The world has been turned upside down. We are in the middle of a global health crisis that is taking lives, increasing unemployment, and making daily life difficult. The virus started spreading in Korea in late January when most students were on winter break. Still, even then it affected a lot of students’ lives.
I was one of the few international students who spent their winter vacation in Korea. I had made the decision to stay long before the fall semester concluded, so had planned a fairly balanced, fun, and productive winter. I felt the claws of the previous semester releasing and felt free again to lead my life on my own schedule and pace. After Christmas and New Year celebrations, I had the chance to visit Taiwan with the Herald on an international journalism trip (See Volume 176). On the very night I returned, I celebrated Ethiopian Christmas with my friends. Two Christmases, celebrating a new decade, a trip to Taiwan; it was definitely an amazing start to my long awaited vacation. I was looking forward to the rest of the winter.
It was around the last week of January that COVID-19 became a part of everyone’s daily vocabulary, and with that, the rest of my plans disappeared. After the Shincheonji incident in Daegu, the number of confirmed cases in Korea soared, as did my uncertainty and confusion regarding the start of the spring classes. KAIST postponed the semester start, extending our vacation to a total of 12 weeks. The second half of winter break was exactly the opposite of what I hoped it would be. With hundreds of new cases found each day, going outside campus was risky. The campus, which already didn’t have a lot of people, became nearly empty and felt lonely. Still, at least I felt relatively safe here. However, I was in a state of pessimism and constant worry when thinking about being away from home in the midst of a pandemic, which got even worse when some of my friends left Korea to go home. Incessant mind-numbing scrolling on social media pages and aimless searching on Netflix became my norm. Days would go by in which only places I visited were the student cafeterias and the libraries. Keeping in touch with my family and friends more often was comforting, but the thought of them also worrying about me made me feel worse to the point where I was actually considering leaving for home until things settled down in Korea. Thankfully, the situation calmed down somewhat, as did I — getting used to the new reality. I realized that postponing my bungee jumping plans, cancelling my trip to Gwangju, and celebrating my birthday without leaving campus were absolutely nothing and compared to what others were facing.
A few weeks later, our online classes started; my initial doubts about the new system totally disappeared after the first day. All seemed surprisingly normal. I am not sure if it is because I have better time management now — or if it is down to the online classes — but I’m not feeling the same pressure I was last semester. I’m still busy from time to time, but not to the extent that I’m stressed out, and I’m also getting the time to develop some new hobbies.
It can’t be denied that COVID-19 has made our lives harder, but we should learn to make the best out of the situation and recognize our privileges . So many people are facing much tougher problems than having to cancel plans; complaining is not a productive way to view the situation. The whole world is facing this problem and since we can’t avoid it, we might as well do right with the time we have. Even though there is no clear end to the virus and our quarantine in sight, I really hope it brings out the best in us and in our relationships.