Coronavirus already lurked around the corner by the start of 2020, but its impact on my life and everyone around me gradually took a more defined shape as the curve experienced exponential growth.
By the end of my spring break, the virus started to spread rapidly on the East Coast. I received a three-day notice of eviction from my college housing. Most of my friends hadn’t even returned from their trips. Nobody prepares for such an unprecedented event, but a thousand-dollar flight to another end of the globe, risking visa status and stable academic track, really put me at a dilemma.
I decided to go home because I couldn’t afford the out-of-pocket costs in the US as a low-income international student. I was fortunate to stay in a healthy community, but COVID-19 hits the financial situation of our family hard. My parents’ income dwindled in half, while my paid internship this summer was canceled. To support our family, I spare some working time to assist my mom with her food business. Days that I would have normally attended Stat classes and gone to discussion groups are now spent on washing vegetables, making spring rolls, and delivering.
If college fosters a rigorous schedule filled with boundless on-campus events, going back home means adapting to your family’s lifestyle. It starts out with sharing a bedroom with my little sibling, so no more all-nighters with coffee and a bag of chips to finish my essay. Instead, I go to bed at 10:30, an unimaginable bedtime for millennials that are used to compromising our sleeping habit for academics and extracurricular projects.
In such times of hardship, I find comfort in realizing I’m not alone in navigating the challenges COVID-19 poses to a low-income family. I was touched at the immediate emergence of student-led mutual aid to assist those in difficulty after the university’s eviction. My friends constantly checked up on me and introduced me to different funding resources to alleviate the financial burden. Zoom is a bit of a glitch, but professors were understanding of time zone difference to accommodate my case. Home is not the best environment to allow me to entirely focus on academics, but my family always tries their best to give me a comfortable study space.
I feel moved, supported, and fortunate. But I couldn’t help but notice the tremendous class disparity in times of global pandemic. Not everyone has the privilege to perceive quarantine as an occasion for “refreshment” or “self-growth” by chilling in vacation homes and baking multiple versions of banana bread. First-gen low-income students, sons and daughters of blue-collar workers who got laid off amid a severe economic crisis, are struggling to put enough food on their plates.