“Bro, NOW what will we do?” 

I woke up to this text from a friend one morning back in July. Attached to the text was a link to the latest guidelines provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for students on an F-1 visa. 

I’m in India, which means that in the dead of night, while I was fast asleep and blissfully unaware, the U.S. government had put into question my whole career as a student.

It was shocking and, to use today’s most common phrase, “unprecedented.” My friends and I spent the next few days overwhelmed by anxiety and panic. We had absolutely no idea if we’d be allowed to return to campus in August. And if we were, how were we going to afford to come back home after in-person instruction ended in November? Could we be deported if another COVID-19 wave hit mid-semester? Our minds were teeming with every worst-case scenario. 

What had kept me going throughout quarantine was that, soon, I’d be back in the familiar city of Rochester, getting a burrito bowl from the Pit and enjoying a meal with all of my friends like nothing had changed. Suddenly, all that had kept me going seemed to be in peril. 

The International Services Office (ISO) held town halls to explain the situation, several universities sued ICE, and social media campaigns began. It was all over as quick as it had started. 

“Bro, we can go back!”

Attached to this text was an article reporting that ICE had rescinded the alarming guidelines. That burrito bowl meal seemed likely enough now. 

But we weren’t in the clear yet. As the weeks passed, I received campus reopening guidelines and more invitations to town halls that outlined every little detail for returning to campus. It was intimidating, to say the least. It seemed like I was going to be able to get that burrito bowl, but I wasn’t going to be able to enjoy it in the company of friends. My resolve to go back to campus weakened. 

None of the emails I received indicated anything about students travelling internationally having to quarantine. 

“How are we supposed to make it there in a WEEK?”

Attached was the screenshot of an email from the ISO stating that now, according to new CDC guidelines, international students had to quarantine. And in order to make it to Rochester for the free quarantine facility in time, I had to be there within a week. 

I laughed. No way was I making it there in a week. And this is precisely when I started to gather my thoughts and think rationally. What was all this panic and anxiety about going back for? A meal with friends that seemed far too good to be true? Three months of Zoom classes from my dorm? Or was it the labs I love so much, but would have to wait until next semester for anyways?

The more I tried to convince myself that the college experience would be worth the risk of a 15-hour flight in these times, the more I was discouraged. The sad truth is that it simply isn’t worth it.

Most of us alive today have never experienced a pandemic on this scale before. We have lost countless of our kind, and will continue to do so until a vaccine arrives. Everyone’s mental and physical well-being has taken a serious beating. Its consequences are much bigger than my simple hope for a meal at the Pit, and so I have decided that the burrito bowl is going to have to wait. I am going to Zoom my way through the upcoming semester and try to learn as much as I can. It isn’t going to be the same — not even close — but it won’t be impossible, either.

Here’s to hoping we all come out of this and are able to share a simple meal without the fear of a pandemic looming over us. Soon, we’ll have the privilege of being late to class in person, rather than signing in late on Zoom. Soon we’ll go back to grumbling about our Starbucks drink’s 20-minute ETA. And when all of this can happen safely and without putting anyone at risk, that’s when I’ll happily take that 15-hour flight and return for my burrito bowl.

Tagged: COVID-19

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