Students everywhere are being told to stay home. Hear from students in four countries about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed their lives — and futures.
Savannah: How are students dealing with COVID-19? News Decoder spoke with four young people in the United States, France, South Africa and the United Kingdom to learn how they’re coping with the uncertainty brought on by the health crisis. First, we’ll hear from Dylan Carlson, an intern at News Decoder, and Emily Faux, a second year university student at the University of Leeds in the United Kingdom.
Dylan graduated high school in the United States last year. He was accepted into Yale University, where he plans to pursue a degree in Environmental Studies. Since last autumn, though, he’s been on a gap year in Paris, France, where he’s learning French at a local university, taking guitar lessons and had plans to travel around France — that is until COVID-19 hit and Europe went into a nation-wide quarantine.
I asked him how he’s holding up while in quarantine.
Dylan: The first two weeks were, I think, really tough for me because it was a huge change. Before that, I mean I was going all over Paris, using the metro all the time, going either to school or, you know, going to the office for News Decoder, or then going out with friends or things like that, so I was always out and about.
Worried students stay busy at home
And then suddenly everything, from one day to the next, I had to stay inside. I couldn’t go out. So that was tough, but other than that, like, you know, I’m keeping sane. I mean it’s not absolutely the worst situation to be in, where you can relax at home and you can do those things. I mean there are many other people that are facing, you know, losing their jobs, that are facing so many tough things. You know, I’m on my gap year so what I’ve lost is not that much. I mean, you know, I won’t get to travel or do those other things that I won’t get to do during, you know, these months in my gap year. But, you know, I think that’s a tiny thing to lose. What I think has been the hardest thing has been thinking about all these other things that are happening and the people that are, you know, losing their jobs.
I also know my friends that are currently seniors in high school and they might not have, you know, prom or graduation or, you know, a lot of those experiences that I think are very dear when you’re in your last few months of high school.
Savannah: Yeah. How are they handling that?
Dylan: So, I mean almost all of my friends that I’ve talked to that are seniors now, they’ve taken it pretty positively. But I think still it’s been tough for them because you’re not with your friends anymore. You’re going through also, finishing tests, you know, going through college admission, going through all these other things that it’s so nice to have somebody to share that with. And you know having those last few months with your friends from high school or from your whole life if you lived there in that town your whole life so I think that’s been tough.
I think, me, what I’m most curious to see is for everybody that’s like a kid right now, 5 years old, 8, 9, 10, who are just still so impressionable and then seeing this thing that is pretty historic. And it’ll be interesting. I’m hoping that maybe for a lot of people, I don’t know, maybe they’ll take up writing or a new instrument or have the time to read or learn on their own without having to be constrained necessarily by school or their curriculum. I’m just interested to see how big the change will be you know in the future. How many people might say, “Yeah, the reason I play guitar today is because I had nothing to do during quarantine so I just took up a guitar and played it and then you know I became a musician.”
Savannah: Next, I called Emily. How are you?
Emily: I’m great, thanks. And you?
Savannah: Good. Thanks for agreeing to speak with me…
Emily studies International Relations at the University of Leeds and is particularly interested in political rhetoric. She had some interesting thoughts on the whole idea of social distancing, or as she thinks we should call it, spatial distancing.
Emily: The idea of social distancing, it kind of became interesting to me because I’m very interested in language and a lot in my degree I analyze kinds of political speeches and the affect that languages can have on people. With social distancing, I just thought there seemed to be a huge issue in use of the word “social”. But I think by adding in the word social, it ignites a lot of unnecessary fear and panic and like sense of loneliness. So there’s a lot of people who will already, obviously, be feeling very isolated from loved ones, their friends and family, and by calling it social distancing it just reinforces that separation.
Staying social yet apart
We’re being asked to be spatially apart — not physically see one another — but I think it’s really important to stress that being social is still encouraged and is still really, really more important than ever. And in many ways, we can still be social. So Skype, Zoom, which me and you are on now, phoning your friends, there are so many ways to still be social and I think like the social side of this and the community, the sense of community, that it can encourage should really be stressed rather than made to be something daunting.
