Digital learning has been a buzzword in the education field for years now. But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world this year and educational institutions had to switch to online learning overnight, many didn’t know how to cope with the change.

Perhaps most institutions believed the shift would happen in the future. Well, the future is here. And thousands of students with plans to go abroad to study are suddenly starting at an uncertain future.

As someone at the cusp of going back to student life, my plans were very different when 2020 started. I was going to leave my job, travel the world, move back in with my parents for a couple of months, and then move halfway across the world to a new country for a PhD, and start a new international experience. 

This move to another country was to account for half of the educational experience, outside the academic curriculum. The cultural exchange, peer learning, and sense of communal belonging would have been a huge part of this international education. 

But then the coronavirus pandemic changed everything.  And I had to redraw my plans.

I won’t get to meet my professors and my peers in person. Instead, I will move back to my hometown and be a student within the four walls of the room that belonged to me in my childhood. How is this education? And can learning really happen like this?

The answer is yes, it can. It has to.

Students who planned to move are filled with anxiety. They are worried about funding and the uncertainty around whether their entire programs will be covered online. Many may even be wondering if this is the right time to go back to school, given that the economy is going through a tough phase. 

The pandemic and nationwide lockdowns caused chaos for students who are already studying abroad. Thousands of international students were forced to return home quickly before their countries sealed their borders and went into lockdown. The new US government guidelines require international students to take in-person classes in order to stay in the country, forcing students to choose between deportation and risking their health to attend classes in the middle of the pandemic. If passed, universities and colleges will have to reopen their campuses and prioritize in-person classes over strengthening their online learning infrastructure, which will impact incoming students as well. 

There are no easy answers to these questions, but here’s what students can do until there is some clarity on the future of their education.

1. Continue with your plans of study if you have an offer and funding: If you already have an offer and your funding isn’t an issue, then go ahead and take it up. You can start learning remotely to begin with. You will find it difficult to find a job in the current economy and may as well spend time in upskilling for better roles for when the global economic situation improves.

2. Make connections with your professors and other students in your cohort: Even though you may not be able to join your peers and professors in person, take the initiative to connect with them outside of the purview of your coursework. Office hours and weekly meetups are a great way of doing this.

3. Reach out to more students in similar situations: Connecting with others also starting international programs from their homes will give you a sense of belonging. Check out Harappa’s Expanding Networks course to see how you can leverage your existing circles during such crises.

4. Read more and stay updated on developments in your field: Use the time that you’re saving from commuting and working to keep yourself updated on research in your field of study. You can learn about effective reading from Harappa’s Reading Deeply course.

5. Count your blessings: Many of us have homes to live out this pandemic, and access to food and security. As students, engaging with studies would become near impossible if we couldn’t take these basic things for granted. In fact, we should take these into account when we think of how difficult the next few months are going to be. Just being aware of the good things will help us keep up our positivity.

Suha Gangopadhyay is a graduate from Oxford and worked at Ashoka University. A curriculum editor at Harappa Education, she has traveled to every continent on this planet—well, almost.

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