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Covid Stories

What can be gained from a difficult time? I find myself grappling with this question daily as I’m sure many Americans are. Like most, I do not have a clear role in society to combat the coronavirus pandemic. I am not a nurse, a doctor, or an essential  worker of any kind. I want to work in a grocery store, but my parents have forbade this: I could put my 64 year old mother and my twin sisters with asthma at risk if I bring the virus home. So I am merely a student, told by my parents, health experts and government officials that the best thing I can do right now is to remain inside and follow the social distancing guidelines. It doesn’t feel like enough of a contribution, because I want to do something more active, more tangible, more satisfying.

During my undergraduate career as a history major at Trinity, I have studied disasters both global and local. I have read about the devastating impact the Great Depression had on our country in the 1930s; how the food lines became endlessly long and people grew tired and weary of struggling day to day for basic necessities merely to survive. I have read Ellie Weisel’s Night and Primo Levi’s Survival in Aushwitz, both moving firsthand accounts of the Jewish genocide during WWII. I have researched the environmentally disastrous effects of the nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan. Anytime I have immersed myself in a different historical catastrophe, I always have appreciated how peaceful and safe my life has been compared to those terrible days. I always reflect on how lucky I am to be living in the twenty-first century with all the benefits that a modern lifestyle holds. However, as the coronavirus pandemic takes hold of America, and I witness reports of people dying by the thousands daily, I am now personally confronting a catastrophe of historic proportions.

For the past month, I have been cooped up at home in order to obey rigid social distancing policies. At times I feel as though I am in a sci-fi film where technology rules over everyones lives and we all are slaves to a screen. We cannot imagine surviving without technology now. Without our cell phones with their myriad apps, everything from food delivery to language learning, without our computers for remote work and social media, or without our twenty four hour cable news, how could we weather this storm?

 In my house my sisters work remotely on computers and my mom stays in touch with the world through CNN and MSNBC. My mother’s coffee shop friends have started virtual coffee through zoom. I teach young Chinese children English online. Four new adorable Chinese children’s faces greet me on my screen  for half hour group lessons several times a day. I love my online teaching, but I deeply miss the immediacy of my former daily social interactions with friends, casual acquaintances, even strangers. 

Although we are living in peacetime, the way society has shifted to combat this coronavirus makes me feel like we are at war–a different, silent war. Not only a war for our lives, but also a war against our natural instincts to socialize and be heard and seen in person, not over a screen. So here we are, my third year into college, and it seems that history has suddenly caught up with me but in a twisted dystopian way unlike anything I have ever read about.

Whether I like it or not, the coronavirus pandemic has forced me to put my life on hold and look at the bigger picture. It has reminded me that we are all connected—our cities, our states, our country and the world. It is futile to pretend this disaster will not affect me or you because it has likely already touched everyone in ways both trivial and profound…whether that is in the form of a sick loved one or not being able to see family and friends.

 For me, one upside is that  I have realized that I can live without as much as I thought I needed—attending classes, spending time with friends, going to church, going out to eat, shopping, and studying in the library or at coffee shops are all luxuries I no longer enjoy. I surprisingly can make do with a lot less while being in one space for a prolonged period of time. The coronavirus quarantine has essentially made me realize that I have an inner strength—that some peace and happiness can be cultivated within me.  For those who have studied Buddhism or meditation, that might seem obvious. But for me it is a newfound breakthrough. I find happiness through long walks, meditation, and prayer. I find enjoyment by reading Jane Austen novels and self-help books. I have found my own little happiness during this time because I am lucky enough to be away from the frontlines of the battle against the virus… nestled in the comfort of my old, spacious, dependable colonial home.

While being at home I have committed to becoming the best version of myself possible… whether this means improving my Japanese language skills, reviewing my knowledge of American history, or reading about positive psychology. My first way that I have been productive is by keeping a daily Japanese routine. I use Duolingo, the language learning application, to brush up on various topics like food, family, and weather. Some of the Japanese I am practicing I already know, but I also find I’m learning new words as well. In order to ensure I am growing my knowledge of kanji characters I have been making a flashcard with a new word each day. I also have a special kanji application that allows me to go back and write kanji I have already memorized. I have even been keeping in touch through an app called Line with my Japanese friends whom I met on my semester abroad in Nagoya, Japan last year.

