I'm a college student but I haven't been to college: Why the freshmen of 2020 will never be like anyone else

The students who began studying their bachelor's courses in 2020 haven't seen their college campuses yet. They recount their stories
These students have only attended online lectures
These students have only attended online lectures

Mountains or Beaches? Nafrin N N would pick the latter any day of the week. "I love spending my time at beaches. I'd go there often while I was in school," says the 18-year-old. So in 2020, when she cleared the entrance examination with the eighth rank in the country and secured admission to study an Integrated MA in Political Science, she was elated. She dreamt of spending her evenings at the beautiful beaches of Puducherry and exploring the large collection of books at the university's library.

But all that went for a toss when the pandemic struck. Like most freshmen of the year 2020, Nafrin hasn't seen her university's campus. Neither does she hope to see it anytime soon, considering the current pandemic situation in the country. "We are hearing that our batch may get to go to campus by our fourth semester," she says. Nafrin admits that she has cursed her fate for being born in a particular year and having had to spend a major chunk of her college life at home, with her eyes fixated on a screen.

This is not what we signed up for

The last time Nafrin interacted with a group of people as old as her was almost a year ago, in June 2020. "My school board examination was held at that time. It was postponed because of COVID," she says. But that wasn't a regular examination day at school. Everyone wore masks, sanitised their hands and had limited interaction with people, fearing COVID. The academic year for colleges and universities began five months later, in November.

Nafrin N N

At around the same time, the Ministry of Home Affairs had issued guidelines saying that colleges and universities can call back PhD researchers and final year science students. However, there was never an instruction on calling freshmen to college. This definitely wasn't what a majority of them had expected.

"Kerala is my comfort zone and I wanted to break out of it. So, when I got into a Central University, I was dreaming about the kind of exposure that it would give me. I could not wait to attend the seminars and debate forums and to interact with people from across the country," she says. Neelima N V, a first-year undergraduate student of Miranda House too says the same. "I wanted to study in a college in Kerala, the state that I belong to, but my parents and teachers convinced me to apply to the University of Delhi. They were excited when I got through Miranda House, which is one of the top-ranked colleges in the country," she says. But she hasn't been to the college yet.

"I have heard so much about the college fests and the trips that our seniors go on. But I do not know if I'd get to attend either," she says. Neelima says that she has no doubts about the quality of education and the lectures in her college. But a lot of her classmates haven't been able to be regular to these lectures off late. "This has been the case for the past two weeks. Students are COVID positive, have had deaths in their families or are running around to get their parents vaccinated. Nobody is in the right space of mind to attend classes," she says.

Neelima N V 

"This is affecting the children a lot. Their entire college life is confined in front of the screens," says Dr Abha Dev Habib, an assistant professor of Miranda House. "There is no separation between home and work," she says, adding that this is also affecting the students' social skills.

Hope and little joys

Nafrin often tells herself that everything will be all right. She is yet to meet any of her classmates, despite having had conversations with them online or over the phone. "A few Keralites had arranged a meetup sometime earlier, but I couldn't attend it," she says. However, she hopes to meet them soon.

She also has a lot more to do, once she gets to Puducherry. "Even though I attended the lectures online and scored good grades, I know that my knowledge in a lot of subjects is quite limited. I am looking forward to interacting with my teachers and classmates to learn more," she says. Then, of course, she cannot avoid the beaches. She got to check out each and every one of them. "Also, I have heard that they have great French cafes there. I cannot wait to try out French food," she says.

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