Letters from i3L Students Abroad amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

 

“Life just begins at the end of your comfort zone”

Perhaps, you are already familiar with this saying. In every presentation, i3L international Office always convinces you to join the international mobility program. Studying abroad is one of the biggest things you can do as a student. But even though it can be a hugely positive experience, surviving through the program isn’t the easiest thing to do. There may be struggles in the internship/thesis project, different laboratory equipment, language barriers, money issues, and differences in learning and living styles that might make it harder to settle in. Moreover, it is so much harder with the COVID-19 pandemic that the students are facing nowadays. In this time of increased uncertainty, these students have shown an incredible level of self-maturity by responding and viewing the situation during their international mobility program as a growth opportunity.

 

Let’s find out how our students are coping with this current situation and how they manage to stay positive. 

 

SHIVANKI SAHAY (Biomedical Sciences Double Degree Program at Deakin University, Australia)

Melbourne, April 19th 2020

I am Shivanki from cohort 2016, a student of Tumor Biology Biomedicine. I moved to Melbourne, Australia in February 2020 to pursue a double degree in Biomedical Sciences at Deakin University. I was understandably quite excited. 

Soon after arriving here things started getting tense due to the recent COVID-19 situation. In the middle of my second week of university here classes were moved online for 10 days. This was eventually extended and now my entire trimester shall be held online. Parallelly, a nationwide shutdown was implemented. Shows like the Melbourne Comedy Festival, which I gladly looked forward to, got cancelled (thankfully I hadn’t yet bought the tickets). 

Much like everyone else around the world, this meant staying at home. The first ten days were the toughest. I was terribly homesick. I have lived abroad for study/internship a few times earlier, but now, with all the uncertainty, it was a different and difficult situation. I felt trapped in a foreign country.

But as with everything, things started getting better when I started changing my approach towards them. Happiness is indeed a choice. I realized I wasn’t ‘stuck’ at home, I was ‘safe’ at home with enough food. With everyone now working or studying from home, I now had more flexible hours to call up anyone of my friends and family from across the world. I could also spare more time to sharpen my cooking and photography skills, something I have been meaning to do for a long time now. This difficult time has taught me to be more grateful for the little things and brought me closer to my family and friends.

 

EVELYN NATHALIA (Thesis Project at Queen’s University of Belfast, United Kingdom)

Jakarta, April 15th 2020 

Hi! My name is Evelyn, a final year student of the Biomedicine program. I was doing my thesis project at Queen’s University of Belfast in North Ireland. Every morning, I took a 20-minute walk to my workplace. The road was full of people that were rushing to start their day. One thing that I love about Belfast is that cars actually stop when you walk, unlike in Indonesia. Honestly, I adore the picturesque road. The dry trees, cold weather, and people amazed me every day. I would have never imagined to even experience it. One day, there was snow and I was so mesmerized by it that I almost forgot how slippery it was. 

Most people were already in the lab by the time I got there. Fortunately, I had worked with them during the summer, so at least I was met with lots of familiar faces. Some new postgraduate students were there, and they were also really nice. I usually had things planned for the week, so I started immediately when I could. Some days, I would barely sit in the students’ room, since there were too many experiments to do. The cycle went on for several weeks, but I enjoyed it. 

I lived in the university’s dormitory and many short-term international students stayed there too. I got to meet people from China, Malaysia, Japan, Italy, and even some local students. Honestly, I was worried initially that I would not be able to make friends with anyone, but some of them warmed up quickly. 

In February, the outbreak in the UK was not that big of a problem, and considering that Belfast is in Northern Ireland, it did not get me worried. However, a month later, everything changed. The usually crowded university became really quiet. Most students were doing online classes. We wrapped up our experiments, stored the necessary data to continue with the experiment. Even at this time, my supervisor was very considerate of me. She helped me figure out what to do when I could not go to work. My usually-packed lab became really empty and it had become quiet. Not many people were seen on the streets and many students went back to their homes. I was sad that I had to go home early, but I cherish my time there.

 

 

DANIEL CHRISTOPHER ALIANTO (Student Exchange Program at UniLaSalle, France)

Beauvais, April 23rd 2020

Hi, my name is Daniel, I am from the Food Science and Nutrition department cohort 2016. Currently, I’m taking a nutritional science spring semester program at UniLaSalle, Beauvais, France. Right now, the situation here is not good since the number of positive cases of COVID-19 in France has reached 80,000+ people, with more than 10,000 casualties. This situation was also challenging for us as students who lived here. The early announcement of university closing by the French government, followed by some countries’ announcements of the closing of airports or borders, have forced some of our friends to go home, including the local students.

