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University Students Around the World Share Similar Experiences During the Pandemic

University students around the world have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. In order to better understand how the pandemic has affected sixteen students globally, I asked four questions: what do the streets look like? How has the pandemic affected your life? How well did the leaders of your country handle the situation? More specifically: What’s happening in Bergamo, Italy?

What have you noticed in the streets, supermarkets and daily life in general?

“At first there was no reaction and people went on with their normal lives. Go to work, grocery shopping, go out to the bars and clubs. But it was a very rare flu, with a high fever. And there were always more sick people. The most pessimistic people had begun not leaving the house. The first days of March (4–7) I went to Rome, my first time in Rome, and I thought there would be streets full of people–lines by the Vatican Museum, Trevi Fountain with thousands of tourists taking pictures, as always. Instead, there was no one on the street, zero tourists, all empty. People were already afraid. And they stayed home. Schools and universities closed. Churches closed. People out of work. The supermarkets and pharmacies were the only places opened. Attacked.”

–Gloria, Business student in Bergamo, Italy (translated from Spanish)

“No one can walk without masks in the streets. There is disinfectant in the front entries to all markets. Also, a limited number of people can get in markets and onto buses.”

–Alperen in Izmir, Turkey

“The public bike system is scarce and there are many signs to disinfect before and after use. Many restaurants can be open but only with take-out. Some cafeterias can open but only with minimum occupancy. Obviously, there are occasions where it is impossible to have social distancing because of the amount of people on the bus.”

–Salvador, master’s student in Guadalajara, Mexico (translated from Spanish)

Guadalajara, Mexico

“At first there weren’t many people who agreed with the restrictions, until they imposed the mandatory masks and the very high fines. Supermarkets were decreasing the number of people who could enter (30, 20, 10) and masks and gloves were also mandatory there. Then over time people started treating the virus seriously and stayed home, so the streets and cities were empty–like dead.”

–Radoslaw in Strzelce Opolskie, Poland (translated from Spanish)

“In Bangalore there is always bumper to bumper traffic everywhere and people honking, trying to get to where they want to go. Once restrictions started from COVID, there were no cars on the road except delivery trucks. After my study abroad was cancelled and I left and made it safely home, they enforced a strict stay at home order. If you leave the house, you will be beaten by the police and they will run after you with sticks. You can’t even go walk to the market to get groceries and the beggars and street side markets got driven away by the police even though they don’t really have anywhere to go. They would throw the fresh fruit from the markets all over the ground to get the sellers to leave as well as beat them to drive them away. Now they are starting to open back up and are letting people have gatherings.”

–Shannon, US study abroad student in Bangalore, India

“The first week of the lockdown was a little weird, really. In supermarkets people bought more than normal, especially rice and pasta and toilet paper. There was hardly anyone on the streets, although we could go out for sports or to walk.”

–Tamara, business student in Austria (translated from Spanish)

“I have noticed that there is a lot of variety in how people deal with the situation. Especially for the elder ones, there are some super frightened, some careless (who think they have lived long enough anyway) and some very angry at politicians and society. And of course, many are very lonely.”

–Judith, medical student in Giessen, Germany

“In the early days of the epidemic in Vietnam, people complied with wearing masks in public places, which is what I think helps my country not have too many cases in the community.”

–Duyen in Vietnam

“There were a lot more people walking around as we are allowed ‘unlimited’ exercise now. We are supposed to be social distancing of course, but I feel like some people don’t do this effectively, although it is being enforced in all shops, supermarkets, etc.

To be honest, London has the least known cases in the U.K. at the moment so nothing major has stood out, so I would say you can tell people are starting to get more impatient.”

–Jade, language student in London, U.K.

“At first when everything began, people seemed much more serious, unfriendly and less kind. They smiled less; in the supermarket they were all silent. But since they have opened the beach this weekend, people smile more and breathe more joy because the situation has improved.”

–Rocio, biotechnology student in Cádiz, Spain, (translated from Spanish)

“The streets in the business, entertainment and financial districts are bare. There is barely any vehicle traffic or pedestrian traffic in these areas. The residential neighborhoods and parks tend to be relatively busy throughout the day. And the few stores that are open (supermarkets, pharmacies, delis) usually have lines outside of them to promote social distancing inside.”

–Arnelle, nurse in New York City

How has the coronavirus situation affected your plans, life and family?

“As my dad is vulnerable, I haven’t been in a big supermarket in 8–10 weeks. I go to outside markets and smaller shops for shopping as we have been told supermarkets were the worst place to spread and catch it for him. We also do online food shops. Our graduation has been postponed to an unknown date, and as my dad is vulnerable he’s had to have Skype calls with doctors regarding his other health conditions. Can’t see anyone unless it’s vital really!”

