Over the past month in the United States, the protests over police brutality have forced us to re-examine how we go about our daily lives when thinking about race relations. For myself, I have re-examined political beliefs and opened my eyes to new ideas and thoughts. For my college, this past month has put a spotlight on the need to listen to BIPOC and other minority students.

On June 1st, students from my university, Clark University, were arrested when a peaceful Black Lives Matter protest turned violent. Several of the students arrested were simply filming the protest and were not causing problems. None of the students were responsible for any damage or caused damage to any property. The resulting arrests led to student injuries such as bruises and scrapes, and outcry from the student body, as these students were arrested within feet of the university campus. Within 24 hours of the incident, the administration sided with the arrested students and said that they would end hiring non-campus police for events and patrols. 

While the administration’s decisions outraged the City Council and the police, it galvanized students to push for reforms. The Black Student Union sent out a list of requests for the administration to adhere to as a marker of support for the marginalized people of our university. According to College Factual, non-caucasian students made up 44% of the student body. Among these requests, the Black Student Union demanded that the University implement anti-racist training for staff and students, cut all ties with the city police, have more African American mental health providers, and more transparency with investigating reports of bias and racial incidents, including having a Black representative on the review panel. In response, the university agreed to some of the demands such as promising to hire a BIPOC mental health counselor but has not satisfied all of the requests made by the Black Student Union. In response, the Black Student Union, alongside student campus organizations have led a movement called for the removal of advertising material featuring the use of BIPOC students on the university’s page. This organized action is to shine a light on the exploitation of BIPOC students to show diversity, but not truly fighting for anti-racist and equality for all students. 

The opening statement of Clark University’s Black Student Union in response to recent Black Lives Matter protests

In addition to the changes pushed for by BIPOC campus organizations, a city-wide effort to transfer funds from the Worcester Police Department to other places such as schools, and mental health facilities have taken hold. The movement, Defund WPD, came to prominence after many citizens were concerned by the aggressive actions displayed by Worcester Police in early June from the Black Lives Matter protests.  Many people learned that the City Council was planning on increasing the budget of the Worcester Police Department by $250,000 for the next fiscal year. Despite outcry by the public who flooded the City Council meetings with calls and pleas to reroute the money, the Council unanimously approved the budget and sided with the police over those who have called for accountability. The outrage over the initial decision brought a torrent of emails, calls, and protestors to City Hall. After a deluge of calls and citizens making their voices heard, the City Council unanimously decided to reconsider the budget during their meeting on June 23rd. While a step in the right direction, Defunding Worcester Police Department could only be done by those who were spurred by protests across the country looking for a change. In addition to the movements in Worcester, another project brought nationwide attention to legislators taking police union money.

After watching the lack of action from politicians on police reform, one student became interested in how much money elected officials took from police unions. His research became a nationwide movement to hold officials accountable for making a change to their community. A college student from John Jay University tracked how much money members of his state assembly were receiving from the police. His project went viral and ended up having legislators donate money taken by police and similar unions to bail funds and other Black organizations. At this moment tens of thousands of dollars have been donated to funds and other organizations from politicians who have taken money from police unions. After making national news, many other spin-off projects sprouted, creating awareness of those who have taken money from police, corrections, or other agencies that could lobby against meaningful police reform. If you are interested in seeing if your legislator has taken money, here is the link. (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1bu1wXgR8WKxhiF46W_VcVjk86myBC47S6bIfD8bwqic/edit#gid=830940746)

As a result of the Black Lives Matter Protests, people have gone beyond just protesting, they have begun to advocate and demand change through their own means. From my own university’s Black Student Union’s push to remove advertising of BIPOC, to standing up against police budget increases, to a college student going viral for showing how much politicians take from police unions, the Black Lives Matter movement will likely going to have a huge impact on the future of policing.

Many of us are graduating into one of the worst job markets in history, at a time when lots of organizations are on a hiring freeze. Society as a whole is changing as a result of being in a COVID-19/post-COVID-19 era, and the generation coming out of college is stuck right in the middle of it. It seems to make sense that we will at least have our homes to unwind in, somewhere to go that will always be a place of safe haven. The places that feel like they are ours; that in some way they are integral to our stories as human beings. Yet what is home? Can it be defined as just a place where you sleep? Does it have to be?

Most people will tell you a house is a home. Yet this concept of home limits the very definition, as for some people a house is not a place where they can go to relax. Whether that be because of internal pressures, or exterior, where you sleep may not be where you relax. And what about the people for whom their house has changed throughout the years? In the last six years of my life I’ve lived in five different “houses” for varying amounts of time. From houses, to dorm rooms, to an apartment in an old warehouse, or an old duplex, all of these places have been places that I’ve laid my head to rest in, yet are all of them home? For many young people taking whatever jobs they can, their house may be too new to be considered a home.