Nowadays, our campus and student organization here have been giving us weekly breakfast food for a week, which includes a package of bread, spread or jam, milk, and orange juice. Moreover, the campus also provides us, the international students, with a car for us to buy groceries or go to the doctor. This kind of care given by the campus and the student organization had made us feel safe and grateful. However, several guidelines and rules made by the French government such as the order to stay home and bring a statement letter if we go outside need to be taken seriously. Therefore, we have decided to limit how frequently we can go outside to buy our necessities and help our friends with their groceries, etc.

Although this situation has prevented us from having many activities outside, for me, it has helped me find my new hobby, which is cooking. Up until today, me and my roommate have cooked different types of cuisine, such as sushi and oyakodon, which are Japanese dishes, Indian chicken curry, cream pasta, bolognese pasta, poutine, burger, roasted chicken, risotto, Chinese corn soup and many more. This makes me feel great since I can explore more other hobbies that I haven’t tried before, and now I still need to challenge myself to cook more types of dishes. I also just enjoyed my birthday here with my friends: we had a small party and my friends in Indonesia made me an online birthday surprise.

That’s my story during this pandemic. I hope everyone is safe and healthy. I wish this pandemic to end soon without taking any more casualties.

 

 

DOMINIKA DWI VERIDIANTI (Thesis Project at Teikyo University, Japan)

Utsunomiya, April 15th 2020

Hi, readers! This is Dominika, a final year student of the Biotechnology program. I am currently doing my thesis project at Teikyo University, Japan. I am working under the supervision of Professor Shinomura and Doctor Tamaki, and I felt super grateful because I was able to continue my laboratory work from my previous internship project that I did in the summer of 2019 and do my thesis project on time here. I started my project in early February (at which the COVID-19 outbreak in Tokyo had then happened shortly after my arrival in Japan) and it was expected to be finished at the end of April, while May will be a full-time deskwork for me. Waking up at eight in the morning, I always start my day by preparing my lunch meal while reviewing the laboratory experiment protocol for the rest of the day. Although the lab does not have a certain working hours, we usually start working at 10 A.M. until…the time is never determined. Yep, the longest I have spent working on my samples here was from 9 A.M. to 9:30 P.M.; but this kind of working hours is pretty common within the Japanese society.

Another thing that I am grateful for is the fact that the Shinomura laboratory is located in Utsunomiya city, which is a small city in the Tochigi prefecture, in the northern area of Tokyo (since Teikyo University has five campuses throughout Japan, including the big cities like in Itabashi and Fukuoka). In the midst of the unpredictable situation of the COVID-19 outbreak, the situation in Utsunomiya is quite normal as most of the people are still doing their daily activities and they work as usual, except for schools which have been closed since March. Teikyo University also changed most of its academic schedule while all the classes are conducted online. Also, the laboratory activities of the senior students are postponed until the 6th of May. Again, thankfully, since I was given a dormitory unit nearby campus (yes, it is very near, the distance is only 5 minutes by foot!), thus, I am still able to do my laboratory work every day (ahem, including the weekends). Additionally, Teikyo University also provides free masks for students, faculty, and staff members who need to come to campus. They also provide additional hand sanitizers at some corners of the campus; complete with the safety instructions to prevent the virus infection which are presented using an interesting manga illustration, made by Japan’s Ministry of Health.

Speaking of the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of cases in Japan had not experienced any significant increase in March, but it has started to increase again in several big cities in early April. When my worries were about my relatives in Jakarta and Depok, last Tuesday (7th of April) at 6 P.M. local time, I remembered that the Prime Minister of Japan, Abe-san, announced the state of emergency for seven big prefectures: Tokyo, Chiba, Saitama, Kanagawa, Osaka, Hyogo, and Fukuoka. The situation became really dire; Vania, my i3L thesis fellow here, and I, were really not sure whether it is better to stay longer here in Japan or return to Indonesia as soon as possible by rearranging some parts of our experimental design. The state of emergency also caused several closedowns in public places, especially schools. One of my good old friends is also having her student exchange program in Fukuoka, but now, the classes have been shifted into online lectures and she will return to Indonesia by 21st of April. Nonetheless, Shinomura Sensei still allows me to continue with my work in her laboratory while waiting for further confirmation from the local government of Tochigi prefecture. Long story short, the optimistic feeling in my veins, after being super homesick due to the emergency announcement, has kept me to go on and try to finish my project by the end of this month. Although, for now, I still cannot decide when the best time to return to Indonesia is, I hope that I can go back as soon as possible along with my best hopes for the safety of everyone, especially for my family in Indonesia and my friends of cohort 2016!

In the midst of this world’s currently-reversed circumstances, where distance is an expression of love, we still need to be grateful for every moment and all the things we face in our daily lives, to be compassionate towards others, and to be optimistic that for what we have reached so far is also the result of our own work as a global community. For you who are reading this until the end, please stay safe and cherish every moment with your beloved ones. This is a small story which is filled with my many hopes, a student who is studying far from home and is always waiting for the moment to return home safely.


Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. We wish everyone safety and good health. 


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