about her time in India where she taught...

Ep 7: In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput

0
  The torrid and high-octane Sushant Singh Rajput case has been fodder for Indian people and press for the last few months. The actor’s tragic death...
- Advertisement -

Latest News

lgbt community

On the Religious Discrimination bill

0
  Prime Minister Scott Morrison introduced a Religious Discrimination Bill to the parliament last week. Promised by the Coalition government in the wake of the...
indian community

Grants to support multicultural community infrastructure in VIC

0
  Minister for Multicultural Affairs Ros Spence has invited multicultural community organisations to apply for grants to upgrade, renovate or build community facilities. The available grants...
Raja vamsam

REVIEW: Raja Vamsam

0
  Director K.V. Kathirvelu's Raja Vamsam, which has an incredibly large star cast, is a family drama that exhausts the viewer by the time it...
DIL BEKARaar

Review: Dil Bekaraar (Disney+Hotstar)

0
  From its dreamy theme song to its 2D-style animation, to its period soundtrack, and of course, its late-80s/ early-90s nostalgia, Dil Bekaraar, streaming on...

REVIEW: Antim – The Final Truth

0
  Director Mahesh Manjrekar's Antim: The Final Truth is a crime drama centred around the circle of fate. Based on the Marathi film Mulshi Pattern,...