With that being said, this has also been one of the most challenging times because I feel so helpless and unable to make a difference. I know that the commercials on TV and the newscast reporters tell me that staying home will save lives, and it will, but it doesn’t seem like enough. My dad is the real hero. He’s the one who goes to work at the Emergency Room at Emerson Hospital every day, assessing coronavirus patients and admitting the ones with bad enough cases into the hospital. Although he and my mom are divorced and I already do not see him much, it was hard when he said I might not see him for months. A couple weeks ago, in preparation for the possibility that he might get sick, my dad texted me and my sisters that he has written his will. So far he has managed to stay healthy and for that I cannot be more grateful. My sisters who are twenty-five-year-old twins have left their one room DC apartment to come back to the comfort of home. Soon my oldest sister who is twenty six will also come home making it a full house. All of them are lucky enough to have work, so I can recognize that my family has been spared the worst of the coronavirus impacts. 

And yet here I am at home, sleeping more than ever and watching too much TV. Staying in seems like a lame cop out. An excuse. Avoidant. I am someone who likes to go to climate change rallies, to sign petitions, to raise my voice, to stand up to injustice and make my opinions heard. I am not one to go quietly through a global disaster. And yet this coronavirus is a silent killer that is doing its best to silence me.  It does not need my chants in the streets. It takes lives without my consent and there is no real way to protest against disease. The only way to protest is to help stop the spread by following social distancing guidelines and praying for those who have COVID19. I will keep all those who have tragically died during this pandemic in my heart as I continue to forge on. Everyday I will appreciate sunshine and the way the tree branches cut patterns in the blue sky. Everyday I will rise up in good spirits and hold my head high. I will continue to enjoy the little things: walks, playing board games with my sisters, and count my blessings. I hope through this tragedy that I will be more grateful than I might have been and have more compassion for others. We all can play our small part in that way.


About the author:Elizabeth Sockwell is a history major at Trinity College who loves studying Japanese, teaching English online, and going for long walks. You may also ask the student if they wish to submit a photo of themselves to go along with their bio.

Copyrighted by Elizabeth Sockwell. Editorial assistance provided by Beatrice Alicea. This work is part of the “Telling Our Covid Stories” project by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College. 

As the creator of “History Becomes Personal: Living Through the Pandemic of 2020″ I agree that this is my original work, and that I retain the copyright. Also, I grant permission for this work to be distributed with my full name to the public, including formats such as print and the Internet. Under this agreement, I keep the copyright to my work, but agree to share it under a Creative Commons Attribution—NonCommercial—NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (BY-NC-ND). This allows the public to freely download and share my work, but only if they credit the creator, use it for non-commercial purposes, and do not make any changes. Learn more about Creative Commons licenses at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

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Walking up to the admissions building with high anxiety and emotions, not knowing what would happen next, I walked into International Student Advisor Katie Clair’s office. Not seeing her around, I waited until she got to her office. Instantly, she was swarmed by her students. Everyone had the same emotions, fears, anxieties, and questions“What should we do? Should we just go home?” 

The college’s decision to go online for the following three weeks came on a Wednesday afternoon. After much anticipation throughout the week, we finally knew what was happening. There was a sudden moment of silence in Mather, as they read the email. Everyone had mixed emotionssome excited that they almost had an extended spring break, some upset about not being able to go for their spring break plans, and had to go back home, some worried and nervous about what they were going to do. 

No sooner did the email go out to the entire Trinity community, that I noticed all my international friends getting phone calls from their parents, worried about what was happening. Eventually, we got our answers after speaking to Katie, the deans, and our professors. While a few international students decided to go home instantly, most of us were stuck between wanting to go home but being scared to do so, even after receiving the necessary guidance. 

I had so many questions of my own before even trying to explain and convince my parents. If I go back, when will I return? Will I be able to return? What would happen to my academic visa? What about the graduating seniors? What about their jobs and our internships? What were we supposed to do if we couldn’t go back home? But those from higher-risk countries or countries with locked borders stayed back. I cannot even begin to think about how they are doing and how traumatic the lonely campus could be. While most of us are familiar with this loneliness, it is hard to bear it at times. Seeing parents help pack their child’s belongings and drive them off from Mather circle really tore us apart with conflicting feelings of both wanting to go home and being scared to leave. 

