Campus, Careers and the Coronavirus

Raghu (name changed) is studying III year B.Tech in one of the prestigious engineering colleges of Hyderabad. He hails from a village, some 100 KM away from Hyderabad and stays in a government hostel. They have a small piece of cultivable land in their village, which is their major source of income.

Raghu accepted the Lord recently in an evangelistic camp and continues to attend weekly Bible studies. After coronavirus started spreading in the city, the college and the hostel was closed, while Raghu had no choice, but to go back to their village. Situation was no better back home, as his only earning member of his family- his elder brother lost a small job and came back to village.

As the academic year started, the college started online classes. Raghu has an ordinary smart phone, but no computer. He is able to listen to the lectures, but extremely difficult to interact or work on any assignments given. As he lives in a remote village, the internet connection is also very weak, and most of the time the online class disconnects. There is also not enough money to buy necessary data pack to continue listening to the lectures. Often, he needs to join his brother for some manual work, so that their whole family can survive.

His other family members are nominal Christians, and Raghu finds it extremely difficult to pray regularly due to lack of privacy and fellowship. His family is worried whether he can finish the course, or whether he will get a job after his studies. There is a lot of stress and anxiety Raghu and his family are undergoing.

Like Raghu, most of the students in our country, and across the world, are in a state of uncertainty and panic. Coronavirus started affecting our country during the most crucial period for the education sector- when it’s time for academic examinations, entrance examinations, admissions and campus interviews.

As the pandemic continues to spread, colleges had to start their academic sessions due to various internal and external reasons. The teaching staff are hurriedly trained on online teaching methods and have started teaching the subjects, focusing on completing the syllabus. However, as the curriculum is not designed for online education, the connect between teachers and students is missing, and academic learning is taking its toll. In addition to that, the wholistic development of students is also at risk.

The impact of Coronavirus on student community is deep and disproportionate. While there are unlimited opportunities for the students who can afford, the students from poorer backgrounds are facing several challenges. In addition to this, there are added difficulties for girl students in the form of household chores, limitations in communicating with others, lack of safety and privacy.

However, the pandemic also brings some relief to the students in the form of reducing the syllabus, easy examinations and gracious award of degrees. But will these students qualify to get a job? Will they be able to survive in a highly competitive environment?

What should the students do?

As the days are not very conducive for education and employment, the students ought to use every opportunity (Eph 5:15-17) which comes on their way. Instead of getting disillusioned, one should carefully evaluate their current situation and try to excel in whatever way possible. One should remember that this is not the time for ordinary performance, but this demands extra-ordinary achievements. With God’s help, we need to find ways to discipline ourselves and ready to work hard with all our heart (Col 3:23-24).

We need to develop a habit of spending a dedicated time with God, just like Jesus (Luke 5:16). As you spend time with God, you are exposed to God’s wisdom and gain divine perspective of life, which is quite essential to tide over crisis such as these. It provides opportunity for you to seek His will for your life, and also get inspiring guidance for your future.

Our bodies are the temples of Hoy Spirit (I Cor 6:19) and it’s important for us to condition it for the glory of God. We are stewards of our bodies, and if we do not care for our health, we are neglecting God’s temple. Maintaining healthy body requires discipline, adaptability and patience. One should make it a routine to have at least 30 minutes of simple daily exercise, drinking more water, eating healthy foods, eating smaller portions 6 times a day and having 8 hours of sleep.

Fear and anxiety about this new Coronavirus, coupled with uncertainty of the future can cause strong emotions in young people. We are undergoing stress, if we observe any changes in our sleeping patterns, eating patterns, difficulty in concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems and increased use of harmful substances. In stressful circumstances, we also feel rejected, and avoid talking to others. Some amount of stress is healthy, but if it is affecting you, you need to seek help from all possible sources, especially sharing with your close confidants without delay.

Knowing adequate information of the virus can help you to be better prepared and contribute to reduction of your stress levels. Frequent communication to your family and friends, taking frequent breaks from routine, spending time in prayer along with other believers, talking to a senior, taking a stroll in the fresh air etc., can help you to get relieved from stress.

