Updated: Mar 30, 2020
All around the world, the virus has brought day to day life to a halt, but students are posed with unique challenges that affect our futures. I am in the midst of my junior year and I, like most high school students, am juggling studying, preparing for standardized tests and working on passion projects. None of us could have predicted the coronavirus. In order to learn how other students are coping with the coronavirus situation, I reached out to seven students from across the world whom I met at various events (their bios are below). What I learned, surprised me.
While nearly everyone reported that they were under quarantine in some form or another, the severity of the situation varied widely depending on the location. Despite the near non-stop coverage on the news, in some places, the situation doesn’t feel all that dire: students have chosen to simply wait this one out. “At the moment, everyone in the town is bored out of their minds'' says Brendan, from Muskogee, Oklahoma. Given that the county of 50,000 only has one confirmed case so far, life has continued largely as it would have otherwise, with spring cleaning and schoolwork. Others, even those under full lock down, said something similar: their living situation hadn’t changed that much. “As long as essential services like food and water don’t get cancelled, I think I’ll be OK” said Jonathan who is currently residing in Oxford. A native New Zealander, he is the only one left living in his dorm room, but he seemed to be coping well. When asked about the status of the quarantine, Amy Zhou who lives in Texas sighed, saying “A lot of teenagers are still going out and doing dumb stuff, but I think there’s greater situational awareness now”. People are still going outside, socializing and ignoring social distancing protocols. Joshua , from Benin, Nigeria, has seen similar things. “People are just going about their daily lives as if the corona virus is not a thing” he observed.
Dilnaz, from Almaty, Kazakhstan, has taken things more seriously. “The situation is a little bit intense, because we border with China”, she said. There has been a problem with stockpiling food, transportation is limited and every single event has been cancelled. All of this created a general feeling of uncertainty and anxiety in Dilnaz’s area, which is understandable. Even if you want to stay calm, it can be difficult when everyone else is acting panicked and scared. Other people’s fear feeds your own, which in turn re affirms others’ fear.
Through everything, there is one thing we can always count on that unifies students: schoolwork. I live in Fremont California, and I have been out of school for the past two weeks, and I recently found out that my school will not reopen until May. All around the world, for the foreseeable future, all learning will happen online. Standardized tests are cancelled. AP tests formats have changed and become online causing considerable anxiety to students and in some cases, upending months of hard work spent preparing for these tests. The cancelled events, too, are disproportionately affecting students. Competitions, conferences and events are no longer happening, meaning that students lose the opportunity to make new connections, meet new people, and display their hard work. It can be very de-motivating.
On zoom calls, Instagram DMs and whats app group chats, students are speculating whether the shutdown will extend for the rest of the school year. What will happen to learning, grades, tests, and college admissions? This is an unprecedented situation for teachers and administrators as well, and they appear to be just as confused as the students themselves. Students all over the world admitted that they didn’t have much information, and the information they were getting came in bits and pieces. Celestine, who lives in Jakarta, Indonesia commented that most national schools are essentially on a two-week holiday. The more established national schools and international schools are doing online learning the best they can. When asked about how the shutdown was affecting her academically, she said that she is not opposed to online learning, but she worries about those who live in the more remote areas of Indonesia who don’t have access to the internet or a computer, a concern similar to that echoed by people all across the world. We don’t know what’s next, and for the students applying to colleges, we don’t know how the admissions process is going to play out for them. Everyone agreed that schooling was now a lot more laid back than it would have been otherwise, and they all had far fewer deadlines.
In order to get advice on what to do during quarantine, I turned to Shaan Baig, who is what I would describe as a quarantine master. “Yeah, I suppose you could call me that” he said laughingly. He continued, “In the past month I’ve been quarantined two times. One was after [my visit to] Taiwan when I came back from the science fair. The second was when I gave a talk in Ottawa - this was an event with Mr. Trudeau[ the prime minister of Canada] and a day after, he announced his wife had it [the coronavirus]”. His main advice is to do things you might have pushed to the side in the past due to a lack of time, and to try and learn something new. He recommends getting involved virtually to help solve at least part of this problem and to counteract the negative effects of social distancing - you can be productive even without seeing anyone in person. Shaan certainly does as he says. “My friends and I have done a lot of research trying to design drugs using open source data sets” he says excitedly. “A hospital in Montreal launched a challenge to make a ventilator so we’ve been working on that, doing designs, and competing in these challenges”. “We have a team of 100 people”, he said proudly, “and every night I’m going to bed at like 6:00 AM doing this.”. Being in quarantine doesn’t give anyone an excuse to just Netflix and chill. Amy has started listening to podcasts, learning Italian and crocheting. “I’m watching a little TV - just a little bit - and I’ve been watching a lot of TikToks which is not great, it just happened!”, she exclaimed. You don’t have to be all work, and don’t be too hard on yourself - just be balanced.
This abrupt change in environment: being surrounded by friends at school or university to being alone in your bedroom, can be a very difficult transition, and it can be hard to pick up momentum on the things you were working on. To combat this, students have recommendations similar to Shaan’s: learn something new, seek nature, read a book and do what you can to keep your life going. Now is the best time to put yourself out there (virtually) and do what makes you happy. A few months from now when you look back on this experience, you don’t want this to be a missed opportunity. Hang in there everyone!
Amy Zhou is a junior from Sugar Land, Texas who is interested in mathematics. She spends her free time listening to podcasts.
Brendan Crotty is a home schooled senior from Muskogee, Oklahoma who enjoys metalworking and blacksmithing.
Celestine Wenardy is a high schooler from Jakarta, Indonesia who aspires to help her community through her interest in biomedical engineering.
Dilnaz Kamalova is a high school student from Almaty, Kazakhstan interested in robotics.
Jonathan Chan is studying Biochemistry at Oxford. He “came for the science; stayed for the beer”
Joshua Oluwaseyi is a student from Benin, Nigeria. He is a climate activist and executive director at Learn Blue.
Shaan Baig is an American-Canadian student, researcher and entrepreneur and speaker.