I asked Emily how long she’s been socially, or rather, spatially distancing.
Emily: I was at uni when this whole kind of outbreak started, but I’ve since gone home to where I live, which is Midlands, UK, so Stoke-on-Trent. Yeah, just over a week for me actually because my dad’s in the police, so we had to self-isolate for a little bit longer.
Savannah: Is he working?
Emily: Yeah. He’s gone back to work now. He had to do like the seven days because he had a cough, but he’s absolutely fine. So he’s back to work.
Similar to what Dylan had to say about his situation in Paris, Emily considers herself lucky despite the disruption to her life.
Emily: Yeah, so I’m definitely a lot more fortunate than a lot of my friends. So, for me, all my modules are assessed 100% on essays, so I can still use the online library and online reading and do my essays as normal. So nothing’s changed for me in terms of workload or deadline, which is good because it’s still something to do at home. And obviously being a second year, I’m lucky that graduation hasn’t been cancelled either, but I have got friends whose graduations have been cancelled. I got friends whose placement years have been cancelled, whose study abroad years have been canceled.
So, I’ve got a really horrible example, really. One of my friends who, she’s from France, studying in Leeds, and she got a placement with TUI — that used to be Thomas Cook, the travel agency brand — to live in London on a paid placement year and she signed a contract to rent in London, which is obviously incredibly expensive and has now been told that all internships in the travel industry have been canceled because of coronavirus. So, she now has a house to rent in London with no income or placement there.
Savannah: Has she been able to break the lease?
Emily: She’s in the process of trying. I’m hoping that her landlord will be understanding, but I’m not sure yet. It only happened yesterday.
Savannah: And what about your plans for the months to come?
Emily: It’s just a case of waiting. If all my summer work and plans are being cancelled, well, they’re not being cancelled. But who knows whats going to happen, yeah.
Savannah: On hold.
Emily: Yeah. Like, I know the hardest for me is not really having an end to look forward to. Like, we just don’t know how long this will last, so it’s just take every day as it comes and kind of keep yourself occupied and positive.
Before I hung up, I asked Emily how she felt other young people were reacting to the crisis.
Emily: The majority of young people take this really seriously. They have loved ones in vulnerable groups. They understand that they could be a carrier and not know. But additionally, like when the news publishes these “Oh, X amount of people are ignoring government advice and still going out,” it makes people think, “Oh, well, if some people are still going out, I may as well go about my day-to-day life or whatever.” If we’re told in the media the vast majority of people are staying in, everyone is staying in and doing their bit, you’re going to get so much more of a rally around the flag, everyone doing their part. but if you’re broadcasting like, “Oh. These young people are still going out and partying,” it makes the whole staying-in thing kind of futile and pointless, and you’re going to have more people actually following that negative lead, which is a minority, rather than a kind of spreading the good that young people are doing.
Emily’s reflections on the perception of young people by the media during the Covid-19 outbreak reminded me of something Kasey Ingerson said to me. Kasey is in her last year of high school at Westover, an all-girls school in the U.S. state of Connecticut.
Kasey: I tend to be a more positive person because, I don’t know, that’s just who I am. But I know a lot of my friends, it’s really making them worry and really upsetting to them. So I remember, like my friend yesterday, she understands like, yes, many people in the world are dying and it’s extremely, it’s very, very sad. But for people to be like making fun of seniors as well, to be so upset with like their entire education [that] they’ve been working for all these years, it kind of hurts them. It’s like, “Yes, I understand how grave it is, but I’m also allowed to be upset as well, because I’m being affected as well.” So that’s something that kind of sat with me I guess. Everyone is being affected by this whole pandemic, no matter where you are.
I called Kasey to hear how high schoolers are dealing with the abrupt closure of their schools and also the cancellation of many much-loved school traditions.
Savannah: Hey, Kasey. How are you?
Kasey: I’m O.K.
