“May not one person go”: How international students cope with a global pandemic
In the capital city of Spain, the night sky of Madrid roars in a thunderous applause every night at 8 p.m. This inundation of noise is how the Madrileños express their connectivity to one another despite being forced into a quarantine by the government. This is all but one ritual that the people of Madrid have employed in order to cope with their isolation.
Music can be heard in the air as citizens perform from their balconies for an audience of 6.55 million people who are marooned in their own homes. The sounds of instruments and singing fill the air so that the spirits of the Spaniards can be lifted.
This is the city that Eva López Lumbreras, a senior biochemistry major, had returned to after President Donald Trump’s travel ban was placed on to Europe. She said that she wanted to go home before the ban would take effect. For her, it was important to be with family while the university began to shut down its facilities.
“I thought that everything in UD would close and I thought I would be at UD doing nothing,” López Lumbreras said. “My parents decided it was a better idea to be at home and be taken care of even though it was more probable to get the virus here than at UD.”
Despite being so far away from Delaware, López Lumbreras is still able to continue her university studies. The workload for her two classes and her seminar will be available to her online. López Lumbreras must also complete her senior thesis which she said can be done with the data she has now. If the data is not sufficient however, she will try and work with Universidad Complutense de Madrid, her hometown university, in order to complete it.
“[Our] professor told us that we are just going to switch and substitute that [lab] with exercises and maybe he does those exercises online or he puts them up on Zoom,” López Lumbreras said.
For her senior thesis however, there is more uncertainty as to how she can complete her required lab work.
“With the senior thesis one, the professor is not in the college and he said we have to be flexible and we just have to see what happens and manage that,” she said. “We have no idea.”
In order to cope with the isolation of quarantine, López Lumbreras is taking note of what professionals recommend people to do in order to ease the sense of dread or boredom.
“I think we have to take it day by day and just try and do things that distract us,” López Lumbreras said. “Also, the psychologists have said that we have to set our timetable. For example, in the morning you work or something.
For Federica Crispo, a junior double major in international business and operations management, she had to craft a to-do list with her friend in order to cope with social distancing.
“We came up with a quarantine list of things to do,” Crispo said. “We are going to bake, we are going to watch movies and TV shows, we wrote a list of everything we are going to watch. We are going to exercise together, maybe go for a run every once in a while so the list is a really fun thing to do. Especially when you can do it with someone.”
Crispo is an international student from Ottaviano, Italy, a southern town near Naples. In ancient times, the town housed vast estates for Caesar Augustus’ family. Nine miles away from Ottaviano is where the ruins of ancient Pompeii remain, a city that Mount Vesuvius had buried in ash nearly, 2,000 years ago.
For Crispo, it may be a long time before she can return to this ancient home.
“We have two travel bans,” Crispo said. “Italy is on lock down and no one can go in, and Trump put a travel ban on Europe so I can’t go there either. I tried contacting the Italian embassy in Philadelphia and they said I can’t leave.”
Not only are two different governments preventing her from going back to Italy, but the university itself displaced her when it announced that students must move out of residence halls by 10:00 p.m. on March 22.
As someone that was living on campus and had no way of returning home, she had to move into her friend’s house.
“It wasn’t difficult physically but mentally because it was so sudden,” Crispo said. “It was really hard for me to do.”
Crispo had intentions of working as an orientation leader for the university over the summer. She had to take a class that coincided with her job, but it was inevitably canceled like many other classes were. She is unsure as to what the status will be for her summer work.
“We just have to wait and see what happens,” Crispo said.
Just like in Spain, videos of Italians playing music from their balconies have circulated all around social media. They too want to raise the spirits of a country whose death rates have now surpassed those of China at 10,023, as of the date this article was written. Despite impromptu opera tenors singing arias from Giacomo Puccini’s Turandot, there is a collective anxiety amongst the citizens.
“People go to the supermarket, but only one person in the family can,” Crispo said. “My mom told me that if she sees people that she knows, those people don’t look at her because they are afraid that other person is going to want to say, ‘Hi,’ and touch them so everyone is terrified.”
The Italian government has not only established a quarantine but they have imposed severe consequences for those that violate the laws and subsequently spread the disease.
“If they leave the house and they know they have coronavirus they can get 21 years of prison for homicide [if they spread the virus and kill someone], and if they don’t know they have the virus they can get up to 3 months of prison or they can get huge fines,” Crispo said.
Crispo said at least two people in her home town have been tested positive for coronavirus. One of them was an elderly woman who died due to it.
“The situation is not that bad, but all the implications of the virus are bad,” Crispo said.
The fear that many Italians have is one that is universally shared. The implications of the virus change depending on the culture and the expression of that dread is manifested differently.
For Martín Vivero, a third-year doctoral candidate, he wants to see mental health services be brought into the fold concerning the virus since the machinations of the brain have always been a focus of study for him.