What if we expand it? For many of us, our hometown is the place we grew up in, the place that formed our first memories. For me that was South Pasadena CA, a small town in the middle of Los Angeles. It is the kind of town Hollywood uses when they want something midwestern and small. It has got a wonderful little main street, with brick lined buildings only one or two stories tall. A Carnegie library sits just off mission, and the clang clang of the train rushes through the town on the regular. It is a peaceful escape from the insane world that is Los Angeles, a forgotten haven in a city of traffic, smog, and celebrities. I can name a number of places, some of which have changed over the years, where my attachments are more than solid. I consider them as much my home as my house. Yet something is still missing. In this case we need to look towards the oceans, and some adventures that lay along it. 

At work, when we were asked where we were from, others said specific cities and towns. Yet for me, home is the west coast. I grew up in LA, spent a summer working in the bay, and for four years attended school in the Pacific Northwest before taking a job in New England. That is a huge span of space, far larger than a house, but with specific reasons, for which we have to go north, to a little town in Washington state. 

As I mentioned I grew up in LA, but I spent four years in the Pacific Northwest, in a little town called Walla Walla. Unlike the town I grew up in, Walla Walla was best known for being near nothing at all. Surrounded by wheat, grape fields, and onions, it was a town rapidly changing. The downtown, which had once been all but abandoned, had been taken over by the rapidly growing wine industry. Some call it what Napa Valley looked like 50 years ago, still early in its development. I attended Whitman College, a small school located on the top of main street and three miles from the airport. I worked in the gallery and student center, lost many hours of sleep in the library, participated in a number of organizations and most importantly, came out as a transwoman. As a result of the support I received from so many wonderful people, I went from dreaming, to living in reality. Hallways became the places where I celebrated, and where I went to think. I studied the past, and realized that it would become my future. I joined a sorority, after years of considering it impossible. I curated, or helped to curate, two full exhibitions, one entirely mine, and the other as a part of a team. I even helped to run the tabletop games club, and played some club softball in the rain. These moments cemented Walla Walla and Whitman as a kind of home for me, even if I lived in three different places in my four years there.

Add in things like an In-And-Out burger, saying “The” in front of freeway names, laughing when people from the east coast talk about their “mountains”, or memories munching on some of the best Asian and Mexican food in the country, I am forever marked as being a west coaster through and through. Unfortunately, when we limit it to land and physical property, we leave out the number one thing that allows us to feel at home in the first place. And perhaps our memories can lead us to the answer, something that we are all searching for. 

All of these are focused on land, but isn’t it as much about the people that made us who we are as the adventures we had on the way. Any of those coming of age movies will tell you that it isn’t as much about the space that you occupy, but about the people that you do it with. Saying that my soul resides in the west coast is true because I have left part of it with the people I love. The people who I will travel across the country for a week, taking 20 hours to do so, just to see their faces in person. I did just this in February, traveling further north into the bitter cold because I couldn’t handle going a year without spending time with my sisters, my friends, and my chosen family. I spent that week sleeping on a beanbag in a friends house, and visiting with old friends. Many times I’d be walking along and suddenly I’d get ambushed by someone, as if I was everyone’s queer aunt returning home. While I was here I got an acceptance letter to the University of Washington, and it was here that I cried tears of joy again, another memory at home. 

Home is about the people who make our lives worth living everyday. It is about the smiles, the laughs, and the moments of joy, as it is about the sadness, the grief, and the scary moments. Home is emotionally tied, but in a way that ties the physical to the self. South Pasadena is great, but I miss Hotbox Vintage, the shop I’ve spent so many happy hours in. Not necessarily because of the shop, but because of the friends I have made through it. The owner with whom I’ve shared many laughs (and expanded my wardrobe extensively) and who made me feel comfortable in my identity as a transwoman before I came out at Whitman. She lets me hang out there, in exchange for helping to put things on high shelves that at 6ft 3in, I can reach. I love everything about it, and there is a reason that I included it here. It is a store that is the definition of a hidden gem, and one that I return to on every occasion back in LA. Despite never sleeping here, I consider it home because of the culture that she has crafted within, one that makes you not only feel safe, but also welcomed (and when she reads this, I promise you I’ve meant every word). 

So when you think of home, don’t forget to think about the people that make it possible to come home to relax. The people who will welcome you with open arms, and with whom your memories will be shared with forever. The people you chose to be with, the ones who you’ll fight for on a minute to minute basis.  These are the people that you think about when you think of home. It is not about the physical places that make up our homes, but in the memories and people that fill them. These moments are the ones that help us grow, and the ones that make us different from everyone else. In the end, a house may be a home, but a house without the people who helped to build it is a house without a home.

