Global Tamilian: College memories, not a promising present for freshmen this year

Despite being settled overseas, the Tamil diaspora loves to recreatethe life they left behind in India. Here’s a glimpse of their lives, celebrations and struggles on foreign shores
Global Tamilian: College memories, not a promising present for freshmen this year

Chennai

The first day of college for sure leaves a cherished imprint in one’s memory. Particularly if you are living in the US, this marks the beginning of free independent and responsible adult life. Breaking out from the cocoon of the parent’s care, starting a new life at the dorm sounds like flying in the air with no imposed restrictions. The feeling of accomplishment and the real drive for one to be an independent adult is often visible in the stride with which the freshmen walk into the college campus. The mixed emotions of the parents, marked by the pride that their wards made into their dream college, which also marks the beginning of emptiness at home as they return after dropping their wards at the college dorm, completing the due diligence and confirming that the facilities live up to their loved one’s liking and safety is equally unforgettable. But these colourful pages seem to have been removed for the current batch of college freshmen. Thanks to pandemic realities, the first day of college for these young aspirants was not anything closer to what they dreamt of.
“The long years of toil to get an admission into the Ivy League college and experience the first day of college life did not look any different from just another day. My son got up like usual, had breakfast that I made and got into his room and locked the doors for attending his morning classes. The virtual learning has effectively closed the doors of campus life at least to begin with,” sighed Ramya Raghavan, mom of the freshman at college in New Jersey whose son had to choose a virtual model for the semester. Mom recollects how much planning he made to start his dorm life: “Our family conversations were always around him starting his own life, the self-cooking lessons, the part-time job options and whatnot. Like most of his peers, he was looking forward to this day and when it never arrived, he is thoroughly disappointed”. There are just so many like him who have lost the charm of starting a new phase of life.
“My daughter chose to start in-person college and she insisted we drop her at the dorm. We had to think a lot to make a decision we were not comfortable with. We were concerned about the health and safety of our loved child. In no less than a week, she sends a message that someone tested COVID positive. All in her dorm were told to be quarantined at the college. We are just worried how this will move forward. The fun of being at college is lost for these kids instead a sense of anxiety and fear seem to creep in all of us,” sighed another.
For many Indian American parents, the life of their children at college is more precious. Right from both parents deciding to take to work planning every detail for the child’s college choices is a big ordeal. This year the day they longed to see arrived but with a lot of twists.
Staying home sacrificing the rich in-person experience of being in college in spite of paying the heavy tuition is a hard reality one has to face. Of course, having my child stay safe in my own house while continuing the studies online is many times better, is the general feeling of reconciliation that many have resorted to.
Interestingly, the pandemic is writing unheard of chapters in the history of America. According to a recent Pew research finding, young adults living with at least one parent is higher than ever before. During the last five months of the pandemic, more than 2.6 million young Americans between the age 18-29 have moved back with mom and dad. The share of young adults living home has increased to 52 per cent in July. Losing jobs, closing of work and college campuses, restricted outdoor movements all have forced this change.
“As an immigrant when we first moved to the US the thought that our kids will soon start an independent life that will have them go away from us was indeed disturbing. In a casual conversation at one of the library events, I recall how an American friend of mine said that it was just the norm to let our child start an independent life of his/her own at 18 years of age, as they step into college. I literally grabbed my child’s hands hard, who was barely 10 years old at that time. Sincerely wished that the day kept going farther away in the calendar,” says a fond mother of Indian origin.
Back home in India where joint family living is the norm where we get to live both with our parents and our children under one roof, the thought of separation from kids at a young age is quite disturbing for many. Maybe the turn of events that encourage the stay at home norm for everyone is signalling some good news to those stay-together believers.
All said and done, this pandemic is not staying with us permanently, so will be our kids. The anxious parents are certainly waiting for the day to see their wards in the college campus soon probably with no necessity to wear the mask or maintain the social distance. Hope the hard-hitting villain COVID-19 hears all these with a sound mind and exits the world soon forever!
— The writer is a journalist based in New York

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