Mahitha Varikoti, international student, Australia
Mahitha Varikoti, is a masters student at Central Queensland University, Melbourne. She has been waiting to return to her campus since March 2020. She spoke to The PIE about the mental health impact of being stranded outside of Australia and how she has struggled to get adequate information from the authorities.
"I have spoken to different authorities and no one gives us any news"
The PIE: Tell me about your current situation
Mahitha Varikoti: I’m studying at Central Queensland University where I’m doing a master of management course and I have a subclass 500 visa. I’m currently in my last semester. I travelled to India in the month of February, 2020. That was only supposed to be a 20 day trip. We were all aware of the pandemic but we were not completely sure it would be this big. So I was prepared to travel back. I had a flight back to Australia booked for March 14 and for some reason my parents were not sure if travelling would be the best option, so I just cancelled my ticket. Then the border closure came into effect.
“I’ve been patiently waiting since March 2020. I was under the impression that in July they were going to open the borders”
The situation right now is that I’m currently in India. I was only coming for 20 days so I did not bring any of my essentials – all of my things and belongings are in Australia. I’ve been paying rent over there. For the first few months I paid the full amount. Then later, when my landlord realised my situation, he did reduce the rent. But still I am paying so that my things are not thrown out of the house or I’m not evicted. I’ve been patiently waiting since March 2020. I was under the impression that in July they were going to open the borders. Then I thought it would be in October or November. This is the time when Australia literally was not showing any cases, or at least not as many cases. So there comes a saturation point where you don’t believe anymore and the government is not answering any questions that students have. They do not have any medium of communication. They do not answer us. They do not give out information.
The PIE: What contact have you had with your university?
MV: I did get a call from my university’s South Asian office representatives and they informed me that in the month of December in one or two week that there would be chartered flights and they wanted to confirm if I wanted to travel. I mentioned to them that, yes, I am willing to travel. They informed me that in one or two weeks I’d get my flight details – and information on the restrictions and the quarantine options. When I got the call, I was really excited, keeping aside the fact that it’s going to cost me a lot of money. I waited until the end of January. I kept on calling them and emailing them about the situation, asking ‘why haven’t I received an email? Why haven’t I been informed about my travel? I should be prepared because you just gave me one or two weeks of notice.’ Finally, my university representatives did get back to me telling that ‘we are still in conversation with the government’. That has pretty much gone on… They’ve been informing me only one thing – ‘we are in conversation with the government’.
But I don’t see anyone replying to us. We are literally hanging on a very thin rope, where we don’t see it any more. It’s really confusing.
The PIE: What is it like studying remotely in India?
MV: I have to wake up really early in the morning to educate myself, to go for classes, to give presentations. When there were classes at 9:00am or 8:00am in the morning in Australia I was waking up at 3.30am, 4.30am. Who is that person who is going to understand anything at 3.30am or 4.30am in the morning when you are living your life in India until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.?
The PIE: How easy has it been to access the information you need around Australia’s border closures?
MV: I have spoken to different authorities and no one gives us any news. If we try to follow any news channels or what reports they give out or different threads about what this minister has said, what that minister has said – we are bound to believe it because there’s no other information coming our way. We have tried our best to contact anyone and everyone. And when I speak to my university about reading certain news on the internet, they mention to us that the news is not always reliable.
“They are neglecting a group of people who are actually trying to have a mutual benefit for Australia”
I mean, give us some news so that we know which one to rely or to not rely on. If the government were willing to talk to us and give out details – saying, ‘OK, you know what? You’ve been patient. We are doing this or doing that’, it would at least be encouraging. They are neglecting a group of people who are actually trying to have a mutual benefit for Australia and for themselves as well.
The PIE: Tell me about the difficulties you have had with your belongings.
MV: Until October and November, there weren’t many shipments happening from India to Australia or Australia to India. I have a lot of stuff over there. If I get all of it back to India and give up my accommodation, it’ll be a very big deal for me to go back there and find a room and start from scratch with everything that I own. There are few electronic items that Australia won’t ship. What do I do with them? There’s literally nothing I can do.
The PIE: What has the mental health impact of all of this been on students?
MV: It does take a really big toll on mental health. I have a breakdown every two days or three days when I realise that I don’t have opportunities, when I realise that my visa is going to expire, and when I realise that friends of my age who were back in India, have actually travelled back to other countries and I’m still sitting here and listening to classes online.
“It is really depressing and I would really not wish this on anyone”
Given the time difference and the kind of exposure that I wanted, this is something that I would not prefer. It’s not even that universities have reduced their fees. They’ve only given us a payment plan. There’s so many posts online that say Australia universities are giving you these many bonuses. No, they’re not. I’m paying the full amount. It has a very bad hit on your mental health because you see your parents paying for your education, which you are not completely getting as you wanted to. It is really depressing and I would really not suggest this for anyone, this is really bad.
The PIE: If you could speak with the Australian government – what would you say?
MV: We trusted you. We came to you. You cannot neglect a huge group of people. There are a lot of accommodation facilities. I mean, the student accommodation, the Airbnbs, the hotels, [there] was a point of time that no one really used them. You could allow cricket players into your country, but you can’t allow real people who are relying on your decision. That is really not fair. We would like to be acknowledged and I really want someone to answer my questions and give me an update about when I am going to be able to travel. Just telling us that the international borders are going to remain closed and their top priority are Australians, I do get it, but you cannot neglect us. That is not fair for us.
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