After talking to my anxious parents, from 7,000 miles away, almost knowing that they wouldn’t sleep that night, I had to be composed as I explained to them what the college’s advice was. I had to fight my tears as I spoke to them but eventually broke down after they hung up. I knew that they were worried, and that’s when I knew I should really go home. Even after making the decision to come back home, things weren’t easy. Nothing was the same. The possibility of catching the virus on a flight, not knowing if we were going to be put in the quarantine facility, or go home and self-quarantine⁠—it all heightened the anxiety. After clearing all immigration checks, I walked out of the airport, happy to see my mom. But my heart sank when, for the first time, I wasn’t hugged at the airport by my mother, who was relieved to see me safe but equally cautious. The good thing was, we had spring break, so it gave us all some downtime to settle into the situation. 

But the unusual spring break didn’t help as much. With the constant worry about potentially acquiring the virus and transmitting it to my family, I worried. But eventually, classes started. Online classes were just as hard. It was almost as if I wasn’t back home because I had to keep up with classes at erratic hours due to the time difference, which drastically altered my sleep schedule. My schedule was still aligned to college while figuring how to maintain sanity through this difficult period. Logging on to classes at 8 pm to join a 9 am class at Trinity, and then staying up until 6 am was tiring. It meant that I barely shared a meal with my family while I was home. It was something that hadn’t happened earlier. I was torn apart between waking up early and helping out with the house chores and my health because of my erratic sleep schedule. 

However, what broke my heart more was to know that some of my friends were forced to stay back on campus or were stuck in transit in a completely unknown country. Irrespective of my sleep and classes, I was at least home, eating home-cooked food, and I was so grateful. For the longest time, I couldn’t stop thinking about my friend who was stuck in a completely unknown country because his country had closed borders. My other friend was not allowed to be in a country where she lived for 15 years with her family, even with a residence permit. I heard several stories from my friends who said they finally reached home after five days of driving from a neighboring country. It was almost as if they smuggled themselves into a place they called home. While some of my friends absolutely loved the idea of being able to go back home for the rest of the semester, some of us had our whole world change overnight. 

Some of the students struggled with being able to find funds to get a laptop, while others faced Internet and connectivity issues. Students with mental health issues had to give up their cyclical counseling in an instant. While the Counseling Center has been extremely sensitive about this, due to regulations, they aren’t able to completely help individuals who are “out of state.” Individuals who depended on their on-campus jobs suddenly had no source of earnings and were not eligible to receive the $1200 stimulus. 

While the future is unknown to all of us, the worries about potentially getting a job post-graduation or being able to return for graduate school are worrisome for most international students due to the visa implications. The biggest overarching worry we all have is wanting to know if we will return to campus in the fall or even spring. It has not been an easy transition for any student, be it a high schooler or a college student. Nonetheless, I am grateful for everything the Trinity administration and faculty have done. They have stood by all of us in these distressing times and helped us with all the possible resources to complete this semester smoothly. Shoutout to all those professors that made our classes fun and helped us forget about the pandemic even for a little bit during class! As my mom says, “it’s the distressing time that shows you who supports you.”


Author bio: I am an international student at Trinity College with lofty missions but down-to-earth plans. 

Copyrighted by Anonymous student. Editorial assistance provided by Morgan Finn. This work is part of the “Telling Our Covid Stories” project by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College.

As the creator of Too Afraid to Leave, Too Afraid to Stay: My Experience as an International Student During COVID-19, I agree that this is my original work and that I retain the copyright.
Also, I grant permission for this work to be distributed with my pseudonym to the public, including formats such as print and the Internet. Under this agreement, I keep the copyright to my work, but agree to share it under a Creative Commons Attribution—NonCommercial—NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (BY-NC-ND). This allows the public to freely download and share my work, but only if they credit the creator, use it for non-commercial purposes, and do not make any changes. Learn more about Creative Commons licenses at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

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Covid Stories

If I have to read one more email from a professor or an administrator that begins with,

I know these are difficult times and we are all trying to cope as best we can,”

I am going to lose it.

It has been over a month since study abroad students were brought back to the United States due to Covid-19. Like some of my classmates, my untimely exit began with one phone call. I was deep in dream land when my host mom startled me one afternoon, violently shaking me to get my attention. I rolled over to see the reason for the intrusion. From what I was able to make out of what she said in French, I knew the call was important. I took the phone she handed me, rubbed the sleep dust from my eyes and groggily said, “Hello?”

