Nearly 8,000 miles away from campus, senior Nehal Shah wakes up in the middle of the night to attend class online at Illinois State University.

Shah is an international student from Gujarat, India, who is double majoring in marketing and public relations. He chose to remain at home with his family this semester in order to stay safe during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic given his low immunity to disease.

As a result of the drastic time difference, Shah attends classes that begin at around 11:30 p.m. and can go until 4 a.m. He then goes to sleep around 10 a.m. and wakes up at about 5 p.m. to work out and catch up on homework.

“My sleeping and eating schedules are completely different than my family and friends here in India,” said Shah. “I usually have lunch/breakfast around 6-6:30 p.m. and then dinner around 2 or 3 in the morning. I have tried various combinations of my time schedule and this one has turned out to be the one that works best for my family and me.”

Shah misses his friends at Illinois State, and wishes he still had the opportunity to make more memories watching Redbird football games and going to other on-campus events. Shah also wishes he could still attend classes in-person, where he feels he can better engage with his classmates and professors, and his extroverted personality can shine. However, Shah has recognized a silver-lining within the negativity surrounding COVID-19.

“The biggest thing the pandemic has taught me is that we have to be more flexible, adaptive, and understanding as human beings because we never know what someone else is going through,” said Shah.

Despite being so far away, Shah remains very involved with the University as a member of the business fraternity Pi Sigma Epsilon, where he holds a leadership position.

Shah credits Student Access and Accommodation Services for helping him succeed at Illinois State and elevating his college experience.

“I have very low vision and I am shortsighted,” Shah said. “The department has supported me with note-takers, extra time during exams, notes, and book conversion from physical to digital, and collaborated with my professors to provide me with the optimal learning environment.”

Sarah Metivier works with students who have vision disabilities and is Shah’s coordinator with Student Access and Accommodation Services.

“Nehal is a perfect example of one of the greatest joys in my job, which is seeing someone grow so much between his freshman and senior years, and become an advocate for what he needs,” said Metivier.

Metivier and her colleagues in Student Access and Accommodation Services have been busy adding closed-captions to instructional videos, working with faculty and staff to create more inclusive online classrooms, and helping to keep students motivated and on-task.

“Currently being in a different country, I had the hardest time getting any books here in a physical or digital version, and they provided me with those books” Shah said. “They have provided me with amazing resources that have helped me succeed in the current environment.”

Shah also stressed how helpful his professors have been with navigating these unprecedented and unexpected times.

“Despite not being able to get my books until three weeks into the semester, my professors have been super understanding and supportive of my situation,” said Shah.

Shah plans to return to campus for the spring semester and is set to graduate in May. Shah knew from the moment he visited campus that he had found his ideal fit.

“ISU is the perfect size for me, and we have a really great business school too,” said Shah.

Shah’s dream has always been to work for the Walt Disney Corp., specifically in advertising. He even secured an internship to work in Disney’s corporate office in New York City over the summer, but it was cancelled due to the pandemic. Still, Shah remains optimistic about his future and his job prospects.

“ISU has definitely changed me as a person because it has allowed me to build skills I never knew I had and helped me to break out of my shell,” said Shah. “I’ve become much more resilient and am truly the person I’m supposed to be because of ISU.”

Apply now for fall 2021.