Youth: Meet Kaira, a Student at Williams College in Massachusetts
Interviewer: Freya Gulamali; April 17, 2020
Interviewee: Kaira Mediratta, 3rd-year @ Williams College studying abroad @ Oxford University
Celebrating friendship prior to quarantine (Kaira Mediratta).
Could you tell us about how the pandemic has impacted your life?
I was supposed to be at Oxford for my whole junior year – from October to June. Had I only been there for a semester, I think I would’ve approached things much differently; perhaps would’ve been more adventurous, taken more risks. But the ever-present knowledge that I had so much time left allowed me to become, if not idle, then nonchalant. I approached things day by day, slowly absorbing the sights and scenes of Oxford, because “Why rush?”, I thought. I realize now that I’d invested perhaps an inordinate amount of potential into Trinity term – the last trimester of the Oxford school year, considered objectively the best of the three. Trinity term would bring travels with friends, punting in the river, barbeques in the yard, and the rare appearance of the British sun. Most of all, I was excited for my family to come visit me once it was finally warm out, and to show them around this town that had become my home.
Part of me is still beating myself up for not having been more spontaneous and fancy-free when I had the chance. But what I’ve also come to realize is that I was always going to invest a certain hopefulness in the future, and that no checklist was ever going to satisfy me. We’re always looking forward to something – the weekend, then summer, then graduation. But I believe that I lived in and understood Oxford in the best way that I knew how – leisurely and at my own pace. There were so many little things that made up my day to day life, from cooking with friends in our tiny kitchen, to running to catch the bus home after a long night; ultimately, the patchwork of those quotidian moments became something so much more special in retrospect.
My anxiety in the weeks leading up to my “deportation” began slowly, and then all at once. I remember a late night in the common room, playing board games and watching TV; we all received an email that the first case of Coronavirus had been confirmed at Oxford. But nevertheless, we joked and laughed about stocking up for quarantine, and about how we’d keep ourselves occupied in our house for the next month – the consideration that we may be sent home was a foreign concept.
"But nevertheless, we joked and laughed about stocking up for quarantine, and about how we’d keep ourselves occupied in our house for the next month – the consideration that we may be sent home was a foreign concept."
One morning at the coffee station, perhaps a week prior to the news, I ran into a friend of mine who looked particularly tense. He said, quite presciently, something along the lines of, “I have a bad feeling that they’re going to send us home any day,” to which I assured him that we definitely would not; I would feel so unfulfilled if that happened, I told him. Even then, I considered his fears silly – people may be getting sent home, but surely not us. We were the exception.
The day before it happened, our director sent us an email stating that they wouldn’t be sending us home; we’d be allowed to stay in Oxford on the condition that we didn’t travel outside of the UK for our spring break. Although this was disappointing to many of us who’d been planning travel for months, we rejoiced that our study abroad experience wasn’t over yet. Even if we all were quarantined in the house, having each other would make it bearable. We’d make it fun, we decided, and at least we wouldn’t have to say goodbye yet.
I biked into town the next morning, still elated that I wasn’t being sent home; I went to an interview, got my chai latte, and went to the library. The minutes before I got that fateful email, however, I could feel it like a pit in my stomach. I knew something was coming. And when it inevitably did, I immediately left the library with tears in my eyes. I remember running into someone in my program that I wasn’t particularly close with, someone who clearly wasn’t as perturbed as I was, but in that moment, they were one of the only people in the world who could understand how I felt. He gave me a hug. “Are you sad about it?” he asked, and I burst into tears.
I biked home with a friend, and as we approached my street, he asked me if I’d ever seen the river near our house. Can you believe that I’d been living there for 6 months and never seen it? We took a quick detour and biked down to the most beautiful and peaceful river, with yellow daffodils blooming on the banks and a blue sky for once. I was at once filled with immense sadness, thinking about all the other magical places in Oxford I’d never seen and probably would never see before I left. But to have a moment of stillness on such a catastrophic day, if only for a few minutes, filled me with a warm golden feeling as well. In that instant, I was reminded of the timeless charm that resides in and envelops Oxford, a charm that I wouldn’t soon forget.
"I was at once filled with immense sadness, thinking about all the other magical places in Oxford I’d never seen and probably would never see before I left."
The next few days were perhaps the busiest of my entire time in Oxford; I scrambled to make a list of what I wanted to accomplish before I left and was madly checking things off, although even this proved to be a futile task. The pressure only amplified when Trump’s travel ban forced me to switch to a flight two days earlier. A moment of calm came the night before I flew home; we decided to put our ball gowns and tuxedos – intended for our now nonexistent college ball – to good use. Dressed to the nines, and with the sun setting behind us, we had a photoshoot out in the yard. It is perhaps those photos, a reminder of the pomp and circumstance of Oxford, that make me most nostalgic to look back on now; although they’re not particularly good, the laughter and energy we shared is something I’m missing more than ever in the isolation of quarantine.
On the flight home, I journaled for what seemed like pages and pages, outlining all of my unfulfilled hopes that would never come to fruition, and how I would’ve done xy or z differently had I known my time would be cut short. Having been home now for almost a month, it is still bizarre to me how something like that could just end so abruptly, with not nearly enough time to say goodbye. I know it’s selfish to feel this upset over something as frivolous as a study abroad program in the midst of a pandemic, but in that moment, I felt total collapse and embraced it, because it was the only feeling I could muster. It certainly wasn’t the ending we expected or wanted, I thought to myself, but to have felt such sorrow and pain to leave must be a testament to what a special community we were able to build together. I may never have gotten to experience summer in Oxford, but I’ll admit that I prefer the dreary, rainy days anyway.