There were less than five confirmed cases in Senegal in March and a week prior to that phone call, many of us had been going about life in the same manner every Senegalese was. We listened to the news and washed our hands frequently. Rather than panic, the air was filled with the feelings of love, care, and communal solidarity. I spent my days in class learning about Senegalese society, Wolof, and development. After class each day, my friends and I would make the short walk down to the beach. We would spend hours watching the waves roll in and quickly head back out to sea, as if each water drop was afraid of being stranded on the sandy shore. The world around me was alive with men running drills, swimming in the ocean, and coaches yelling out plays to their team while the young boys played soccer. My favorite time to visit was always before the last light faded with the sunset and night reared its head when, sometimes, I would perch myself on top of a rock, kick off my shoes and enjoy my favorite dish; attieke with fried fish topped with a bed of nicely seasoned vegetables. Like clockwork, the moon always followed with a bright light that illuminated the path back home.

How I wish I could go back in time and not pick up the phone call that ripped me away from my haven. On the other end of the line was one of our program directors.

She greeted me with the customary, “Salaamaalekum!”

It was a common greeting we had all come to learn meant, may peace be upon you, and I responded with, “Maalekum salaam!” a response that meant, may peace be upon you as well.

She proceeded to inform me of the countermeasure they were instructed to take after the head of our program in Portland received news about the headline of the day. Senegal would be closing its borders to protect its citizens in the next two days. The days leading up to the phone call had been hectic to say the least. With pressures from misinformed parents who were petrified their kids were going to die in Africa, to news reports tallying up the rising number of deaths in Italy, and the thirty-day travel ban on Europe; everyone was on high alert. To take precautionary measures, our program decided to get us all on the next available flights back to our respective homes. With every word she uttered, my stomach sank further and my heart raced faster. My devastation was two-fold; not only was I being ripped away from a place where I felt safe enough to truly be me in all my brightness, my mismatched clothes, colorful hair, and vibrant makeup looks, I had no agency in the matter. If given the choice between facing the pandemic in a beautiful nation with less than five confirmed cases or returning to the United States with confirmed cases reaching the thousands every day, I would have stayed exactly where I was. Unfortunately, as with many things in academia, the choice is never left to those who rely on schools for financial assistance. I had a confirmed plane ticket and instructions to be out of the country before daybreak within six hours of the conversation.

How does one even begin to pack up their entire life and say all the necessary goodbyes by the end of the day? After getting off the phone, I quickly dressed and gave my host mom a kiss on the cheek and explained I would be right back. I headed to the program office to give my passport information to our program director and to find out exactly what was going on. There were so many students there on their laptops frantically looking from one travel site to the next, trying to find a plane that could allow them to evacuate in a timely manner. I wanted to process my misery in private. I knew there was nothing I could do to aid the situation, so I grabbed my purse and went to say my goodbyes. I walked from Mermoz where I had been staying to Sacre Coeur. There, I walked up the stairs leading up to the two-story building I frequented. Unannounced, I opened the first door to my right. I relayed the information I had recently received and spent the next hour saying my goodbyes. My goodbyes were two months too early, but they had to happen then. After all was said and done, I headed home. Two of my friends came back to Mermoz with me to help me pack. When I arrived, my host mom was already fast at work folding my clothes so I could put them away in my suitcase. My host mom had the tendency of calling me, “Ma petite fille,” meaning my little girl, whenever she saw me. No matter how many times she had seen me on a given day. I knew I would forever be indebted to the family who opened up their home and welcomed me like I was one of their own. For the first time in my life, I felt as if I was part of a family. My host mom sent me off to school with a full baguette, an apple, and a mango coconut juice every morning. I don’t like apples. But apples became an essential part of my morning routine. I always ate every bite, and washed it down with my juice, knowing she woke up at 5am just to get it for me. I helped her fold and pack each piece of fabric until my presence was erased from the room.

I left Thursday evening and arrived in New York on Saturday. Three days, I spent flying across the globe, insomnia in full swing, desperately trying but unable to sleep, unable to decide the next fate of my life as I headed into the heart of the pandemic. Our journey took us from Senegal to Ghana. From Ghana to Nigeria, from Nigeria to Dubai, and finally, after two and a half days, we landed in La Guardia airport. I was met by an eerie silence which enveloped the once crowded space. I sped by immigration and spent no time waiting for my luggage.