By Catherine Duffy

Two-thousand-nine-hundred-fifty-eight kilometers, the distance between Regina, Saskatchewan and Moncton, New Brunswick. That’s how many kilometers stretch between my mom and I during this time of crisis. I didn’t think the distance would bother me. I’ve lived on my own for almost four years now since I started college, only staying at home for a few weeks during the summer and at Christmas. However, I’ve found myself envying those going through the pandemic with their families…as crazy as it might be making them!

I’ve always kept in touch with my mom with daily texts and FaceTime calls a few times a week, but there’s something about a global pandemic that makes me wish she was here with me. It would be comforting. With such a threatening disease to the older population, I wonder if I am missing out on last moments with her. She is in her 60s, and to someone like her, the risks this disease imposes are just that much higher.

I also miss my furry friend and can’t relate to those improving their bonds with their pets with this extra time at home. The life of a cat is already painfully short and I can’t help but feel that I am missing out on precious time.

My mom and I, Mother’s Day 2018.

I look back regretfully on the month of March wondering if I had missed my chance to make it home to my mom and my cat. I had a flight booked for the end of April but as COVID-19 became rapidly worse, I soon got an email that my flight had been cancelled. The day we found out classes would be held online for the rest of the semester, one of my friends reminded me that this was a chance to reunite with my mom. I guiltily admit that I hadn’t even thought of that opportunity. Somewhere deep down I still thought all this would soon be over and I worried I’d be too far away from my university when things restarted. I also knew that my family home was filled with distractions and wondered how much work I’d be able to complete in the environment.

I would have only had a few days to pack up everything I had gathered during these last four years of school if I had chosen to go back to New Brunswick. The thought of a panic-filled packing session caused stress to race through my veins and in the moment, I just wanted to stay put. So much was still undetermined and I relied on the news to give me the updates I needed.

Flights being cancelled wouldn’t necessarily be the reason I’d have to stay in Saskatchewan. I soon decided that I would drive, aiming for the end of March when we’d get confirmation that our final exams would be online. Strangely enough, not flying home would almost be a good thing. I’d get to drive across the country, something that had always been on my bucket list, and I’d be able to pack more of my belongings than the airport’s strict suitcase policies would allow.

Again, things changed quickly on a day-to-day basis. By time I had made my mind up to drive, it was no longer an option. Both the United States border as well as those in the province of Quebec had been closed. There was no other way to New Brunswick. Though “essential trips” would be allowed, I had nothing to prove that I had New Brunswick residency, having changed my license when I moved away from my parents for school. 

The border closures made it official: I was stuck in Saskatchewan. Luckily, my landlord was understanding and reassured me that I could stay as long as I needed. Again, I wasn’t totally disappointed. This was my home after all, and finally, it seemed like my questions had been answered: I knew where I’d be staying for a least a couple months. It’s hard to ever really know your future plans with how fast the situation is changing, but I had finally formed a temporary plan. I looked forward to the football games and concerts I’d be able to attend with my friends, finally spending summer in Saskatchewan for the first time in four years. Naïve little me did not realize that such large gatherings didn’t stand a chance with the pandemic.

I know that many people have been separated from their loved ones in this time due to the new social distancing regulations. However, I believe there would be something comforting in knowing that your parents are still in the same city as you. Perhaps you’d head to their house for a conversation through the window like those feel-good Internet videos show.

Moms are so important. They’re the ones who make us realize that everything will be okay when we’re still young and frightened about the unknown world around us. From bellyaches, to thunderstorms to losing a balloon, Mom is always there to hold us and to reassure us that everything will be alright. So, as the world has stopped and has been filled with fear and uncertainty, yes, my twenty-two year-old-self needs her mom.

My mom and I enjoying a visit together.

Next time I’m with my mom, I won’t take my time with her for granted. They say that distance makes the heart grow fonder and I’ve seen a lot of truth to that since being separated from her at the beginning of my post-secondary career. Though you may have plans to see someone, you never know how they might fall through. When survival is threatened, whether on a big-scale for the vulnerable population or a lower-scale for those in good health, it’s comforting to be able to run to your mom for a hug. I can’t wait to see her again.

By Catherine Duffy

Throughout my life, I had never been that into fitness. I grew up dancing five days a week, so staying active had never been something I had to worry about. However, things changed when I started university. As much as I want to deny the existence of the “Freshman fifteen” I did start to notice a few extra pounds on my body as my lifestyle changed. I accepted the change and put a lot of pressure on my weekly yoga class to keep me fit!

I began working out in my third year of university. Between societal pressure to look a certain way, and the $100 I paid for the campus gym, I figured a few visits a week to the campus fitness centre definitely wouldn’t do any harm! I made at least two appearances at the gym every week, heading straight for the cardio machines to make sure I burned as many calories as I could. I didn’t focus on strength training, as I had no idea where to start, and feared the many judgmental eyes around the gym. 