Growing up in Santiago, Chile, he had always wanted to become a serious musician, one that studies the complex theories of music and plays in a professional environment. This passion began to evolve over time, and he eventually arrived at the university in order to study how brain mechanisms are involved in voice therapy and training.
He was attracted to the university specifically because he wanted to study under Katherine Verdolini Abbott who, according to him, is one of the best members of her field in the world.
As of now, Vivero’s studies have not dramatically changed due to the pandemic. It is the social consequences of the virus that present the biggest cultural shock for him.
According to Vivero, Latino culture, and Chilean culture in particular, contains a heavy emphasis on socialization and the expression of physical affection. It is standard to greet anyone with a kiss on the cheek whether they are friends or strangers. But as countries seek to inhibit the socialization of people, Chileans must adapt to new cultural norms.
“The Ministry of Health is telling people, ‘Please don’t say “Hi” with kissing. Please don’t shake hands,’” Vivero said. “Because it is such a cultural trait that people just do it automatically. So it is weird how this can affect the social behaviors of peoples.”
For Vivero, he has had to learn to inhibit Chilean social norms when arriving at the university. But now that students are advised to practice social distancing, Vivero is concerned with what adverse effects this will have for his mental health.
“This [social distancing] has been like five days, and I am doing fine,” Vivero said. “But a week, two weeks, one month, two months, six months? I don’t see myself living here in isolation for six months. I feel like it would drive me crazy.”
Vivero says that long-term isolation may physiologically affect Latinos like him because it forces them to do everything in a way they are not used to. For Vivero, establishing facilities to address mental health issues in regards to social distancing should be looked into.
“I think there should be a concern of mental health space,” Vivero said.
This is why Vivero is contemplating returning home. Even though Chile has recently closed off its borders, Chileans abroad are still able to return to their country.
“If I am in Chile, I know that I can be contained, more embraced,” Vivero said. “I feel like I would be more in a place that I feel emotionally supported by family, by friends, by my surroundings, by my culture.”
As a graduate student, and especially as an international one, Vivero believes that the university sees students like himself as more independent in comparison to undergraduates. The discrepancy in life experience between undergraduates and graduates is quite vast.
Therefore, Vivero said it makes sense why there is more of a focus for the undergraduate students concerning the coronavirus outbreak. But he hopes that in time, the university can broaden its focus onto other kinds of students.
“Because you can’t cover all the difficulties, like all at once, I feel like graduate students and international students haven’t been addressed so far as much as undergrads,” Vivero said. “I hope that it’s just a matter of time [for that to change].”
Sina Naeimi is a first-year doctoral candidate in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department. He hails from Rasht, a city that lies within the northern region of Iran. Its close proximity to the Caspian Sea creates a persistently rainy climate like that of London or Seattle. This is why Rasht is sometimes referred to as the “City of Rain.”
Like the rains of Rasht, Iran is being showered with a significant amount of coronavirus infections. As of March 28, more than 35,000 people have been diagnosed with the virus while the death toll has climbed to 2,517. The statistics may be underreported however, as Iran’s ability to report on all coronavirus cases is limited, and the government curtails press freedoms.
¨Our capacity for confirmation for the test are low, so if someone dies we cannot say it was coronavirus for sure or not, but probably everyone knows it was coronavirus,” Naeimi said. “Everyone knows someone in their neighborhood who has died from this coronavirus. Like everyone on each block.¨
As a graduate student in the university, Naeimi says he has not been affected by coronavirus much more than anyone else here. With the closure of labs and university facilities, Naeimi is able to keep up with his workload by connecting his laptop from home remotely to his office computer. Working from home, however, created its own set of challenges for him.
“I cannot work that much in home,” Naeimi said. “I get really tired soon. I get distracted and I just wanna go back to sleep. My work area was my office which I cannot work in anymore. That is how it is impacting me.”
The closure of bars, restaurants and various university facilities has left Naeimi with little to do outside of working at home.
“I cannot go to the gym and for a graduate student who just goes to classes, do his work, it’s good having some other kind recreation activities like going to the gym or other stuff,” he said.
Due to Naeimi’s obligations as a doctoral candidate coupled with the dangers of returning home, Naeimi has resigned himself to the fact that he will be staying at the university.
“As a graduate student I knew that I should stay here for a specified time so I know that I am going to be here,” Naeimi said. “I am going to stay at my place whether it is a coronavirus or a zombie apocalypse.”
Due to the global pandemic, international students have been displaced from their homes, their countries, or their studies at the university. Many goodbyes had to suddenly be shared that may very well last forever. The phenomenon reminded Naeimi of an Iranian saying. He explained that if 100 people arrive at some place, then many will be happy to receive them. But if just one person out of the hundred leave then all will be sad to see them go.
“Let 1,000 people come, but may not one person go out,” Naeimi said.
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