I was picked up and brought back to the Bronx to begin what would become my own personal hell. In the wake of what had quickly happened to ensure our departure, I had not had much time to process the full scope of our evacuation. I was back home with my African parents, without anxiety medication, and in isolation. It was the perfect mix for a boiling stew of depression, insomnia, anxiety episodes, and as if matters could not get worse, my appetite was nowhere to be found. I spent the next two weeks in a deep depression. My days consisted of a shower, whatever food I could stomach, and twenty straight hours of tv under the covers in a dark room with the curtains pulled tightly shut. I was eating one meal a day, unable to sleep, unable to reach out to any of my friends, and unable to go outside for fear of accidentally spreading the virus to one of my fragile neighbors. I spent my days in my bedroom with a window overlooking concrete. By the third week, I knew I needed help. My inbox was pilling up with messages from various professors, administrators, and my program coordinators which all began the same.

“I know these are difficult times…,”

But honestly, do you really? Do you understand that your emails reach me under the covers in a deep depression? Do you understand that your request for assignments reach me while awake at all hours of the night afraid to sleep because nightmares keep me awake? Do you know what it is like to watch your parents step out the door each day to fulfill their duties as essential workers? Do you comprehend how truly difficult these times are when we are isolated with our triggers with no access to any of the coping mechanisms that make us full functioning human beings? Do you know how sad it truly is to receive emails with resources for internet access so we can fulfill our academic expectations as if we are not in a global pandemic? As if some of us do not have to spend eight plus hours trying to reach mental health specialists just so someone can prescribe medicine to alleviate this pain? Do you understand what a huge burden it is to be solely responsible for getting your sick loved ones medical attention because of language barriers? That some of our grandmothers and our mothers are sick in bed unable to breathe, clutching on for dear life? Do you really wish your emails reach us well? Better yet, why are we studying for a future you cannot guarantee us?

No one knows when this will be over. Our depression and anxiety looms present, growing stronger with every news of one more death, with every extension of our isolation. With every hour we spend in our rooms with the one window, overlooking nothing but cement walls.

Your emails are not finding us well. We are deep in survival mode, heavily relying on coping mechanisms that ensure our survival. We are not okay. We are tired, fed up, deeply exhausted yet we are still expected to keep up the same academic expectations. We are not okay and there is no cure for this kind of illness. There is absolutely nothing in our control to stop this but to have faith and be still, to wait, to lie down looking up at the ceiling day after day. Just waiting for that one phone call or that one news report that means we can finally sleep again without our mind snaring us in its trap. That one day after mother nature has had time to heal, and the last person has been released from the hospital, we may come out of isolation, and exhale a deep breath of air, unafraid of what is to come. Perhaps then, you may find us well.


About the author(s): Esther Appiah is a Ghanaian born advocate and educator who utilizes  empowerment and education to uplift and highlight the struggles of communities of color.

Copyrighted by Esther Appiah. Editorial assistance provided by Beatrice Alicea. This work is part of the “Telling Our Covid Stories” project by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College.

As the creator of “Isolated with our triggers: We are not well”, I agree that this is my original work, and that I retain the copyright. Also, I grant permission for this work to be distributed with my full name to the public, including formats such as print and the Internet. Under this agreement, I keep the copyright to my work, but agree to share it under a Creative Commons Attribution—NonCommercial—NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (BY-NC-ND). This allows the public to freely download and share my work, but only if they credit the creator, use it for non-commercial purposes, and do not make any changes. Learn more about Creative Commons licenses at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

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Covid Stories

Stuck at Home – Life During Coronavirus is a digital storybook, pairing watercolor and ink illustrations with short pieces of text. The project is intended for younger children who might not understand what is going on in the world. The sheer amount of information about COVID is incredibly daunting, even to adults. During my own conversations with younger family members, I have found it difficult to explain the current pandemic. I want to be honest, but I don’t want to scare them. By pairing short, readable captions with colorful illustrations, I aim to provide real and valuable information to a younger audience.


Stuck At Home – Life during Coronavirus

About the Author: Olivia is a sophomore at Trinity studying Political Science and has been involved with CHER through the Community Action Gateway and the Research Fellows Program. She enjoys painting in her free time.

Copyrighted by Olivia Zeiner-Morrish. Editorial assistance provided by Megan Faver Hartline. This work is part of the “Telling Our Covid Stories” project by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College. 

As the creator of “Stuck at Home – Life During Coronavirus” I agree that this is my original work, and that I retain the copyright. Also, I grant permission for this work to be distributed with my full name to the public, including formats such as print and the Internet. Under this agreement, I keep the copyright to my work, but agree to share it under a Creative Commons Attribution—NonCommercial—NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (BY-NC-ND). This allows the public to freely download and share my work, but only if they credit the creator, use it for non-commercial purposes, and do not make any changes. Learn more about Creative Commons licenses at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/

 

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