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‘I felt warm and happy like I’d finally come home’

In conversation with Manasi Narula and Damini Jain, students of History and English from the UG’23 cohort ~ Uma Bakshi revisits the phase when classes took place online and traces the students back to campus with the return of normalcy

When we think of college, the first thing that comes to most of our minds is the campus. You feel like you are in college when you step onto campus grounds for the first time. It is in an unfamiliar yet exciting new environment. But for most students of the UG’23 cohort, their ‘college’ experience turned out to be very different from what they thought it would be.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent devastation it unleashed meant that colleges were shut and classes took place online. For Damini, a part of the UG’23 cohort, her first day of college was online.

“I felt a mix of emotions,” she recalled. “Everything felt unreal and yet life-altering at the same time.”
She remembers her Orientation week vividly, and how she interacted with her batchmates every day. “It was quite overwhelming at first. Even though it was all online, the amount of effort the Resident Assistants, cohort leaders, and professors put into making us feel like a part of the University really pushed me to be more involved in all activities and stay motivated.”

For many, online classes were a unique life event. “You don’t always get to attend class in your pajamas,” says Manasi, a member of UG’23.

“I was more productive during online classes and spent every waking minute glued to my screen. I was very excited about my first week. Despite feeling like I was physically far away, seeing so many faces through my screen made me feel like I was a part of a community (along with the many pigeons at my window.)”

Manasi’s first day at the campus was quite different. “It was on a Sunday in my third semester at college,” she recalls. “My father drove me to RH5, where I went in to get tested for COVID-19.

“I spotted a familiar face behind a mask and somehow suddenly felt comfortable in the unknown space that Ashoka University seemed back then. When I was on my way to my room, I bumped into friends and acquaintances in the hallways. I was so happy to meet them in real life (and shocked they had bodies beyond their face and neck- who knew?) Instead of unpacking, I decided to spend the rest of the day meeting friends and catching up. When I went to bed that night, I felt warm and happy, like I’d finally come home.”

Damini has similar views about offline college. “While I feel like I was able to create meaningful connections with people online, returning to the offline mode made the experience of college more enjoyable, as it not only expanded the scope for interaction, it also opened up a whole new world for non-academic activities.”

So, is one’s college experience intricately tied to their life on campus? The answer is still a bit blurry. “The feeling of belonging, of community at Ashoka University is strong- both online and offline,” Damini says. “Being part of a vibrant community and being able to explore new interests is also an important part of college life.”

“After all,” says Manasi, “it’s what makes this university ‘Ashoka’. It has grown to be home, because of the campus and the people.”

(Uma Bakshi is a second-year student at Ashoka University)

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