Second-year neuroscience student Ananya Shankar, faced by the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, has had to travel multiple places along the West Coast in search of stability and a sense of home. (courtesy of Ananya Shankar)
The coronavirus pandemic has drastically upended life in the most unforeseeable ways. At UCLA, our community is remarkably united by similar feelings of loss, confusion and concern, but also by light, hope and the perspective that the pandemic has brought to the forefront. In “Columns From Quarantine,” Daily Bruin staffers and community submissions highlight the personal stories that mark this unprecedented moment. If you have a quarantine story to tell, you can submit it here or email [email protected].
I could not digest seeing everyone, international and local people alike, rush home while I sat on my bed alone, wondering, “What did a ‘stay at home’ order even mean to me if I didn’t have anywhere to call home?”
With a winter quarter final I knew nothing about due in 24 hours, I saw the world around me uproot. I had been down with the flu for more than a week, and things around the world changed faster than I could keep track. My fellow Overseas Citizen of India friends were getting ready to fly to India, while I staggered back to a crumbling sense of normalcy.
Being both an international student and an American citizen at UCLA has its perks, and I had spent my entire college life hearing about how lucky I was – but it surely seemed to not be in my favor when India decided to close its borders, not allowing non-Indian citizens to fly in. I was scared too, partly because I couldn’t wrap my head around the gravity of the situation and partly because any semblance of normalcy, which I gathered from being surrounded by friends and family, lay in a faraway future that I could not envision.
In a haste, I tried applying for an emergency visa to go back to India before the borders closed for Indian citizens, too. Twenty-two straight hours after a series of phone calls with my parents, the Indian Consulate, other OCI students who got their visas and the airlines to figure out tickets, I had to accept that nothing aligned to make this work for me. With angst, frustration and stress, I let that idea go to face my reality. I still had eight things on my to-do list to complete, but zero will to do any of it.
Hoping and wishing for the ban to be lifted so I could fly back soon, I was excited to enjoy quarantine as much as I could. My friends from San Diego opened their homes to me and let me enjoy life again. Through goofy TikToks, ridiculous TV shows, gossip sessions and hilarious cooking tries, we made quarantine much better than I could have imagined. I started talking to old friends in my free time and singing again. All the little things I have always enjoyed doing and never got the time to now excited me to wake up every day.
My first move happened when I went to my roommate’s house in San Jose after two weeks, assuming that the ban would be lifted soon like the Indian government had announced and tried creating a new routine for myself. Although I missed my friends from San Diego, I forced myself to cherish the memories and get used to a new place. From making dalgona coffee to taking evening walks with deep conversations to watching movies on Netflix Party, we made every day tolerable. My happy state of mind, of course, was short-lived when I found out the ban was further extended, and I likely could not go back home until June. As hard as I tried, little curveballs and changes took its toll on me and it was getting increasingly harder to take life as it came.
Amid the chaos came my much-awaited 20th birthday. But my heavy heart grew a little lighter as I looked forward to celebrating it with my roommate. I constantly just told myself that there was a silver lining in everything. We had lots of cake, FaceTimed our friends, ordered in some South Indian food and watched my favorite TV show.
Every time I convinced myself that life was sunshine and rainbows, another curveball came blazing. I had to move again to Seattle, where my only family in the United States lives so that I could stay put in one place before I could go back home. Hit with judgmental comments from unknowing people who asked me why I kept traveling and bridled with the fear of getting the virus because of it, I gazed outside the window to see the beautiful city of Seattle as the flight landed.
It has been a week in Seattle and readjusting three times in a quarter has been challenging, daunting and crazy all at the same time. I can’t help but wonder if the hushed whispers are the members of the family talking about me and my poor eating and sleeping habits, or if it’s in my head. I catch myself faking a smile every time they look at me like a dutiful guest. I walk on eggshells and try my best to stay in a corner of the house and not be too loud or get in anyone’s way, but measuring my steps and words only keeps making the weight on my heart tussle.
This entire experience has had emotional effects, with hearing people who know and don’t know what I am going through say things and even factual blackholes that make me feel like this is never-ending, and the light at the end of the tunnel takes its turn in switching on and off.
I still catch myself sometimes staring at a wall, wondering when things will really change and if the ban will actually be lifted by June, and chills run down my back, forcing me to snap out of speculations and back to reality. But it also taught me a new perspective – I could either look at my situation and feel like the pandemic has exhausted me mentally, physically and emotionally, as there have been multiple weak moments of loneliness and realizing I am stranded.
Or, I could also look at it as an adventure and an exciting series of changes to keep me on my toes during the lockdown.
Ananya Shankar is a second-year neuroscience student from Chennai, India, and is a research assistant in a neurobiology lab.