An early morning tweet on Earth Day woke up a few students at IIT Kharagpur. A fellow Kgpian student, pursuing internship at Georgia, Atlanta, USA, had tweeted seeking help from the Indian authorities in the lockdown situation. Her friends from IIT Kharagpur got in action and shared her message on IIT Kharagpur’s social media handle. Finally the stranded student was connected with IITKGP Foundation, the alumni body of the Institute in USA, who are now trying to help her reach out to the alumni in the region.
Few days prior to this incident, another such call was made for some IIT students stranded in Germany and Sweden. The IITs are reaching out to the alumni in the respective region to connect with these students under distress. International students across the globe are sharing their concerns regarding their fellowships/grants, visa status, residency protocols as the world has come to a standstill with COVID-19 Lockdown. But what is happening at the home front? The Kgp Chronicle presents an account of the international students outreach at IIT Kharagpur.
IIT Kharagpur at present is hosting students and researchers from 12 countries – Afghanistan, Bhutan, Colombia, Ethiopia, France, Myanmar, Nepal, Nigeria, Russia, South Korea, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. The Institute is assuring its international students making them feel home away from home while facilitating their academics, stay, residency and other protocols.
The Office of International Relations (OIR) has created an online forum to reach out to the students on a daily basis. The Office shares relevant Institute notices on this forum. The foreign scholars are encouraged to share their concerns and these are addressed as much as possible under these difficult times.
OIR also extended assistance towards extension of visa and processing of scholarship to avoid any disruption of stay and other facilities availed by these students. Some students who have gone home after the mid semester examination are being assisted by the Office and their respective embassies to network with the Ministry of External Affairs, Govt. of India to arrange for their return when the semester resumes.
“Several international students are receiving financial aid under international programs run by us and outreach bodies of the Govt. of India. We have ensured that they receive their scholarships on time. We are constantly in touch with the students and are committed towards their wellbeing. With every passing day we assure them there is nothing to worry, like every other student, IIT Kharagpur campus is their home away from home,” Prof. Anandaroop Bhattacharya, Associate Dean, International Relations.
Dr. Than Htike Win from Myanmar who is pursuing research work at the Dept. of Metallurgical & Materials Engineering shared his experience during the lockdown period. As his fellowship period gets over at the end of June 2020, he is trying to progress during this phase, in particular the analysis of his research completed till now and planning to finalize the remaining research work and write the reports.
Solomon Demiss, visiting research scholar from Ethiopia at the Institute’s Dept. of Metallurgical & Materials Engineering has been pursuing his research work through interactions with his guide and fellow team members, reading and writing reports. Solomon was delighted with the gesture of his fellow students to assist him with procuring necessary supplies from the market while he is managing his condition of physical challenge and social distancing.
The students are using this isolation period to extensively improve their knowledge base through optimal use of eLearning platforms. Tamim Boubou, who is pursuing MTech in Control System Engineering at the Dept. of Electrical Engineering, was planning to go home to Syria during the summer recess. But now he is utilising the summer-time by attending online video lectures and taking part in summer projects.
“I actually enjoyed the online video classes, they are more comfortable and in my view are quite interactive, you can record the session and go back to a certain point whenever needed, in short, it is a good experience,” he said. The summer project he has currently undertaken is related to his Masters Thesis Project which is scheduled in the next semester.
Tamim is excited about the online group created by the Office of International Relations for international students where they are being updated frequently with all new announcements.
“Almost everyday we are being checked upon, if there is anything missing that we need, same for all mess and hostel facilities, everyone is so cooperative,” he remarked.
Similar thought is echoed by Charles Munyaradzi from Zimbabwe who is pursuing postdoctoral fellowship in biomedical research. Though he has going through acclimatization with the Indian summers and sceptical about his scholarship as his banking formalities got delayed due to lockdown, he appreciates the regular flow of communication which gives him an assurance in the current circumstances while being in a foreign land.
Several students also plans to seek assistance from the office for renewal of their passport and residence permit, after the lockdown is relaxed and the embassies resume regular operations.
The students are interacting with their classmates online for joint study, research ideas, games. Some of them are putting their extra time to use by testing their cooking talents. The Office has also provided them with home and kitchen appliances which are useful now during the social distancing period.
Contemplating on the impact of the pandemic situation on the internationalization efforts of IIT Kharagpur, Dean International Relations Baidurya Bhattacharya opined,
“At IIT Kharagpur, we understand internationalization to mean presenting our best to the service of humanity, and in turn, to bring what is best in the world into our campus. Just as this exchange includes the movement of people, it equally well involves the give and take of ideas, free thought and knowledge. As we come out of this pandemic, we will see some short term changes. A lot of national resources will be devoted by every country in rebuilding their economies. Movement of people will probably reduce somewhat, and that will include faculty and students. But the free flow of knowledge and goodwill between the home and the world will continue.”
The Dean is planning to strengthen and expand the joint academic programs of the Institute with its international partners, conducting more joint research, proposing for more multi-agency grant applications.
An optimistic Prof. Bhattacharya said, “We will have more online interactions, and we will learn more from each other in how to make the world a safer, kinder and more equitable place – because in the end, we are all in it together.”