We bring you the experience of Sharut and Mehak, who were stuck in the US during their semester-long internship at MIT.
1. When and why did you go abroad? How did the COVID situation affect your plans?
Mehak: We came here for a semester-long internship. Sharut came on January 15, and I came on February 2. The most significant change for both of us has been that earlier we were expecting to stay here for 3 or 4 months (until May 10), but now it will be at least till July end, and we're not sure if the fights are going to resume even then. On February 23, the number of cases in New York blew up, and New York is quite close from here. The next weekend, Massachusetts cases started blowing up. The whole thing happened in the span of a single week, and our labs closed down.
2. Why did you not come back before the lockdown was announced? (since the situation worsened in the US way before India)
Sharut: Both of our flights were on May 10, but they got cancelled. Even during the evacuation flights, I was thinking of coming back. But then I would have had to go to the airport in New York and take a fully crowded flight followed by a 21 day quarantine period in India. So I decided to stay here instead of taking all the risk.
M: Exactly, all this happened very fast, and amid all those events, it was tough to take that decision, but we did because of how dangerous things were.
3. How have you been coping ever since? What about your finances and rent?
S: After so many months, I have started to feel homesick since we were not planning on staying this long.
M: Our finances are great here. Since we have to pay almost half for food compared to earlier and our stipend instead of decreasing has increased. So we're definitely saving up a lot. When people ask how we are coping, our answer is more on the positive side because we're together. Work-wise, it has been pretty great during the lockdown as we no longer have fixed office hours(S: our productivity has increased by tons!).
S: The best part is that we both are living in one room, so we have each other. I'm so glad I'm roommates with her otherwise I would've been so depressed. Having someone you know who is from the same background helps a lot. Our work is also in the same lab, so we're able to discuss a lot.
4. Have you received any help from friends, the IIT alum network, or the embassy (to fly you out)?
M: We didn't try to get much help because we didn't really need it. The embassy had a proper video call session with us where they clarified a lot of doubts we had on how the flights would be operating and that if we have any housing, financial or medical issues, they would be willing to reach out to help us. Still, we didn't end up needing that help, thankfully.
S: Since the US is a big centre for Indian students, the embassy was pretty actively helping out students here compared to countries like Sweden. I had this conversation with other friends, and their embassy didn't even contact them once. So it was a pretty good thing from the embassy side here since the students who didn't have any place to live were provided residential homes in New York.
5. How has this whole experience changed your perspective on life and plans moving forward? When do you intend to come back?
S: Every internship until now has been a pretty good paid vacation. This did not turn out that way. I indeed up loving nature and enjoyed the trees and plants around, which is something I didn't notice much earlier.
M: We go out once a week, and every walk is special. The colours and seasons are changing so fast and it's very beautiful.
6. How has your family reacted to you staying back?
S: My father was very convinced that I should come back on the evacuation flight. But after consulting hundreds of thousands of people, he changed his mind and asked me to stay here. But of course, they're still worried, especially considering that I get sick pretty often. So they just want us to come back as soon as possible.
M: My home is a little different. My parents think I should stay there as it is very unsafe to come back right now.
7. How was your 'forex' experience different from IIT? Were they able to travel the country at all?
S: New York has been my dream destination, and I have never been to a beach before. When I came to Boston, I was excited, thinking it's a beachy city. I was so happy thinking I will enjoy the beaches and open areas. We decided to go to a beach in New York. We booked the tickets on Wednesday to go on Friday, and on Thursday morning, the cases blew up so our tickets were cancelled. That was the first vacation we had planned after coming here. We had four months, so we thought of giving time to adjust to the lab and then going out, and then we couldn't travel.
M: I think it is also a good thing we didn't travel, considering how risky it would have been. I think it was lucky for us.
Update: Sharut returned to India in August while Mehak is currently living in California with her brother.