I continued going to the gym over the summer paying a reasonable monthly sum at the local “Fit 4 Less.” Again, I would constantly head to the elliptical feeling more and more satisfied as the number of calories I burned increased on the equipment’s screen.

In March, when the COVID-19 pandemic began to worsen in Canada, the university gym quickly informed students that it would be closing its doors. My heart sank as I got the email sharing the news. Where would all of my pent up energy go? I had gotten into a really good habit of going at least twice a week. What would I do to stay fit now?

While the first two weeks of quarantine resulted in my adopting the lifestyle of a sloth, I knew that I couldn’t stay healthy continuing such a routine. I began taking daily walks around my neighborhood. The fresh air made me feel much better and my Fitbit vibrated with joy as it noticed my movements! Feeling frustrated with my 10,000 steps a day goal that now seemed impossible to meet in light of the new situation, I changed the settings on my Fitbit so that my goal would be 5000 steps every day. The goal felt more attainable, and consequently, I felt motivated to reach it every day knowing it was something I could do with just a half hour walk.

Since the gym was no longer an option, I decided to open my own little fitness studio in my room! Though the only equipment I had was a yoga mat, I found the Internet had many exercises I could do with just that. I began to do an ab workout daily alternating between arm workouts and leg exercises to go along with it.

I found a Youtuber online named Pamela Reif who demonstrates exercises clearly and has many videos designed for beginners. She offers daily workout plans for those seeking a bit more structure and provides some innovative ideas for those with no equipment at home. No free weights lying around in your basement? No problem! She suggests water bottles as a replacement.

Paula Reif’s Youtube workout video. Photo courtesy of Catherine Duffy.

After two weeks of committing to exercise every day, not only did I feel healthier, I already felt stronger. Core strength had never been a focus of mine, but in the privacy of my own room, I felt comfortable struggling to do a simple ten rep exercise until I became a pro. Putting an hour aside every day also made me feel less lazy, and when I did put time aside for TV, I knew that I had at least been active for some time throughout the day.

The pandemic has taught me that I don’t need to invest in a gym membership to stay fit. The internet is filled with free fitness videos, and with enough discipline, you can combine daily walks and strength training at home to stay in shape! It’s so much easier to squeeze a ten-minute ab workout at home than to make your way to the gym. Instead of finding two times a week, in my formerly busy schedule to go to the university gym, I’ve found a way to incorporate a little bit of fitness in my everyday life. Furthermore, I’ve learned that staying active in order to feel healthy is much more important than exercise with the sole goal of losing weight. This pandemic has given me the chance to make a lifestyle change that has been feeling better about myself and my daily routines.

As a graduating senior at UC Santa Barbara, my graduation has been indefinitely canceled. I say indefinitely because nobody is sure if it is still happening at a later date or if the in-person ceremony will cease to exist. There will be a virtual ceremony on June 14, the same day as the former in-person ceremony, but many students will argue that this is not the same as a real celebration. However, all hope is not lost for recognition for those students who are graduating from high school or college this year.

A few weeks ago, my grandmother sent a text to my father and stepmother. The text talked about a “senior spotlight” that KGO, a local news station, was putting on for seniors affected by the pandemic. Anyone could (and still can) apply, and they will be featured on the station. My grandmother suggested that my parents submit both me and my sister, who is also a graduating sociology student at UCSB, to the event. I don’t know if she was submitted, but I know I was.

Technically, it was supposed to be a surprise for both my mom and I, but my mom “cheated” and looked up the website. At 6:00 pm, my mom, brother and I sat in the living room and watched the news. We assumed it might come on at the end of the hour-long show. Half an hour passed before we saw anything. Around 6:40 my brother got up to go pee and, wouldn’t you know, my name got shown on the TV.

(the picture featured on the TV program)

I’ll be honest that I had no idea what to expect and it was a bit shocking. I am a very shy person and don’t love this type of attention. You can imagine my surprise when I saw myself on the news and compliments started flowing in through my social media. Something about it was really nice. I never would have expected to be featured. 

A few days have passed and I have continued to get compliments on my mom’s Facebook post, my Snapchat post that my brother convinced me to make, and even Twitter. I’ve told two of my good friends to apply, and I haven’t found their pictures on the website yet, but I’m excited to see someone I know get featured. It’s a really nice thing that KGO is doing for those seniors whose accomplishments feel forgotten, and I hope many more people take advantage of it. There are about 130 people so far, and I’m excited to see those numbers rise.

