UIC Business Graduate Student Shares Her Experience on Staying in Chicago during the Pandemic

When the pandemic hit back in March, many international students had no idea what to do - whether to stay back here or to return to their home country. A substantial number of UIC Business graduates chose to stay in the city, continue classes online and work remotely amidst the pandemic gripping the entire world. We at UIC Business, caught up with Nikhita Wadhawan, a Masters in Business Analytics graduate student at UIC Business, who chose to stay back in Chicago and adjust to the “new normal” by staying thousands of miles away from her family back home. Nikhita travelled to Chicago from India last fall and started her incredible graduate school journey. While she would have surely preferred her final term on campus to be in person, she says “We are all in this together and let’s make the most of everything”.

Welcome back to campus (virtually!). How has your semester been so far? Are you taking any classes that meet in person this semester?
Thank you! My semester is going good so far and I am enjoying the virtual interaction. I am taking 3 classes this semester but none of them meet in person because of the class size requirements due to the pandemic.

Can you give us a brief snapshot of your life in the past 6 months? 
2020 has been a challenging year, yet a year where I have overcome a lot of uncertainties. I have evolved as a person and am thankful for the amazing opportunities I was able to experience. I completed the second half of the spring semester virtually. I was working on campus as a GA till May and then started my internship at EY in the summer as a Business Consulting Intern for the Technology Risk Practice. It was a phenomenal six-week experience. I truly cherish the interactions I had at the firm. I started my third semester in August and am currently taking 3 classes and working on a capstone project while also working part time as a GA. I helped organize an event for my student organization, INFORMS with mentors from Google and the University of Chicago. This week I am participating in the virtual Grace Hopper Celebration. In my free time, I cycled around the city, worked on some online certification courses and perfected my culinary skills. 

Even though you don’t meet with your classmates and faculty in person, tell us about being connected virtually with classmates, project partners, and asking questions in class. What is the “new normal” student experience for you in class and what are the advantages or disadvantages of this new experience? 
The new normal for me is waking up in the morning, making my coffee and walking to my study table and connecting on Teams and Blackboard for classes and work. My new workspace/classroom definitely saves me travel time! The virtual environment requires a bit of an adjustment. However, meeting our friends or connecting with teams for projects has not been very challenging thanks to the several platforms we have access to. The classroom experience has also been positive for me, the professors and TA’s have done an exceptional job at maintaining the classroom experience despite being physically away from the brick and mortar infrastructure. The learning has not been impacted for me by going virtual, but I do miss hanging out with my classmates and brainstorming in the library for hours with lots of coffee and snacks.

What has been that one unexpected gain for you in this “new normal” virtual world and how has it helped you, personally?
The ability to have more time has been an unexpected gain for me. I gained a few extra minutes that I now use to pursue my hobbies and to connect with my friends and family more regularly. I also learnt how to be more adaptable. 

What advice do you want to share with the students who are planning to begin classes in 2021?  How should they prepare to face the changing nature of the pandemic and their academics? 
Be open to change and embracing the new normal. Think of every change as a new possibility and think of solutions to problems if you face any. Being adaptable is the new norm and don’t worry about things. Be gracious with everyone you interact with, everyone is going through the same shift in environment with things being virtual, so you will never be alone even if it may feel that way right now. Create a timetable/schedule so that you are able to do more without facing screen fatigue and get your assignments and projects done in time.  Apply early for internships/jobs, attend networking and careers fairs (they might be virtual but they have the same impact). Try to strike the right balance between the credits you are taking and all the other responsibilities on your plate. 

Lastly, when we return to normal operations - what is that one place on campus where you will be headed to? 
The red lawn chairs on the grassy patch near UH. I find that spot to be very calming. I used to spend time there in between classes. Plus you get to see cute dogs in the evening. 

With the pandemic going on across the world, how did you manage everything despite being miles away from home? 
I check in on family and friends more often. It might sound weird, but I have dogs at home and I miss them a lot, so I FaceTime them too now. I have good friends in Chicago and California who are like family and we meet sometimes while maintaining social distance. 

What are the measures you have taken to help stay connected to all the campus initiatives, despite not being on campus physically? 
Attending Zoom sessions for communities and clubs I am associated with, frequently visiting the different websites to see what’s happening on campus and actively participating in events happening virtually. 

Lastly, do you think going virtual has helped you learn a few skills which are now inevitably going to survive in the “new normal”?
Absolutely. Being virtual, I have learned the importance of managing time more efficiently, going outside my comfort zone and picking up on new technology and skills. The learning experience is continual, and every few days, I learn something new. 

Thank you Nikhita for sharing your story with us and it’s great to see how you managed everything despite staying so far away from the comfort of your own home. We wish you all the very best for your final term at UIC Business and may you have a fulfilling career ahead. To connect with Nikhita, please send her an email or connect on LinkedIn.