Savannah: Are you still in Connecticut?
Kasey: Yes, I am. I’m a day student.
Savannah: Okay, so you live in Connecticut with your family.
Savannah: Yeah. And school’s been suspended, right? As far as I know, Westover has moved on to online learning, correct?
Savannah: When did you guys start that?
Kasey: We just started last Monday, so it’s been like a week and a couple of days.
Savannah: How’s it been going?
Continuing student traditions from home
Kasey: It’s just a different environment. Like when you’re at home, you kind of have your own schedule. Like you have this schedule to do your classes, but also there’s no, like, the afternoon commitments that you have. And, like, I dance as well, and I don’t have that either, so I have more free time. So, I’m able to, like, kind of schedule when I want to do things, which is different. Sometimes it makes me, I wouldn’t say, like, procrastinate, but once in a while, I a little bit procrastinate. Just because I have —
Savannah: That’s ok to say! But also, you were involved with theater and choral singing, if I remember correctly?
Kasey: Yeah, well we’re, my school’s doing this thing where we’re trying a different approach to the drama production thing right now. We’re doing interviews with people. We’re kind of figuring out, like, who we’re going to interview, but then we’re going to write everything down that the other person said, then kind of have a monologue and act it out over video.
Kasey: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. And for choral singing, my choir teacher is trying to still have some meetings, trying to figure out how that’s going to work. But he’s also offering like sight-reading, like reading music classes that I’m helping him out with. So, there are changes, but there’s still a lot more free time than before.
In the United States, many schools have annual social events like prom, a formal dance, graduation ceremonies and other community traditions to celebrate the end of the year and also the end of high school for the graduating class. I asked Kasey to share with me some of Westover’s school traditions.
Kasey: So we have a lantern ceremony where we go up to what we call the Seven Sisters, and we like hold hands and we sing our traditional songs with lanterns and everything in the dark, so it’s a nighttime tradition. And it’s, like, you’re welcoming the new girls into the school, and the seniors get to walk around in the center circle and sing the songs. And I’m a Glee Head, so therefore I lead it, because it’s a tradition based around songs. But everyone loves it because it’s beautiful.
We also have a tradition called Orchard. Where it’s, like, the seniors wear their traditional clothing, so like from their race or ethnicity. You can wear whatever you want.
Savannah: Had you planned your outfit for the Orchard?
Kasey: I haven’t. I would definitely be wearing something Dominican because I’m Dominican. But I’m just not sure yet.
Savannah: What are your plans for after high school?
Kasey: So we’re not completely definite, but I want to to go Byrn Mawr. It’s in Pennsylvania. And so if it works out, because they accepted me, we just have to make sure financials and everything is good.
Savannah: Of course, yeah.
Kasey: But if I go there, I’m so, so excited! It’s going to be different going off on a new chapter when possibly I haven’t even finished the last one that I was in.
Savannah: How are your friends and family doing? Are you staying in touch with your friends outside of your online classes?
Kasey: We video chat every day during lunch just because we don’t see each other at school anymore, so we like have lunch together. We’re still talking all the time.
And my brother is handling it differently just because his job was considered non-essential, so he’s stressing, obviously, about not having that second job that he had, and it’s just pretty difficult for him. He keeps getting like very stressed out. For my mom, things haven’t really changed just because she’s a postal worker, so they have to keep working. And my sister works with like an insurance company, and it’s a respiratory insurance company, so she’s had an influx of things happening.
But for me, it’s just basically staying home and getting things done and just trying to go day by day.
Kasey’s situation is one that is familiar for a lot of young people around the world. I called Souleymane Diallo, who is in his last year of studies at the African Leadership Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa. Like Kasey, he attends a boarding school, but the students at the African Leadership Academy have stayed on campus and now attend class online from their dorm rooms.
Souleymane: It’s not really easy to be in a lockdown because everything changed. Your activities, the way you do things. So you have also to adapt. It’s not an easy thing, but I just hope in the coming weeks things will start getting better.
