A Blog by International Students at Leiden University
Despite its seeming isolation in Asia, the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic left me disconcerted from its very start. Watching the news left me wary of the impacts the virus had on the livelihood of every citizen of each country affected. However, it was not until the pandemic touched Europe, a seemingly safe zone in my mind, that I fully began to comprehend the extent to which I personally could be affected by it.
When my perceived safehouse of the Netherlands got subsumed by the virus’s reach, great anxiety and uncertainty came with it. The life that I had actively been creating for myself over the past two years in The Hague came under threat. My daily routines, friendship dynamics and academic structure were all coming undone which, to someone who thrives in structure and routine like myself, threw me completely off balance.
Combined with this unravelling of my university lifestyle, my home country of South Africa was starting to suffer a similar fate to the Netherlands. Both of my safehouses had come under the same threat, however, for South Africa and its large rural population the threat was much more extreme. Thus, my country went into immediate action: promoting social distancing and isolation after having only 16 positive cases. These actions caused my parents to immediately evacuate my brother and I from the Netherlands for fear that we would not be allowed access from Europe in the coming weeks. This evacuation happened in a matter of three days, the decision made on the Saturday and my flight the next Tuesday morning. Deepening the spiral of anxiety and uncertainty.
Being at Home
I arrived home after my ten-and-a-half-hour flight to find that my dad has just been confirmed positive for COVID-19. As a 52-year-old, healthy, male he was not in any extreme danger. However, the diagnosis proved just how susceptible we all were to the virus, that no one was decisively safe from it. His diagnosis led to our family’s two-week quarantine which preceded the three-week South African lockdown. The quarantine highlighted the fact that I was not going to return to my lifestyle in The Hague for some time and thus I needed to overcome the dilemma of unexpectedly being in the wrong country for the rest of my academic year.
Since my dad made a full recovery, leaving the rest of us unharmed, being at home has shifted from a punishment and sentence to a welcome relief. Being able to be surrounded by my family, where we can comfort, entertain and keep each other sane has given me a large sense of security. My spiral of anxiety and uncertainty has shallowed. This greater sense of calm has come with the structure that we have created for our house. We always eat meals together, participate in collective, daily exercise routines and ensure that we have at least one activity planned to look forward to in the week. These activities range from nightly wine tastings, to dinners with other families over skype or even themed family parties. Having something to look forward to eases the spiral of uncertainty and potential gloominess of the future.
However, as a family we also take time for ourselves. Without this time, we would likely be at each other’s’ throats, which is not conducive for a three-week isolation. I have been using my much coveted personal time to learn French (something I have been meaning to do for years), read books, study for at least 4 hours and make a series of video diaries (which I can highly recommend: being able to talk out loud about your feelings is greatly cathartic). I follow this daily structure Monday to Friday, still taking time to completely relax on weekends so as to restore a sense of normality to my routine.
Despite returning a sense of structure to my life, it is difficult to not look at the future without some sense of concern. I would be lying if I said that thinking about the future did not bring a tinge of anxiety, deepening the spiral. However, as with every daunting situation, looking too far forward is not useful. Taking each day as it comes and fully engaging in each day as a unique experience is the most useful way to get through these daunting times. Just because we may not be able to live life as we thought or hoped we would, does not mean that we should not live just as well and wholly. As Mignon McLaughlin wisely noted, “the only courage that matters is the kind that gets you from one moment to the next.”