We need to prepare a list of friends and well-wishers who can continually motivate us, and keep in constant touch with them. Having a spiritual mentor whom you can trust and freely communicate helps you in the long run. We also can form small groups of 2-3, be accountable and encourage each other. These simple actions will help us to improve in our personal, professional and spiritual lives.
During the academic sessions- whether online or offline- there will be many days of low activity. We have to make it a point to put every available time to good use. We need to form small groups and start spending our leisure time by enrolling and doing various online courses related to our subject or other skills like communication, leadership, working as a team etc., There are several places you can find these courses of every type like- Youtube, Coursera, Edex, Swayam and many others.

Identifying your hobbies and nurturing them will also help in our social life and improve our bonding with other people. As Christians, we are called to glorify God with our hobbies (I Cor 10:31), otherwise they may be a source of escaping from life and from God. Based on our interest, some of the hobbies we can pursue are- music, singing, reading, hiking, cooking, fishing, painting, writing, stamp collecting, dance, photography, pet adoption, Astronomy, games and so on.

What should the fellowship do?

As a church, a fellowship or as a society, we also have a significant responsibility towards helping students in overcoming the struggles due to coronavirus. We need to understand the deep-rooted influence of coronavirus on student community. Students need lot of care, support, encouragement and spiritual nourishment to tide over this crisis.

We need to proactively reach out to students more than before, with increased frequency, through phone calls and other digital means. Different students require different types of support- some moral, some financial, some emotional and some others may require all types of support. The onus lies on the fellowship to identify the unique needs of each student and try to address them creatively.
The fellowship should specially focus on the students who don’t have the luxury of latest technology, infrastructure and conducive learning environment. They need to be systematically identified, and provided with whatever resources possible.

Boosting our Career

One of the most important thoughts for every student in this fast-changing world is about their career. The dream career is the one which is both exciting and rewarding. However, with shrinking markets, coronavirus crushed the aspirations of many. Several small employments vanished, and up to 10 crore people who lost jobs in India, are frantically hunting for their next job.

As Christians, our primary aim is to please God through our career. As we ‘delight in the Lord’, God will fulfill the desires of our heart according to His will (Ps 37:4), even in this pandemic. We also need to have absolute faith on God (Heb 11:6), as faith can move mountains. Instead of worrying for our future, we should be prepared to work hard, and focus on learning new knowledge and skills.

Employers are increasingly depending on comprehensive market search for employees instead of simply depending on shortlisting job applications. So, it is very important to market yourself through all possible means. You need to proactively keep communicating with all your professional and personal contacts about your skills and abilities. This professional networking is easy, if it starts from student days.
You also need to communicate about your vision, what you want to do in life, to other people. It is important to share your thoughts without hesitation, as there is no other way people will come to know about you. It also helps you to know the skills required in the market, and the type of jobs which suit you.

We need high levels of flexibility and adaptability in this fast changing world. The pandemic has pushed us 20 years ahead in some areas. We should be able to work remotely, and also maintain the same team spirit and empathy with our stakeholders. Otherwise we will be left behind.

In the end, we also need to look at what type of jobs will be useful for the post pandemic world. We need to understand that all types of jobs will still exist. For a person who is skilled at a particular job, even a potter, there is no dearth of work opportunity. But the problem comes only for the people who are having below average skills.

In general, during the pandemic, we were able to see that some sectors like banking, IT & ITES, e-commerce and Telecom are not affected by the pandemic. Even in the future also, similar sectors like pharma, medical, IT and digital marketing industries are likely to flourish. Though it’s important to look at long term prospects of a sector, we need to remember that we should choose our career which fits with our strengths and excel in it (Pro. 22:29).

Our society is faced with a great collective responsibility to overcome the crisis created by coronavirus. As Christians, without losing hope, we are expected to spread the hope to others. As God is in control of everything, we need to be strong and courageous (Joshua 1:9) and also trust Him. He has great plans for each one of us (Jer 29:11), and He will bring it to completion.

Salathiel Nalli works with UNICEF and is a graduate from Hyderabad EGF. He lives with his wife Swarupa, and two children Sauriya and Syahrul.

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