Overall, it’s just really nice to get this recognition we deserve, even if it’s small and a lot of people might not watch the news. It shows that students, business, and news groups like this are all in this together. We all have individual struggles and losses that we have to deal with. We are one in the same and can get through this pandemic together. 

When you’re a kid, you probably don’t realize the value of a dollar. My parents weren’t rich, but they were comfortable enough so that I didn’t have to work to get most of what I wanted. Even when my mom lost her job, she was able to bounce back into another completely different field. She ended up quitting that and now works in sales and makes more than we ever have before. I watched her struggle but didn’t really have to experience it. I felt bad at times when I’d watch my stepsisters juggle school and work because their mom is a teacher and couldn’t afford to give them a lot of money. If they wanted money, they earned it. I never realized that my life wasn’t like that when I was younger. 

When I got to college, things changed a bit. I finally decided I wanted to work because I had my schedule and I felt like I was ready for the next step. I had wanted to work in high school but hadn’t had a lot of luck, which ironically was a trend for my older brother and I. We were both interested in working but it just didn’t work out due to a lack of time, and my brother never heard back from the job he applied to. 

I applied for a job at a grocery store and got it. I didn’t really know how to start; I wasn’t used to working, or constant discipline. I was horrible back then and sometimes I hated myself for not getting work right away. There was pressure to be good at the job, and even though I tried to give myself credit for being new, it was difficult for a while. However, I got better over time and eventually decided to work for my friends’ parents’ yogurt shop in the same plaza. This is where I feel like I started learning the value of a dollar. I saw my money slipping away because I didn’t know how to manage my money. After I left the grocery job, I stayed with the yogurt shop for a few more months. I was able to keep my routine of trying to save money, and though it wasn’t perfect, I stopped wasting a lot of money on stuff I didn’t need. I was able to save my money and prepare for an emergency.

When I had planned to start at UCSB, thyroid cancer caused me to go into treatment and defer a quarter. I didn’t work during that time or during my first UCSB quarter. To be honest, I hated it. I was bored and hated asking my parents for money. When I got a new job as a cashier I became happier; I craved the independence of working, as making my own money is so rewarding to me. I worked two jobs again for a while until I left the cashier job to focus on school and other commitments. Recently, I found out they were laying off my department at my job at the mall because the mall closed. I was already home but fully expecting to go back and it threw a wrench in my plans, making coming back to UCSB almost unnecessary. 

I didn’t know what to do. I was back home and had no money coming in. I only had school to look forward to. I’m glad I don’t work now because I wouldn’t have the time, but a few weeks ago it was a hard adjustment. I was used to working. I filed for unemployment and was luckily approved, and although I was grateful for the government help, I miss the independence that comes with leaving the house and going to work, talking with people, making friends you wouldn’t know otherwise, and being able to learn new things about the workforce. For me, the ability to work equals the ability to have independence. You can make new friends and people rely on you for something, but you can decide what sort of job you do. Also, when you make your own money, people can’t tell you how to spend it.

One thing I noticed is that I’ve actually been pretty good with my money. Ironically, I’m trying to be careful because I don’t get a stimulus check and I want to prepare for an emergency. I have a lot saved and am trying to not spend too much, save what I spent for my laptop which was a necessity. I’m shocked at how well I’m doing. When I least expect it, I’m dealing with money pretty well and I’m as ready as I can be if an emergency arises. I hope I can keep going when this is all over. 

I am a childcare worker with children in kindergarten to grade seven. During the school year, we provide before and after school care – a morning shift of two hours and an afternoon shift of four – with day-long programs running in the summer months. Our program provides group games, creative arts, time outdoors, and self-directed play for the children while emphasising three rules; my work is safe, my body is safe, and my feelings are safe.

When the pandemic hit, we made changes to when we work and whom we work with. Currently, our program is open 8-5, but we are only open to the children of other essential workers, and all staff were given the option to discontinue their work for the program until they felt safe to return, without the risk of losing their jobs. I decided to continue my work, because I wanted to feel like I was contributing to the crisis the world is currently facing. Due to the temporary loss of staff, I have shifts every day the program is open. I’m grateful to be able continue my work, especially since I live alone. The comradery between our staff full of college students has never been stronger.

We split the remaining children into two locations (we used to operate from three schools) with the staff and children never rotating locations to limit exposure. At my current location we have eight children, even though we are licensed for almost ten times as many.

We keep them in separate spaces or outside as much as possible. It’s hot enough to wear a t-shirt on the Canadian West Coast now, and it’s easier to keep the children spread out from one another outside. It’s difficult to explain to five-year-olds why they can’t stand too close to their friends while they’re trying to build a house for bugs, or that they can’t play dress-up anymore because the fabric is too hard to sanitize without on-site washing machines. One day, three of the children drew circles in the sand pit to ensure me they were going to social distance while they played together. Afterwards we had to split up the trio for lunch due to our small tables. 

