By Junghyun Song
The summer break this year was certainly nothing like the one we have had before. With all the uncertainties ushered in by the novel coronavirus, it has been very challenging to make our normal plans and execute them the way we used to. As such, I thought it was time to ask our fellow students how they spent this summer amid the pandemic.
Djamilah Mohamed, a Dutch student with a major in Chemistry and Cognitive Science, is the first student I interviewed. When I first approached her for an interview, she was quite shy and reluctant to talk about it as she thought that she was not productive during the break. However, I think the way she spent her holiday is one which many of us could relate to and should hear. She disclosed to me that she started off her break by playing Minecraft on Discord with her friends. Due to the restrictions in the Netherlands, she was unable to see her friends in person as often as she used to which caused her a lot of stress as she missed social contact. This made her realize that she was an extrovert, a trait which she was not acutely aware of pre-COVID19. As she could not get enough energy from very limited social contact, she became mentally tired and lost motivation. This, in turn, made her lazy, which resulted in her blaming herself for being lazy. It was quite a vicious mental cycle for her, which reminded me of how depressed I was at the start of the pandemic due to the mandatory 14-days quarantine in my home country.
During the two weeks right after arriving in Korea, I was not allowed to go out anywhere as I had an app that could detect the moment I stepped out of my house. I was stuck in the little confines of my uncle’s place and the only social contact I had was my family members occasionally dropping by to pass me food to eat before leaving in hurry. Despite being an introvert, being in solitary condition for two weeks was definitely a challenge for me so I could only imagine how psychologically challenging it must have been for an extroverted Djamilah, a big party lover. To cope with mounting stress, she tried to go out for a walk in nature and do physical exercises which did make her feel better. And to keep herself from getting bored, she would do board games and puzzles or paint by number. Lastly, she commented that she has no problem with the length of UCR summer break but because of corona, it felt too long which I could not agree more.
The second student I approached was Larissa Goltz from Germany. I could not help but admire her throughout the interview. She told me that she had already started working during the semester as soon as she got back to her home country in late March. This shocked me immensely because I could never handle intense UCR workloads whilst working. Her workplace was an elderly home which she has been working at regularly for the past few years. Her usual task is to look after the elderly but at the start of the pandemic, she was told to look after the children of her co-workers so that they could work. This was due to the fact that the schools shut down in Germany. After the end of the spring semester, she started working full-time, still doing the child-care for her co-workers but sometime in July, she went back to her original task. Her job involved cleaning, cooking, and preparing meals and running errands for the elderly. As she had already planned to work for the summer to finance her studies, she told me that her summer plan was not greatly altered by the pandemic but the only things unexpected were the child-care for her co-workers and increased responsibilities due to the newly introduced rules and regulations. For instance, she had to wear a face mask the whole day, every day. As she dealt with the most vulnerable group every day, she felt compelled to act responsibly, so she refrained herself from seeing her friends, limiting her social contact to only those from work, which did get very tedious for her at some point. She revealed to me that she had a little bit of inner struggle: “you know that you don’t want to social-distance, but you know that you have to…”. An inner conflict that most people have faced but it weighed a lot more heavily on her since her single act of indiscreetness could result in her jeopardizing the lives of many people at work. She tried to resolve this tension by going out in nature for a walk or cuddling with her dog. With renewed attention on the critical importance of service-sector workers amid the global COVID-19 pandemic, her devotion and her willingness to ensure the safety of the elderly and children at the expense of her personal freedom were truly admirable.
Bowien de Wee, our third interviewee, from the Netherlands, told me that she enjoyed her break immensely. As she is an introvert and love to stay home, she quite enjoyed the pandemic as she had a valid excuse to stay cooped up all day long at home. Her original plan for the summer break was to work abroad and follow her stewardess mum to the countries that she was flying to for summer vacation abroad. However, she had to call off her plan as soon as the coronavirus hit the Netherlands but instead of staying disappointed, she kept herself busy by returning to the old café that she used to work at and has been working there since July. And when she did not work, she studied for her business course which she had started with her mother as soon as the break began. It was very nice to hear from someone who enjoyed her break without experiencing any mental distress and it made me appreciate the perks of being an introvert during this pandemic.