–Jade in London, UK

“I’m not used to staying home at night. I like to go out at night, and I go out almost every night with my friends to bars and clubs, drinking and dancing. So with the virus it has been very difficult for me to stay home at night. Returning to my mom’s house, I’ve lost my independence for sure. Being 23, that’s indispensable! But on the other had I have spent more time with my family. Another issue is with my mom too. She’s a pharmacist. She hasn’t had to stop working. Instead, the work has intensified. And she’s more stressed. But without it many people would be worse off (at the least). She, the pharmacists, the doctors and the volunteers are the heroes of this crisis!”

–Gloria in Italy

“I’m a master’s student, I had to go to class at university, but I couldn’t go and I wasn’t used to attending virtual online classes. I worked at the university too. Our people aren’t used to that kind of education. That affected us.”

–Ulkar, Spanish education student in Baku, Azerbaijan

“I do freelance so all my projects were suspended in April and May. June is already looking better, but in the month prior I had zero income.

My family is good. My parents are both doctors, but my mom was sent home because she is over 55 years old with hypertension, so it’s not clear when she’ll be able to return to work. My father is already a retired doctor and sees very little patients, I won’t be able to visit him until he either contracts the virus and has immunity or they control the levels of the virus and I can visit him without remorse.”

–Salvador in Mexico

“I, as well as many of my loved ones, all have a feeling of hopelessness right now, in terms of relationships, plans, careers, everything. This uncertainty has thrown a wrench in all of our wedding plans, graduations, birthdays, internships, capstones, presentations, post-grad careers, everything. It’s even made it that much harder for my grandma, who is at high-risk, for her to receive medical help and have to sit in the waiting room while she is having a seizure. It’s made everything so hard.”

–Amy, international relations and Spanish student in Seattle, WA

“For my plans, very bad, because I always like to be planning my next trips. I was doing my internship in Berlin and the Spanish embassy “suggested” that I come back to Spain because things were getting ugly. My father is in the risk group because he has an autoimmune disease so he was not able to leave the house at first.”

–Rocio in Spain

“School was very difficult, especially for writing my report for my master’s. The university, libraries and archive centers are closed. Vacations and medical appointments were canceled.”

–Mathilde, history student in Montpellier, France

Montpellier, France

“I was sick at some point. Doctors came, they did a test for corona, which was negative and they gave me a paper to sign, saying that I will not leave my flat for two weeks.”

–Olga, recent graduate in Moscow, Russia

“Corona has affected my study phase as there was a four-week long discussion about whether the final federal exam should be cancelled. In the end, some states let the exam take place (luckily the one I study in), but two states postponed it for one year (after the practical year) which is a very tough solution for the affected students.”

–Judith in Germany

“My grandmother is in a nursing home and has gone all of quarantine without leaving. We can’t visit her, we just have to talk to her on the phone or from a distance; that is, her on the balcony and us from the street.”

–Tamara in Austria

“As far as how this affected my goals, I tried my best to use it to my advantage. Upon arriving home, I contacted the study abroad office. I got to virtually teach English for credit to a Spanish-speaking woman living in Geneseo, while keeping my Spanish skills in tact as best I could. I’m hoping to work as a COVID-19 contact tracer using both English and Spanish, and of course I keep up on Spanish series like “La Casa de papel” (Money Heist) and “Elite.” In retrospect, I was upset at the idea of coming home so soon, but I’ve enjoyed spending time with my family and was able to spend enough time in Spain to know I want to go back and use what I’ve learned in a career someday.”

–Greg, studied abroad in Cádiz, Spain

How do you think the leaders of your country have handled the situation as a whole?

“Good. I think it was a very serious crisis, unexpected. Nobody was prepared for this event. Many people and politicians that oppose the government made very violent critiques but I think that the French government did good things to protect us. But maybe the borders were closed too late.”

–Mathilde from France

By the way that things are going in my country, I believe that it has been managed incredibly. They created a “COVID Hospitals” plan. They aren’t doing many tests. I believe it makes sense because it does nothing to know how many contagions there are. The goal is to avoid contagion.”

–Salvador from Mexico

“I think the German government is handling the situation quite conscientiously. The restrictions have hit us all hard but until now there has not been a lack of intensive care beds and, compared to other countries, we have a low lethality. Step by step the restrictions are getting more relaxed while also watching the number of new infections. Schools and kindergartens are open. Universities are mostly doing online teaching. In public, it’s allowed for two households to spend time together; by the end of June up to ten people can meet. At the moment I am quite optimistic about the summer. From my point of view, it seems to be working quite well.”

