Behind Borders: The Perspective of An International Student During COVID-19
March has always been my favorite month of the year.
The air is cool but doesn’t bite. The flowers begin to bloom, and the spring semester buzzes with the promise of advancement or completion. Also, I celebrate a birthday. This year it held even greater importance as I anticipated the adventures spring break would bring for me and some of my closest friends who were quickly completing their time at St. Lawrence.
I had plans for 2020 because naturally, I am a planner. In high school, I planned my college pathway to UWC in Italy and then St. Lawrence. I knew I was going to major in Biology and History and that I would be pre-med. I've always stuck to my plans.
For spring break, I'd imagined a week of laughter and reminiscing along Bourbon Street in New Orleans. Instead, all that materialized was uncertainty. One morning, I woke up and my biggest worry was finishing my Organic Chemistry assignments. When I returned to my room and opened my e-mail that night, any sense of normalcy was thrown out the window. The world had flipped in mere hours. The campus erupted with panic, sadness, fear, and indecision. As spring break approached, students were abruptly sent home for the rest of the semester.
For my classmates, this meant that many traditions and moments would be lost. There would be no Moving Up Day, no more Java nights, no Senior Week, and most heartbreaking, no Commencement. No one knew how long Covid-19 would put a pause on life as we knew it. Still, for international students, we weren't sure exactly how we would be affected. As our classmates left for home, we had to weigh the pros and cons of returning ourselves. If borders closed and school resumed would we be able to get back in? Would our visas be in danger? How would this affect our progress? Was this truly a time to be away from family?
The decision weighed on me heavily as I'd always been the first to get on a plane and return to my home, The Bahamas, every break. Now, as a rising senior, there was so much to consider as I was so close to being done. My mother and I battled over what to do until finally, my country decided for me—the borders closed faster than the school and I was trapped on campus.
Up until this point, I'd never spent a summer at SLU. My roommate, who is also an international student, stayed behind with me and together we rode out the emotional rollercoaster that came with being miles away from home during a pandemic that the world was learning more and more about daily as cases skyrocketed.
I received thousands of panicked calls from family and members of my home church who believed I was in New York City and not Upstate NY. Explaining the difference didn't lessen their apprehension but it made me come to terms with my reality. The pandemic zombified me. I got wrapped in a cycle of doing assignments, going to Dana, calling home, FaceTiming friends, and sleeping day in and day out.
Now, I realize that I was experiencing a melancholy I’d never known. I missed my family, I missed home, but I also missed the predictability of life that I’d taken for granted. I'd begun to give up on 2020, just as I thought it had given up on me.
When I thought of the plans I'd had for the year, I couldn't help but laugh. I'd studied many pandemics, but I never believed I'd experience one. Other international students faded in and out of my view. They formed a community that I floated in and out of as they strove to make the best of the circumstances. As they laughed and played games together, their optimism showed me a brighter side of a pandemic that had shaken me so deeply in my core. I saw a reset.
With the volume of the world and its responsibilities turned down, I realized the things I’d missed in my academic haze. Things like my best friend's laugh, the obsession with Grey’s Anatomy I shared with my mother, my roommate’s subconscious tendency to sing randomly, the beauty of this campus in the summer, and my love of reading. They all brought color into a world that was greying under the staggering weight of ominous statistics and differing reports of what to do, how to stay healthy, and the chances of beating the virus.
The silence and isolation made me refocus on what was important. I reconnected with friends from back home and high school. I checked on my aunts, uncles, and other relatives weekly and even got a lesson in my family history from my grandfather and cousins. I threw myself into research that heavily resonated with me and I reminded myself of the necessity of being present. I was miles away from home and trapped but I found peace in the simple things and the faces of my loved ones. I prayed for the people afflicted and the essential workers who tirelessly continue to combat a virus that is surging through countries, cities, and families.
COVID-19 instilled just as much realism as it did unease into my life.
I couldn't plan this or plan around it. I could only hope to remain healthy and stay as busy as possible. I could only hope that as an international student and a rising senior my degree would not be jeopardized if my school decided to go online for the semester or if I decided to go home and could not return.
I had plans for 2020, and none of them included being separated from family, being cautious of touching door handles, missing the chance to cheer for my friends at Commencement, seeing so many lives lost, or running back to my room nearly every morning after realizing I'd forgotten my mask. I never could have imagined our current new normal. I couldn’t have planned this, but I feel like that is the most humbling lesson I’ve gained from this experience. We can plan all we want, but appreciating life and the people within it as well as the moments you share should never fall into the background.