Unable to return home, Indian engineer makes friends on CQUni campus
Jeet Mukherjee had never travelled outside of India before he arrived at CQUniversity’s Rockhampton campus last year, but he’s more worried about his family back home than they are about him.
Mr Mukherjee is among the hundreds of international students who faced the painful decision whether to stay in Australia as Covid-19 began to shut down international travel, not knowing when he might see his close-knit family again.
He is studying for his Masters in Electrical Engineering, following in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps.
“My father is an engineer with the Indian railways, which is considered an essential service, so he has to go to work every day,” Mr Mukherjee said.
“I’m really scared for my grandparents who live in the lane next to my parents’ house in Bengal; I ring them every day and tell them not to go outside.
“I called an online food service to deliver to their house so they don’t have to leave home.”
Mr Mukherjee had tickets to fly home via Singapore the first week of June for his first visit since he left his home town of Asansol, where he studied English since kindergarten.
“Then Singapore went into complete meltdown and the airline contacted me to see if I wanted a refund or a travel voucher,” he said.
“I’m an only child and very close to my grandparents, so it was really, really sad for me to miss out on visiting them.”
While India is up there on the Covid-19 infection list, Mr Mukherjee doesn’t know anybody who’s lost family members due to the pandemic.
“Although infection rates are high, the recovery rate is also very high,” he said.
“We have a very large youth population and it seems they aren’t so badly affected.”
Mr Mukherjee praised the University’s response to the Covid-19 threat.
“While other universities took their time to adapt to online delivery, CQUniversity already had all that infrastructure so, apart from the cancellation of some residential schools, we didn’t miss out on our studies at all,” he said.
“And my residential college got specialist cleaners in, and allowed only three people in the dining room at any time.”
Mr Mukherjee chose the CQUniversity North Rockhampton campus because he wanted to live on site and he believed a rural setting would be “better for the mind”.
“The climate here is similar to home, and people in the country are more welcoming than in the city,” he said.
“I haven’t experienced any racism in Rockhampton. I’ve been blessed to meet great Australian friends, who teach me all the slang, as well as other international students.
“Last year, 10 of us, from 10 different countries went to the Great Western Hotel after enjoying the River Festival, and we were toasting each other in all our different languages.”
As soon as Covid-19 restrictions eased in Queensland, Mr Mukherjee travelled to Airlie Beach, where he hopes to return for a go at skydiving.
His other ‘bucket list’ items include camping out under the stars at Uluru.
“International students, who come here for years at a time, are different from tourists who wouldn’t put up with two weeks quarantine,” he said.
“CQUniversity would provide them with support and online studies while they undergo quarantine and get tested, and then they would be moved to a particular campus. They won’t be floating around like tourists.
“It will depend on advice from the health authorities whether we will see international students return this year.”
Meanwhile, despite missing his friends, Mr Mukherjee has a lot of support while he enjoys the spacious campus where kangaroos loll under gum trees.
“Everyone here from my teachers to the Vice-Chancellors, Dawn at the Multicultural Association – I call her my second Mum – take such good care of me, and they hope to meet my family if they can come visit in the future.
And then there’s Nala.
“She doesn’t know she’s a dog; she’s grown up as another human around the college,” Mr Mukherjee said.
“Whenever I’m feeling worried or lonely, I call her to give me some company and a cuddle.
“I call her my therapy dog.”