Although there are far fewer children than ever before, the job has evolved to have much more responsibility. We must wash high touch surfaces with soap, water, and bleach multiple times throughout the day. After children touch toys, art supplies, books, and board games they must leave them in a bin to wait to be coated in a layer of diluted bleach. For a great deal of the day, one or more of us is ensuring the centre is clean enough to hopefully prevent the spread of COVID-19. 

We have been trying to educate the children; with a combination of online material from their teachers, workbooks their parents have purchased, and free online printouts. As a science major I have been conducting experiments with the kids – building volcanoes and making crystals – and providing them with facts about the ‘animal of the day.’ Once I brought in the planters I purchased for my apartment and taught them how to garden. While none of our staff are teachers, we are trying our best to make up for the childrens lost time in the classroom.

Image: Prexel

I’m aware that I should be fearful of my new work conditions. Instead, I feel a sense of security. During the most stressful days as a student; worrying about papers or a dispute I got into with my friends, I always had my job to brighten up my day. 

I went through a domestic airport to visit my family in late March, and as a result, had to self isolate for over two weeks. I live alone, and during my self-isolation, I counted down the days until I was able to see the kids again. Whether we’re spending ten minutes trying to learn how to use a coffee grinder, or playing a made up version of hide-and-seek with far too many rules, they never fail to bring a smile to my face.

 I’m thankful to feel like I’m combatting COVID-19 even though I play such a minuscule role. More than anything I’m grateful to see the kids keep their happiness during all of this uncertainty.

During my first year of university, I enrolled in a beginner Spanish course at the University of Saskatchewan. I had always wanted to learn Spanish, despite my inability to roll my R’s, but I had never had the time. Throughout the class, I developed my Spanish vocabulary and grammar skills, but as the course drew to a close, I realized that my newfound knowledge would likely be pushed to the side and forgotten. And that is exactly what happened. School, work, and my social life all took precedence over learning the language and eventually I lost the knowledge I had worked so hard to obtain.

However, my “lack of time” to pursue a new language slowly became an invalid excuse when social distancing kick-started in Saskatchewan in mid-March. I found myself looking for something to occupy my mind and my large amounts of free time. Classes were still operating online but I was no longer commuting to school, working my part-time job, volunteering, or hanging out with my friends, and as a result, I was bored. I remember scanning my bookshelf in my room looking for something to read when my eyes stopped on my old Spanish textbook from two years prior. It was at that moment that I decided the best way I could make use of my time during social distancing was to start learning Spanish again.

I wasn’t entirely sure how to begin learning Spanish, especially on my own, so I decided to begin with the only method I could think of: flashcards. I pulled out my stack of unused flashcards, set aside for the finals I no longer had to write, and began writing down basic phrases, colors, and animals. From there I began to test myself on these terms and slowly I would write out more flashcards to add to the pile. This method seemed to work at the beginning and my Spanish vocabulary was increasing. However, I still felt as if I needed to do more to keep myself engaged.

Language Learning Books”. Pixabay

I downloaded Duolingo, a language learning app, and began to incorporate that into my daily routine. I enjoyed listening to Spanish from the app, as well as the practice of speaking, reading, writing, and listening that it provided me. I definitely think Duolingo is a great place to start for beginners looking to build vocabulary and pronunciation skills. There are a lot of languages to choose from, and best of all, it’s free!

I continued using Duolingo and my flashcard method, and after a few weeks of practice, I decided the final thing that needed to be added to my Spanish routine was to actually practice having conversations in Spanish. That is when I decided to reach out to my friend that I met in Peru back in February. I asked if he would be willing to practice speaking Spanish with me and he agreed. We started speaking on the phone several times a week and my Spanish began improving quite quickly. Speaking can be one of the most difficult aspects of learning a language, so I was very fortunate to know someone who could practice speaking with me. Even though I only knew a bit of basic vocabulary, I was still able to use what I knew to practice and I developed more vocabulary and language comprehension skills as time went on. Learning a language can seem intimidating and challenging but it doesn’t have to be. Just start slow and try not to be too hard on yourself. Learning a language takes practice but it is really rewarding, and a great way to spend your time. So, if you’ve always wanted to learn a language, maybe now is the time to give it a try!

By Rebecca Goldfarb

Growing up, I felt so trapped socially. I went to school with the same 150 people since kindergarten and was always looked at as “quiet, shy, and boring” by high school classmates, no matter how much I tried to lose that image. Day after day, I felt like I was constantly living in a bubble. Being socially contained like this for 13 years urged my drive to get out of Orange, Ohio. While I was in high school, I went on two school trips to Europe. I made so many meaningful friendships on these trips with people from all over the place. These experiences were life changing and from those moments, I knew I wanted to study abroad for a whole semester in college, as the best experiences are the international ones. 

