One week before going back home
They’re being so overdramatic. My friends and I were supposed to go to a concert tonight, but it was cancelled at the last minute over health concerns. The first cases of the coronavirus are being detected in France, but I don’t get the big deal. My priority? To have fun while I can. Sure, the situation is rapidly evolving all across the world, but there’s no way that something that serious could also happen here, right?
11 hours before
Apparently, the French president Emmanuel Macron is considering closing down all schools and universities. My classmates and I are half-joking that we hoped he would; we really aren’t ready for our tests next week. I’m secretly hoping he doesn’t, though. There’s still so much I want to do here.
It’s official: universities will be closed from next week. Everyone is standing in the hallways of the dorms, calling, panicking, asking each other where they’re planning to go. Most of my friends have already booked flights to go home just minutes after the announcement to avoid having to deal with the complications of lockdowns and closed borders. Going home wasn’t even an idea I had considered, yet I’m starting to think that it might be the best option.
12 hours after
École Polytechnique has announced that all of its students should head home if possible. I book my tickets to fly home to Tokyo that night to avoid the 14-day quarantine period that’s being considered by the Japanese government. Without much time to say my proper goodbyes, I pack and leave.
23 hours after
“Boarding pass, please?”
I can’t believe I’m here. I wasn’t even supposed to go home until July. Am I angry? Frustrated to be leaving? Excited to see my family? I can’t tell. All I know is that I’m 12 hours away from home.
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35 hours after
The cityscape of Tokyo, the laughter of my siblings, my father’s jokes, my mother’s delicious food – I’m back. I may never get this chance to spend this much time with my family again; perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise.
One month after
I have mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I’m thankful. My university has done a lot to make this transition easier for students no matter their circumstances, such as offering online course options. Seeing the disaster owing to the health crisis that has ensued in France, I also recognise my privilege in being home.
There are those in far more difficult situations than me: those whose loved ones have been affected, who are on campus supporting themselves every day, whose financial situations have taken a toll – my heart goes out to them. Thankfully, École Polytechnique has helped to put in place financial aid for international students in need.
On the other hand, I’m disappointed. Universities are not only for students to learn academic concepts but also to grow as a person. In the eight months that I’ve spent with my classmates from all over the world, I’ve been challenged every single day. This exciting experience only lasts for three years and it has now been shortened even further, so I can’t help but feel discouraged.
Outside of online classes, I have been able to stay in touch with my friends and classmates via online platforms such as Telegram, Discord and Houseparty, where we’ve chatted about what we’re doing while in quarantine, asked each other questions about classes, and even celebrated birthdays via video call.
The bachelor of science administration team at my university has continually remained in close contact with us. They’ve sent frequent emails about the administrative decisions that they’ve made and that the university as a whole has made, and make sure that all is well both mentally and physically for us, with our coaches even sending videos of workouts we can do at home.
But I still have a slight sense of missing out, in combination with the uncertainty of the future, which has fuelled some anxiety in me. If this pandemic continues to evolve in unprecedented ways like it has until now, I don’t know when I’ll be able to go back to France and to campus.
My friends are also worried about getting their study visas renewed as French government offices remain closed. Although I am lucky enough to have EU citizenship, will that be sufficient in the future? Will things be able to return to “normal” after this health crisis that has had a truly global impact?
Of course, no one has the answer to these questions just yet. In a world where closed borders and travel bans have become the norm, it’s easy to get caught up in this anxiety, especially as an international student.
But rather than doing this, I’ve been trying my best to take it one day at a time and, of course, to stay at home as much as possible while keeping a solid routine when it comes to my schoolwork and online classes.
I know that one person’s contribution isn’t much, but in a time like this, it requires all of us to work together towards one goal. Let’s focus on doing all that we can, so that one day we’ll be able to get back to our lives as much as possible and walk freely outside once again.