In My Own Words: My experience with COVID-19 as an international student

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Vedant Kulkarni, senior in mass communications and management information systems, is an international student from Nashik, India. (Archive Photo by John Chapple | Collegian Media Group)

The mental, physical and financial toll that COVID-19 has taken on international students across the nation, including myself, is too high.

Last November, I had the plan to visit my family in Nashik, India, for winter break. The Indian Government only allows people to fly into the country after testing negative on an RT-PCR test for COVID-19, so I took one on Nov. 17.

I had a minor headache and a runny nose at the time of my test, but I did not think it was a big deal. I had a nasty cold at the end of October and when I took a rapid test, it was negative. I essentially thought I just had some “residual” cold.

I was excited to go home after nearly one and a half years.

I thought I was receiving my negative results when Lafene called me on Nov. 18, so I picked up the phone with excitement and gave the caller a cheerful “good afternoon.”

This is when they told me the devastating news — I had tested positive for COVID-19.

At that moment, I felt the strongest palpitations I had felt in my lifetime. I felt like I could hear my fast heartbeats.

I immediately called my father in India, where it was 3 a.m. I woke my father, as well as my mother and sister, from their sleep and gave them the mind-numbing news.

I tried to stay as calm as possible as I gave them the news, but on the inside, I was panicking. As soon as I was finished speaking with my family, I broke down in my apartment.

Nov. 18 was also the day my roommates left our apartment because they were graduating. When I gave them the news of my positive test, they said they would be quarantined once they reached their respective homes. Luckily, their tests came back negative and they received the opportunity to quarantine for two weeks.

Students had Thanksgiving break over the course of the following 10 days and everyone I knew got a break, as well as the opportunity to reunite with their families. I was instead dawdling my four bedroom apartment all by myself with a devastating mindset.

I was heartbroken.

The most surprising part to me was that though I took all the necessary precautions that I could, I still got infected with COVID-19. The only times I left my apartment were for my one in-person class, one organization’s in-person meeting and purchasing groceries. Nevertheless, I got infected.

COVID-19 is no joke. I had multiple symptoms when I got infected — sore throat, runny nose, mild headaches throughout the days, a cough, difficulty breathing, difficulty sleeping and losing my sense of taste and smell. The worst part was that symptoms developed overtime throughout my isolation and quarantine period.

While most of the symptoms have subsided, I still have difficulty breathing. My lung capacity is not fully back — I can feel it. My taste and smell senses are not fully back either.

The mental health trauma that COVID-19 caused only added more salt to my injuries. I was already suffering from depression because of the KSUnite hijacking incident.

After my isolation and quarantine ended, it was time for finals. Once the semester ended, I went to Lafene for a mental health check-up.

I am currently receiving treatment and practicing mindfulness activities to better my mental health.

I wanted to share my experience publicly because being an international student during a pandemic has been extremely stressful and difficult. A majority of international students, like myself, have been unable to go home because of the pandemic. On top of that, it totally devastates our families and us when we are diagnosed with such illnesses.

I cannot imagine the pressure my parents must have undergone when they learned their son, who is halfway across the world, was diagnosed with COVID-19.

I had to stay strong on the outside to keep those close to me strong, but the mental health toll that the COVID-19 diagnosis took on me is too high. I have not completely got over it. I find solace because I did not need to be hospitalized in the U.S., especially because my family and I could not have been able to afford it at all.

COVID-19 is to be taken seriously. Whether you are local or international, do not take it lightly just because vaccinations have started. We need to continue following basic regulations such as wearing masks and staying healthy and indoors as much as possible in this pandemic.

We are not going back to how it was before COVID-19, rather we will be entering a new normal. In these upcoming times, I plead all of you to believe in our scientists and healthcare providers and the health tips they give us. We are in this pandemic together, and it’s only together that we can make it out.

Vedant Deepak Kulkarni is a Collegian contributor and a senior in management information systems and mass communications. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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