In college, I was finally able to shave my whole high school image off and create a new identity. Going to college in Boston certainly helped, and I was also able to build a solid foundation of so many different friend groups, that I left high school completely behind. I worked so hard for the past two and half years to become an extrovert, to build this social circle, and to finally live life and enjoy being young. 

Junior year was the year of the unexpected. Both semesters turned into something completely different than I thought it was going to be, especially my semester abroad. It has been a few weeks since getting sent back from the United Kingdom due to the coronavirus. Even now, it is still so complicated to process the idea of having been abroad during a pandemic; the time where no one is allowed to travel. Yet, I still did managed to travel all over Europe during the time COVID-19 was slowly emerging. 

I still was able to get a solid two months abroad while traveling all over Europe, even with this crisis on the rise. These were the few months I set aside to do significant traveling and a once-every-one hundred year pandemic just had to come about during the three months I had selected to embark on this adventure. That being said, there are both upsides and downsides for having been abroad during this pandemic, mostly downsides obviously, but let me explain the true overall impact coronavirus left on my study abroad experience. 

Being abroad during this crisis allowed me to understand the situation in multiple international perspectives, especially in the way various European businesses and governments were reacting to the crisis. Had I just been in the United States, I would have only stuck to the knowledge of what my home state and the state that I went to college in was doing. Being abroad during an international pandemic allowed me to really integrate myself in seeing how these countries dealt with an international crisis. Having been abroad in London, I now follow updates in the U.K. and all over Europe to see what they’re doing to handle all of this, even when I’m no longer there. I probably would not have done that otherwise. 

Overall, my knowledge and interest in international politics has increased immensely due to the fact that I was abroad during this pandemic. I got to be experiencing the action, and compare the way the citizens of both the United Kingdom and the United States took precautions. Even when my program got cancelled, I still had to embark on an international flight home. Traveling internationally itself during this pandemic allowed me to brave it out, which enhanced the intensity of my journey home, as I embraced myself for the six hour customs line at the United States border. 

I still had other international trips within Europe planned for the remainder of my abroad semester that I knew I couldn’t go on. The European airline companies canceled these booked flights due to COVID-19. This was not only a relief, as it guaranteed I could get my money back, but it also provided me more with an international perspective of this crisis. It is unbelievable that I traveled to Italy on the last possible weekend I could have done it, right before coronavirus exploded there. It all sucks right now, but years from now when we look back at this pandemic, I can talk about how I was studying abroad during this crisis, I took risks in international travel and got to be in multiple different countries and see their perspectives on the issue. I can share this cool and unique story to others about the pandemic that many people wonder about. If I had to find any benefit of being abroad during coronavirus, this is what I can pinpoint. 

I was in Italy from February 20-23, the last calm weekend in the country before the virus took over. 

Granted, I still got two months in England and got to travel to five other countries, for which I am extremely grateful. I still feel as though I got the full study abroad experience despite being sent home a month early. I am also grateful that I was able to get home in time before travel restrictions were made, that I could be home with my family during quarantine, and that they’re healthy. 

I’m so thankful for what I did get to do while I was abroad. I absolutely loved living in South Kensington. From seeing 7 shows on the West End to watching the BAFTAs red carpet across the street from where I have class, it already feels like I have been living here for months already. While traveling, I was able to meet so many new people from all over the world in the most unexpected circumstances. From being stuck in the Budapest airport for two extra days to a random person coming up to my friends and I at a pub, asking us to guess a riddle about expired yogurt, these random situations turned into the most memorable ones. I went from being scared of staying in a hostel, to absolutely loving it. I loved meeting people my age and learning about why they were travelling and where they were coming from. I’m so thankful that I was able to travel to these places and get these experiences before the CV situation got bad in Europe.

That being said, I hate the fact that I had to get sent home from abroad and that this crisis had to happen right now. I went from living my best life to living no life at all. I came about many frustrations during my quarantine because I looked back at how amazing these experiences were and I was craving more. I wanted more experiences like these in my upcoming trips. I wanted to travel to the other places I was supposed to go to, so I could meet more new people from all over the world and see more new places. The more I started thinking about what I could have done if there was no pandemic, the more I wanted the original full amount of abroad time I was anticipating. I think what bothers me the most is the feeling that the universe just wants me stuck and isolated in Ohio forever.

Being sent home and into social isolation, I feel as though I am back at square one. Back to feeling stuck and trapped like I was in high school. Except this time, if I try to get out and be social and live life and have fun, I risk getting myself and my family sick, which is the most messed up part about this whole situation. This isn’t just my early 20’s, this is OUR early 20’s. We’re supposed to be traveling, going out for drinks, going to concerts and clubs, and making crucial social connections and friends that are supposed to last a lifetime. We’re supposed to be getting critical, career defining internships. We’re being deprived of precious college moments, some of the best moments of our lives so far. We’re only in college for so long, so who knows when we will have the opportunity to have experiences like these again? 