The next interviewee was Anje Boswijk, who is also Dutch, to whom I feel very grateful as she was the first one that agreed to sit for an interview when I was struggling to find people. I was very amused by her stories throughout the interview. She originally planned a trip to Greece with her friends for August and she had booked the ticket way back in October. When the coronavirus hit the Netherlands, she anticipated early on that her flight ticket would get canceled and kept her hopes down but to her surprise, she did not hear anything about cancellation from the airline throughout June and July. The few days leading up to the date of departure, Anje and her friends were quite nervous, intensely debating whether or not to proceed with the plan but they eventually decided to fly to Greece. The whole experience was very surreal for Anje as she, for the first time, had to wear a face mask on the plane and the Rhodes island that she went to only had 40 percent of the usual tourists so it was very quiet and serene. She spent the dream-like two weeks in the apartment with a pool, enjoying the beautiful view of the island. Apart from going to Greece, she also went to a beach in Zeeland in June with her entire family which she had also planned way back in November at which point I realized that she was an impressively early planner and very passionate about summer holiday. Reflecting on the whole summer break, she thinks that she was lucky to have gone through it the way she has as she was not directly affected by the pandemic and nobody in her direct circle caught the virus. She feels especially grateful that her grandfathers, both of whom are over 80, have stayed healthy throughout it.
The last person I spoke to was Roxane van Oosterhout from Belgium. Our interview took an unexpected turn, spiraling into quite a deep philosophical conversation. Roxane’s original plan was greatly altered by the pandemic as she had earlier planned to follow her mother, a film director, to various film festivals abroad in Taipei, New Zealand, Minneapolis, etc. However, due to the pandemic, all the film festivals were switched to the online platform so her plan could not materialize. However, rather than staying upset, she utilized this time to watch many films, read books and learn about herself. She used to think that she was an extrovert who always needed to hang out with people but during this time spent in solitariness, she became aware of her introverted-self and realized that it is not necessary to always go out. She told me that she used to not read much but thinking back she always had time to read but rather spent it on social activities. One of the most memorable books that she read during the break was The Pest by Albert Camus, which resonated a lot with the current times we live in. It was an insightful book through which Roxane learned about her place in the current pandemic. She also became aware of her privileges: “I am lucky in the sense that it (the virus) did not take over my life completely”. She had her house to stay, friends she could rely on and her family was not directly affected by the virus, income-wise. And sadly, this is not the case for everyone as this virus is hitting the marginalized and disadvantaged group especially hard. Often, we become oblivious to our privileges and take them for granted. Also, through this break, she learned to distinguish between two types of friends; friends whom you just go out with for parties and people you actually feel close to and really need to see.
Due to the time constraints and my limited social circle, I was not able to reach out to as many people as I had initially hoped for. But it was very meaningful to speak to my fellow students and I learned a lot from them. One thing I noticed from my interviewees is that they made the best out of the circumstances they were in. Rather than being sulky and angry about the negative changes ushered into their lives by this virus, they stayed positive, doing what they can in the current situation by using their time for self-reflection, learning more about themselves, and learning to appreciate the things in their lives that they used to take for granted. At the start of the pandemic, I briefly went through a phase where I was very cynical and upset about the whole virus situation but after I finally accepted the truth that things could never return to normal, I was able to make plans; I started doing things that I always thought I never had enough time for such as reading books, listening to podcasts, taking online classes, and chatting with my old friends on phone for hours. Indeed, I spoke to my friends more during this pandemic than I have in the past few years which made me realize that being near does not mean being close. It allowed me to reconnect and strengthen the bond with my friends and important people in my life. Once I changed my mindset and my attitude to this pandemic, I was able to be more productive and this made me realize that many aspects of our lives are dependent not on external factors but internal factors: our own mindset. Talking to the interviewees reminded me of this again and I gained many tips from them as to how to get through this indefinitely prolonged pandemic wisely.
Many thanks to all the interviewees for sharing their experience with us and making this article possible
Image source: https://www.traveller.com.au/very-confusing-health-experts-split-over-face-masks-on-airplanes-h1p0gj