–Judith from Germany

“In general, I should say that they have handled it well, although there are Spanish people who do not think the same. It’s not easy to have the Spanish population confined almost three months in the house but the government understands. What I do criticize is maybe the little transparency at the time of informing us about the contagion data and fatalities.”

–Rocio from Spain

“The government thought it was a normal flu. Or better, they preferred to leave people thinking that it was a normal flu. The government underestimated the problem. They didn’t take it seriously. They had other things on their mind. Instead, the health of the country is the first thing to have in mind. In this situation, we are all affected. And we all have to help each other in the same way. All united together against the only common enemy.”

–Gloria in Italy

“There are pluses and minuses. In terms of medical support in Moscow, they handled quite well, I think. I took two tests for corona and one for antibodies for free. While I was sick they were calling me every day asking how I feel, even though I didn’t have severe symptoms and my corona test was negative. Also, I passed the computer tomography and blood tests while receiving free medication.

There were a lot of complaints on the application, which is tracking people under quarantine. Fines for breaking lockdown were sometimes given by mistake with this app. Some people were afraid to pass the test for corona as they didn’t want to install the tracking app and then be fined by mistake.”

–Olga in Moscow, Russia

“My opinion about Turkey is that our people really behaved consciously and our leaders helped people during lockdown. Also, in my opinion, our Ministry of Health did a great job. If the number of cases is decreasing, that’s the most important thing.”

–Alperen in Turkey

“I think there is no doubt that we should have gone into lockdown sooner. I feel like that is partially because of the government but also the delay of W.H.O. telling everyone how serious the problem is. I think generally they have been surprising in terms of how much they’re helping people financially which is good. However, their communication at times has been bad, and they’ve sent a lot of mixed messages. I also feel like lockdown wasn’t as enforced as it should have been.”

–Jade in London, UK

“At first, they reacted well and quickly, then the restrictions were imposed more or less logically, but now they have started to remove the restrictions even if the number of those infected goes up. Since May 30 you can walk without masks in public spaces (unless it is a supermarket, church, etc.) and this is because the elections are coming, so they want to win people’s votes, but I think it’s too early and a lot of people are going to suffer for that.”

–Radoslaw in Poland

“I think they’ve done well, even though the economy is in a lot of pain. They are also ignoring the side effects of quarantine, such as mental health problems or health problems in general.”

–Tamara in Austria

“Azerbaijan is a small country, and there were not many infections, such as the countries of the United States, Italy and Spain. But the government has handled it very well. Fear affects people more than the virus.”

–Ulkar from Azerbaijan

“Vietnam enacted measures other countries would take months to move on, bringing in travel restrictions, closely monitoring, and eventually closing the border with China and increasing health checks at borders and other vulnerable places. School were closed for the Lunar New Year holiday at the end of January and remained closed until mid-May. A vast and labor-intensive contact tracing operation got underway. With the urgent and effective actions of the government as well as the cooperation of the people, the disease situation in Vietnam has been much better, all activities have almost returned to normal.”

–Duyen in Vietnam

“Trump handled this like shit. He is thinking like a capitalist and not a humanist, supporting those who were recently protesting to end quarantine and get their haircuts. I understand the economy is important, but at what cost? Thousands of lives?”

–Amy in Seattle, USA

I think the government officials in NYS and NYC made smart decisions during these challenging times. It’s their jobs to make decisions for the good of the public and they carried that duty out thoughtfully. The president of the United States of America did not stray from his character during this public health crisis, which is unfortunate because the country needs real leadership during this time.”

–Arnelle in New York City

The coronavirus has impacted Italy a great deal, especially Bergamo. When do you think Italy will fully recover?

Gloria: “In Bergamo, the most affected region in Italy, we are already returning to normal, to this new normal. Maybe our lives will be better than before–because we have lived a period that we cannot forget and we will never forget. In the end, we have beaten the virus. We are survivors. So we have the possibility of living better knowing the most important things in life: health and love.”

These perspectives do not completely cover the range of student experiences around the world; or better yet, the experiences of students who cannot afford an education or who have lost family members due to the virus. Additionally, these quotes reflect the opinions of those interviewed, not scientific evidence or exact government policy. But from the standpoint of those interviewed from Mexico to Germany to Vietnam: travel plans have been cancelled, family members are at risk, online school is difficult to manage, independence is lost and no country’s government has handled the situation perfectly. The pandemic is a global experience; one that has to be fought universally before we can all travel again.

University Students Around the World Share Similar Experiences During the Pandemic was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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