Tea and Scones at Wimbledon Tennis Stadium 

Everyone in the world is being screwed over in some sort of way or from some type of experience, from unemployment to a high school prom. It sucks for everyone. However, the pandemic has shown us the various ways things can be made up for. Soon, we’ll be out of quarantine and we will be able to get back the experiences that coronavirus ripped away from us. I will get out of Ohio and I will get the chance to see the rest of the world. And that’s what’s getting me through, to know that I can get back and finish what I started. I now have a greater motivation to make this a reality. Who knows how motivated I would have been to go back to Europe immediately if I was able to get a full semester. The idea of my travels getting cancelled increases my itch to get back into the world as soon as possible (and also my hostel vouchers expire in a year, so I have to go back anyways). 

This pandemic has also taught me to take advantage of any opportunities that interest you while you can, because you never know when another obstacle will sneak up on you and stop you from being able to do something. Be grateful for every moment you get to experience. 

Soon enough, the world will be operational again. If we want to make this a reality, it is crucial that we continue to stay at home and do our part to get life back running, so we can go back to living our early 20’s sooner than we think. A couple months on pause won’t seem like a big deal in the long run.

I have a distaste for the smell of spring. 

I know there was a time when it was different, and I cling to these memories with all my might. Wearing wind pants and blue rubber boots and sloshing about in the puddles that overtook the path behind my childhood home. Marveling at the consistency of mud, how there was truly no color so pure as it. Even in my older years, driving with the windows down just enough to offset the endless winter I was accustomed to, but not so far that a passing car would accidentally splash my interior. 

The springs of my adulthood have been far less magical. In March 2019, shortly before I turned 20, I was more depressed than I had ever been in my life (which seemed to be a record I broke every year). I don’t remember why, and perhaps it’s because I’ve simply chosen to forget. But I’ll never forget how I felt. Every step felt like a marathon. The inside of my head was blurry, I didn’t eat, and I cried nearly every day. Tasks like getting off of my couch for a cup of tea felt insurmountable, so I finally stopped trying. There were, of course, the terrible thoughts and breakdowns that come with all bouts of mental health problems, but I had never felt so physically ill before. 

I got bloodwork done, desperate for an answer. A nurse called me a few days later. By this point, I was completely bedridden and had long since called in sick to work. I answered the phone from my daze, not bothering to sit up. 

“Did you know you have mono,” the nurse asked after the exchange of pleasantries. In spite of myself, I laughed, relieved to have a reason for my misery beyond my usual mental health problems. 

For the remainder of the school year, I practically lived on my couch. I would interval studying for finals and taking naps. I begged my boyfriend to get tested, but he refused. My antagonizing roommate would not even bring me a glass of water on the days I was too dizzy to walk down the stairs. I had never been so miserable in my life. The only things that had managed to bring me some sort of comfort were cracking a window to breathe in the fresh spring air, which once brought me so much solace, and drinking cups of tea to replace most meals. 

beverage-blur-breakfast-cup-370018

One year later, everything is exactly the opposite. 

It was a winter of change; I broke up with my boyfriend and my mood improved immensely. I live with three roommates, all of whom I love, in a beautiful house that we rent. My writing is being published more than ever (frequently), and I am finally being paid. I secured a coveted summer internship. I am excelling in my classes. 

And then I don’t get sick, but the rest of the world does. 

In February, I will admit that I was part of the group of people who wondered if the mass panic around COVID-19 was being blown out of proportion. At this time, Canadian cases were sparse. I wasn’t vocal about my bewilderment, but I did silently resent that I couldn’t use my to-go cups at coffee shops and that my upcoming work event might be canceled. 

Within weeks, I didn’t have a job. I canceled my upcoming trip to Europe that I had spent months saving for. My parents weren’t allowed to leave Saskatchewan to come see me in Alberta. I wasn’t allowed to go five blocks over to see my baby cousin. 

I now know that the mass panic was not blown out of proportion. I wash my hands whenever I touch something new. I bleach every surface of our house relentlessly and only leave for the essentials. I am one of the millions of Canadians who have applied for Employment Insurance (EI). I am trying to make the best of it, but the world remains so uncertain. This is not how I imagined my twenties. 

I know I am fortunate in many ways, but in times of loneliness, I can’t help but mourn not what I lost, but what was just within reach. And as a snowy Alberta winter melts away, I am once more trapped inside my house, with only the smell of tea and a hesitant spring to tether me to reality.