An eyewitness account of a USM-KLE IMP student of what was it like to be in the midst of the pandemic when it broke out in India.
PENANG, April 2021 - Sorting it out from last year’s calendar, most of us could not run away from the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ experience when the COVID-19 pandemic went global.
It wasn’t easy and most of us are still trying hard to cope with the new normal. It clearly gave many of us challenges to our psychological resilience and well-being.
A medical student of ours who studies in India, at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)-KLE International Medical Programme (IMP) in Belgaum, Karnataka also has a real-life story with his fellow colleagues to share.
Hirresh Sai Suria is now in his Fourth year and will soon be coming back to our beloved country for good. His story explains what his life was like during the last 12 months of the COVID-19 pandemic and how it affected his life and the lives of his friends, in ways that were both positive and negative.
Being away from his family, it was a terrible time to be in during the first chapter when the pandemic became global. Furthermore, India was one of the countries with the largest number of confirmed cases in Asia and also in the world.
Hirresh said; “It was in March 2020 that a lockdown was imposed in India. We were all actually surprise when we were told that we may not be able to sit for our assessment for the practical work posting because COVID-19 has already reached Belgaum.
“At first, we were a bit worried on how things might affect us, especially our academic activities, as we have been told that we couldn’t even see patients at the hospital because they were afraid to come to the hospital.
“So, we knew something was wrong and that things may go otherwise. So, we contacted Dr. Ashok Pangi, the KLE person in-charge of the students.
He said, things may go on as usual but the Indian Prime Minister (PM) will be issuing a statement the next day.
“When next day came, the PM then announced that they will impose a lockdown in India, as the number of positive cases continues to spike. We have been told to just stay at home.”
THE REAL CHALLENGES
Hirresh added that, the lockdown has somehow left them with mixed feelings.
Hiresh and all Malaysian students were already expecting the worst. Not only were they worried of themselves, their families were also looking at the best way on how to protect their loved ones from afar.
“We were not sure what was going to happen because our food sources will soon be depleted, our freedom to go out will be hampered and most importantly we won’t even be allowed to go to the hospital.
“So we started thinking about ways to deal with this problem. How do we go about handling the issue.
“So, the first to be given focus was the food. As soon as the lockdown was issued, all the restaurants around the campus area were not allowed to open. The only option that we had were the canteen on the ground floor and also the food catering service.
“We have to find restaurants that could sustain us for the next few months also. So, we first started with the canteen; they could supply us with food;then USM came into the picture and they helped us to contact the canteen staff; they made sure that the food was paid for, and everything was being taken care of, to the extent that we got some relief,” he elaborated.
Hirresh then said, there was an incident where a couple of students communicated with the local newspaper and said that the food provided was not good, which came as a surprise to him.
“For most of us, in view of the difficult situation the entire global community have to face, the food was excellent and most importantly it was being paid for.
“There was a need for improvement though, as we have to find ways on getting the food supply regularly, as it would not be served twice daily. What we did was, we found a vendor willing to supply us with chicken and we served it at the canteen. It wasn’t easy at first as we didn't have much sources around.
“But luckily, with the help from many especially USM, we managed to overcome the food issue, even though it took us a couple of months.
“After that, we stopped acquiring the catering service and USM had helped us to find a restaurant, or in India it is known as a hotel, to serve us food. We just have to make sure that hygiene was being taking care of; we made sure that the source of raw material was good and most importantly, we had to make sure that the staff/worker had not contacted the virus yet,” he said.
After a while, Hirresh and his friends managed to adapt to the new norms and started to continue their daily life as usual.
Even though it was not the same as before, they went on their usual routine of studying, playing sports, watching movies and they filled their time with whatever activities they could. There were some point in time that the campus community felt that they were even surrounded by the same circle of people throughout.
“We would often fill our time by playing outdoor sports like futsal, badminton and basketball. Then, we realised that it was not safe, although it was a homogeneous group and we were all in the campus or hostel together, and we were not exposed to anyone outside.
“Even then, we still had to take precautions, and we then issued a statement saying that we should not be involved in sports. So, our students started looking for alternatives for sports. So what did they do?
“They started to go jogging inside the hostel, up and down the staircase, just to sweat it out. We needed to adapt to the situation and to comfort and encourage each other to overcome the changes,” he said.
ADAPTING TO THE NEW NORMS OF STUDYING
“We reached the point when we needed to refocus on our academic life. Whether we like it or not, lessons have to start and we have to find ways to keep our academic activities on track.
“This is where online classes began and have continued since. And this has greatly helped us because we had no clinical exposure, although we went for our clinical years. So, we really needed something other than books alone to teach us the values that will be used in the future.
“Daily life then started to continue until came 11th of May, when a majority of our students (250) left the country (India) to return to Malaysia and to continue with our classes online.
“There were 33 of us who stayed back and studied on campus. We filled our time in order to manage our lives better. There were a lot of hands who helped us to stay on and to look alive. Be it to secure food for us, to ensure that we were in good condition and even offered us support to finish our academic term.
“We knew that the Vice-Chancellor and the top management of USM, our lecturers as well as people from the Ministry and Embassy were very concern about us, and for that we are truly grateful and thankful,” he added.
AN EXPERIENCE HE WILL NEVER FORGET
Hirresh believes in values that USM had taught them, especially when dealing with difficulties.
“In my opinion, I believe that our students had gone through the hardest journey that one could face. We leaned on the words - resilience and sustainability - and has proven it with the actions we had taken in managing the circumstances on our own.
“USM is not just a University that you want to be in, but the University you have to be in. So take this opportunity and learn as much as you can. Because there is no other time to do it.
“The best lesson one should learn will be the real-life experiences. And the pandemic has thought us the greatest lesson which you will never find in books,” concluded Hirresh.
Text: Marziana Mohamed Alias & Mazlan Hanafi Basharudin