“has your school said anything about going home bc coronavirus?”
I received this text from my friend studying abroad in Ireland on February 25th, while walking through Amsterdam’s Centraal Station. She then explained that NYU and Syracuse had closed their Florence campuses due to the likelihood Italy would soon become the European epicenter for coronavirus.
I was almost a month into my exchange program in Amsterdam, and there had yet to be a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the Netherlands—it would occur at the end of the week. I only brought a couple of masks and a three-ounce bottle of Purell with me in my carry-on when I left the United States at the end of January, but even the possibility of schools shutting down hadn’t crossed my mind.
I stayed informed; I knew that China had imposed a lockdown in Wuhan and neighboring cities in the Hubei Province that had affected the movement of 57 million people, according to CNN. Was there a possibility that Europe or the U.S could impose a lockdown?
I told myself to breathe and take it one step at a time—that I couldn’t panic about worst case scenarios yet. This was the last week of February, less than a month ago.
I told myself that staying in the moment was the most important thing, but as the next few weeks unfolded, my goal felt harder to maintain. In Amsterdam, drug stores and grocery stores began to tape large “We don’t sell hand sanitizer or masks” signs on their doors.
My penchant for refreshing The New York Times’ coronavirus news section and watching the number of cases rise in new countries would only grow as the days passed. I watched my friends at various New York City colleges pack up their dorms and apartments on Instagram as they slowly transitioned to online classes. Terms such as “social distancing,” “flatten the curve,” and “self-isolation” became the new normal.
I turned my phone off airplane mode after a 12-hour flight back home to San Francisco (after my home university had canceled my exchange program and urged us to fly back home ASAP) to a series of texts from friends about the three-week “shelter in place” order to go into effect that same night.
As someone who likes to plan things weeks in advance, getting used to staying in the moment felt like a drastic adjustment. We’re navigating a period of history in which uncertainty is especially dominating. One of my close friends retweeted a tweet that says “We really need to stop trying to carry out every single meeting, task, and activity online. Some things just need to be let go. ‘Flattening the curve’ also involves ‘lowering the bar’ and prioritizing well-being above productivity.”
I’ve talked to a handful of friends, some of whom are graduating this spring, who have all expressed just how confusing and tiring this semester has been. Some have said that the month of March alone has been more hectic and stressful than any other month in their college career thus far.
I’ve joked with my friends about how my phone’s screen-time stats will skyrocket while in quarantine, or how I’ll ditch my phone entirely to escape social media and take time for myself.
Nevertheless, my phone continuously buzzes around the clock with Canvas notifications both from my home university in New York and professors in Amsterdam about updates regarding closure, how classes on Zoom will work amidst time zones, and how implemented due dates for papers and finals will still remain intact.
Staying in the moment and prioritizing well-being above productivity are both important things I’ve learned throughout this pandemic. As many locations worldwide are reporting more cases and updates fluctuate almost every hour, prioritizing our well-being amidst all the lifestyle changes is vital.
Going on walks has really helped me stay more in the moment. Most of my day is spent holed up in my room rewatching The O.C. (for the eighth time since I was 11, no joke), reading Eve Babitz, procrastinating all my homework, and making oat milk hot chocolate.
Whether this means giving into an extra hour of scrolling through funny tweets or watching another episode of Schitt’s Creek instead of starting on a paper as early as you told yourself you would, self-care can take many forms during this weird time of isolation.
Managing school on top of all our extracurriculars and life in general is already challenging, but during a global pandemic? We need to give ourselves more credit where credit is due for how well we’re doing now. So take the time you need, and do what feels best. We’re going to be okay.