Barbara Oedayrajsingh Varma’s room in Eliot House looks a lot like it did three weeks ago, with textbooks on the bookshelf and photographs of friends and family covering the wall above her desk. But since the COVID-19 threat prompted the evacuation of campus and a shift to online-only classes, everything outside her door is unrecognizable.
Oedayrajsingh Varma, a junior from the Netherlands studying psychology, is one of several hundred students who remain on campus, owing to special circumstances. Instead of walking to and from classes, hanging out with friends in the House courtyard, and singing with Harvard-Radcliffe Collegium Musicum and the Radcliffe Pitches, she attends her four classes online and checks in with friends over Zoom, text, and outside (from a safe distance). The familiar has become strange, a problem that many share, even those who returned home.
“I was really scared that I was going to be constantly reminded what life would have been like if the pandemic hadn’t happened,” said Oedayrajsingh Varma. She noted that her three roommates left campus and that she eats take-out meals from the dining hall in her room or outside, a big contrast to the usual dining with friends.
Deciding to stay was not easy.
“There was a huge spread of the coronavirus in the Netherlands, so staying [at Harvard] was not great, but going home was also not great,” she said. “It was very difficult to make the choice, and having to consider factors like [the U.S. ban on travel from Europe] was a very, very strange experience.”
Like other international students, Oedayrajsingh Varma faced uncertainty around maintaining her visa status, eligibility for work authorization, and the ability to return if she left the U.S. To help deal with these issues, she sought guidance from the Harvard International Office.