I moved to Canada in my Grade 12 year in the middle of the pandemic. It was a lesson in perseverance
Mental health challenges led to perseverance, self-discovery
Upamanyu Dasgupta immigrated to Saskatoon from India in summer 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. He attended Grade 12 at Evan Hardy Collegiate for the 2020-21 school year.
Now, as his university career begins, he reflects back on his challenging first year in Canada.
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June 24, 2021
I am waiting for my turn to go on stage and receive my high school diploma.
I am standing in my graduation gown. It feels cozy inside the school auditorium. We have each been given 15-minute slots in keeping with the COVID restrictions.
It feels good. I close my eyes to reflect on the past year.
June 30, 2020
I'm boarding my flight. While India is facing the first wave of COVID-19, my mother and I are immigrating to Canada.
A bittersweet feeling overtakes me as I sit down in full PPE. One part of me is excited and eager to reunite with my father. A new home, new friends and new opportunities. Another part is sad that I could not say goodbye to my friends in person. I'm leaving behind everything I love: the home I grew up in, my little cousin, friends, books, even that old stuffed tiger I called Hobbes as a baby and never got around to throwing away.
I like change. It is exciting. But right now, I am more anxious.
This change has uncertainty about it. I wonder whether the transition will be smooth.
Sept. 23, 2020
It has been a few weeks since school began. Saskatchewan is reopening.
The virus seems to have all but disappeared. So have my fears. People are warm and friendly. I have never felt this interested in studies. I am having a lot of fun learning about the rich history of Canada.
In English class last week, I gave a presentation on my immigration experience. It was nerve racking presenting my life story in front of strangers. I have been a good speaker and debater, but this was so personal. I stammered a little and my legs were shaking, but I powered on, even going beyond the time limit.
I got an 89. It felt good enough.
Jan. 1, 2021
I feel hopeless. It's New Year's Day.
I spent the new year's eve the previous year with my friends, partying past midnight. Here I am lying on my bed with nothing to do but watch Netflix.
Every time I go to the bathroom, the mirror reminds me I haven't slept properly in days.
The virus is back, and along with it the restrictions. As case numbers rise across Saskatoon, many of my classmates are choosing to study online.
It's depressing. Would it be different in India?
The drab, white snow outside makes everything worse. I read about the Canadian winters and how they can cause depression, especially among newcomers. This must be winter then.
I don't want to think. Thinking seems like an effort.
The latest batch of finals creep near. My work keeps piling up. I am even struggling with math and physics, two of my strongest subjects.
We have school in person every other day. On the days I go, I sit in class lifeless. I can hear the teachers, but nothing penetrates the fog in my head.
During lunch I sit alone, trying hard to conserve energy to get through the day.
On the days I'm home, I can't get out of bed. Even eating feels like a chore.
My room feels lonely and cold, even though the heater is on high.
I desperately need a break from this self-made prison.
I venture out. The sidewalk is covered in a thick layer of ice and slush. The wind is howling in my ears and my hands feel like being pricked with needles. My nose is all but frozen, my eyes barely open.
On the one day I go out, the weather mirrors the state of my mind.
May 3, 2021
My final slate of classes starts tomorrow. I feel a sense of relief washing over me.
Things seem to be changing around me along with the seasons. I suddenly realize that only I can bring about change in my life. All I need is a shift in perspective.
Sadly, the shift was sparked by devastating news from India, which is reeling under the second wave of COVID. Media is full of horror stories: people dying without oxygen, hospitals running beyond maximum capacity, bodies piling up at crematoriums.
I had a neighbour back in India. We would often exchange greetings when we bumped into each other. He had a wife and two daughters — twins, a few years younger than me. He was found dead in the parking lot, collapsed on the steering wheel of his car. The whole family had COVID. He was returning from the hospital alone when he suffered a massive heart attack.
One of my closest friends has lost her grandmother. Another friend has three sick family members. My parents have lost many friends. My uncle has autoimmune disease and is high risk. My aunt is asthmatic. They say everyday feels like walking on thin ice.
The utter chaos in India is an eye-opener.
My friends, family and millions of others are not sure if they will live tomorrow, and here I'm wallowing in a pool of self-pity. Yes, I am lonely and stuck at home, but so is everyone else.
My situation is better than many. My admission to university is almost a done deal. My friends back in India are still unsure how they will be evaluated for this school year. I have already had my first dose of the vaccine. My friends aren't sure when they will get it. People under 18 aren't eligible for vaccines in India.
I have been trying to do little things — cleaning my room or going out for walks. I have started interacting more with my parents. I have limited my screen time.
I have joined a writing club, started volunteering with the Canadian Wildlife Federation and picked up a certificate in food safety. I even managed to get a job. Sure, it's minimum wage, but the money doesn't matter.
The noise in my head is quieter when I am busy.
June 24, 2021
Is that my name being called?
I am shaken from my reverie. I shake hands with our principal, Mr. Iverson. He hands me my diploma, but there's also a plaque.
I take a closer look at the plaque. It's an award for "persevering through tough times and striving for excellence."
As I descend from the stage, I rub the plaque fondly.
I remember applying for it back in February on a whim, fully expecting nothing. Perseverance and excellence were not words I would associate with myself back then.
Now, as I hold it, it feels like I have actually achieved something. Those small changes weren't for naught.
Sept. 1, 2021
University starts tomorrow. Engineering is going to be a tough program. I am thinking about majoring in environmental engineering. The pandemic and recent extreme weather events are "code red for humanity." I want to make a difference.
I was really looking forward to in-person classes — more real-life experiences and human interactions — but COVID case numbers are going up again and the fall term will be hybrid.
This time I am being proactive. I have visited campus a few times and interacted with people. I am also looking forward to a few events coming up soon, thanks to the student's union and various other clubs that I'm planning to join. I am more involved with the Wildlife Federation now.
That's enough to keep me busy.
As I brace myself for university, I know there will be ups and downs in life, but those are my battles. And I need to keep moving forward and face them head on.
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