Savannah: So tell me more about what ALA has been doing during the COVID-19 outbreak. You just said that you’re doing online learning. But you’re all still on campus?
Souleymane: Yeah, so the school has been working very well so far to avoid the spread of the virus on campus, so no longer a student is allowed to leave the campus, for instance. And for the few people who are allowed to enter, such as those working in the catering or those helping with cleaning the campus and other things, those people are checked every time they enter the campus. There’s a temperature check many times during the day as well as when they are leaving. And so something else also is those people are, unfortunately, no longer using common transportation. It’s the school that is providing transportation from their home to the campus. This is just a way for them to avoid the spread.
Many of the teachers are no longer on campus. They are having their classes from their own houses, and it’s only the few people who are required for the function of the campus that are moving around. So what the school is doing is trying to reduce the contact between people as much as they can, even though sometimes it’s not easy to do. So, for instance, we depend on those people cooking for us on campus, so there are a number of those people have been reduced. So students have been selected just to volunteer to help in terms of cooking, cleaning and everything else.
Savannah: I know you’re all in your rooms, some of you are with others, some are alone. Are you able to kind of meet virtually and see each other and talk to each other?
Souleymane: Since ALA is a very small, tiny, community, I think it’s easier for people to interact with each other even though there are a lot of restrictions going on. So the campus is very small. So, for instance, going to the dining hall, you get the chance to interact with people. It’s just the number of people in the same place that have been restricted. For instance, in the dining hall, what we do have is four people by table so just to allow the physical contact. But still, there’s a lot of interaction going on between students, between friends, and I think it makes things easier for us right now compared to many students all over the world.
I would even say we are privileged to an extent because I do have many friends, some at Sciences Po [a university in Paris, France] who are just in their rooms. They are not even going outside, and I think it’s a privilege I really have, and the students actually have, to still be able to interact with each other.
Savannah: Where is your family located? Where are they?
Souleymane: My parents are in Guinea, in the rural area of Guinea. So for the last time we’ve been discussing, they are not really, I would say, worried about what’s going on because the probability for them to be in contact with the virus, for now, is very low. It’s a very remote area of Guinea, so for now they are just living their lives. They are more worried about those relatives living in the city — those who are moving around from one city to another — than themselves.
So for me, being here at the African Leadership Academy right now, I would say I’m very privileged. It’s something I believe many people should acknowledge, and the fact that you, being in a room in absolute confinement every day, it’s a privilege to a certain extent. Because millions of people all around the world cannot afford such things right now so that’s something, I think, that’s very important to point out.
Savannah: Thanks for listening to this News Decoder podcast. If you’d like to learn more about the global health crisis, visit our website www.news-decoder.com
Dylan Carlson Sirvent is an intern at News Decoder. Dylan was born in León, Guanajuato, Mexico, where he grew up until moving to the U.S. state of Ohio at the age of 12. Currently on a gap year, he is living in Paris, France, where he is learning French and taking guitar classes. Dylan will attend Yale University starting later this year. He loves reading, playing music and learning languages.
Souleymane Diallo is a second-year student at the African Leadership Academy from Guinea. He is passionate about philosophy and changing how people perceive Africa. While mainstream media often portrays Africa as a place of misery, war and poverty, Souleymane likes to create essays, poetry and visual arts that celebrate the continent’s diversity, hospitality and bright future.
Emily Faux studies International Relations at the University of Leeds. She is co-president of the European Centre for The Responsibility to Protect Student Coalition and is a junior editor for the R2P Student Journal. She is an intern at the Zimbabwe Educational Trust and has experience volunteering at home and overseas. Her ambitions center on the pursuit of universal, inalienable human rights for all, with career aspirations in policy-making, think-tanks and research.
Kasey Ingerson is in her last year of studies at Westover School in Middlebury, Connecticut. She is the head of the Environmental Action Committee and Amnesty International, and Senior Ambassador for News Decoder at her school. In her free time, she enjoys dancing, theater and choral singing.