We’ve heard it time and time again since the beginning of March–these are unprecedented times. Cancellation of non-essential travel. Repatriation of people around the world back to their home countries. Stay-at-home orders. Record high unemployment in the US. Country-wide lockdowns.
We are not simply statistics.
We are people from all walks of life living around the world and experiencing our own problems and emotions during this time. Before making grand assumptions, read and listen to people’s stories–they might make you realize that people and things aren’t always what the media plays them out to be.
So, how exactly is the Covid-19 pandemic changing people’s lives?
Caroline | Ohio, USA
I’m originally from Central Ohio and for the past two years I’ve worked in international education abroad, first as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Andijan (8.2018-6.2019) and Bukhara (12.2019-3.2020), Uzbekistan, then also as a Participant Recruiter for the FLEX program in Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kygyzstan, and Romania. I received my bachelor’s degree from the University of Denver in Russian and International Studies. Taylor and I crossed paths in St. Petersburg while we were both studying abroad in Russia.
On Friday, March 13th I was in Bukhara, Uzbekistan when I received an email from my supervisor at the US Embassy in Tashkent saying that we could leave if we wished to. I was supposed to be in Uzbekistan until October 2020 and wouldn’t get paid my full grant if I left. At first, I decided to stay. Within 2 days, Coronavirus arrived in Uzbekistan. As I walked through Bukhara’s Old City, I realized that I should leave. Uzbekistan closed school and started shutting down regional transportation. I ended up packing in a panic, forgetting most of my pants, and left for the capital Monday morning, where I found out that all flights were cancelled–including mine to Istanbul. The US Embassy Tashkent was able to charter a flight, so my colleagues and I relaxed in Uzbekistan’s capital for four days before leaving. When our flight was announced, I cried–I didn’t want to leave the country I gave thirteen months of my life to, but I boarded the flight because it was the safest option. According to Eurasianet and Radio Free Europe, besides the capital, Andijan and Bukhara have been the hardest hit by coronavirus, so I’m happy to have evacuated.
My feelings and emotions have come in waves since returning home. I was very angry and lethargic for the first month. Fulbright finally decided to pay most of my grant in April, leaving me with a salary until September, which has calmed me down a lot. While I was with American Councils, my boyfriend and I broke up, I lost my credit card, and prized camera. Between American Councils and Fulbright, I wasn’t given enough time to process all of these traumas (plus traumas added by my job in Bukhara), so I’ve been enjoying having these months to myself and being able to use yoga and walking alone in the woods as recovery. I haven’t been this mentally healthy in a while and it’s great. At the same time, however, I lost my employment and I do wish that I was doing my job. For the first month that I was home, I focused on sleep, relaxing, yoga, and language learning. The second month, I chose to focus on my blog, Wandering in Eurasia, and my application to Indiana University’s Summer Program. The third month, I’ve decided to focus on job applications, losing weight, and getting my TESOL (teaching English to speakers of other languages) certification. In June, I hope to have a part-time job and learn Persian. Throughout quarantine, my mantra has been “to be the person you always wanted to be”, so I’m finally working out and attempting to go dairy-free and gluten-free. I know that I have immense privilege, and I am fortunate to have an employer giving me money and parents willing to let me stay with them.
My current plan is to complete my TESOL certification at Arizona State University and Persion Level One at Indiana University. I’m looking at part-time jobs for summer, and I’m applying for jobs in Washington DC and abroad for the fall. I hope to be studying Central Asia in grad school in January 2021.
For more of Caroline’s adventures and to learn more about Eurasia and the former Soviet Union, follow her on Instagram @eurasiawandering.
Gavin | Bristol, UK / Mauritius
Hello Everyone! I’m Gavin, from the beautiful harbour city of Bristol, in the South West of England. (2hr from London for reference). Our famous Clifton suspension bridge can be seen below. I love the city that I live in and I always highly recommend it to travellers whenever I am backpacking. So please check it out if you are ever in the UK after the pandemic has settled down. Otherwise, I work in finance and I am lucky that my work has not been affected by COVID so I have been feeling very grateful about the fact that I can work from home. Especially as a lot of my friends have been “furloughed”; where the government pays for 80% of your salary because the business that you were working for cannot afford to keep trading due to COVID. Another interesting fact about myself, Is that I was born on the paradise island of Mauritius, so I am a dual citizen. See a snapshot of a beach from my lovely birth country below, as well.
Before the pandemic paralyzed the world, I was going about my day to day activities not thinking much about the Coronavirus, while I had an awareness of it happening. I was definitely not paying a close attention to it, which in hindsight I think was very ignorant of me. I’m a very social person so it was definitely a bit of a shock at the beginning of lockdown not being able to go out to meet friends and family. I was not in a great mood as I had already planned 3 trips this year, which all of them have now been cancelled. However, as the time went by, It was clear to me that the pandemic was not about me but actually it was affecting everyone around the world, when so people have lost their life to COVID, I felt it was very selfish of me to think of my cancelled travel plan when there’s much worst happening to so many people at the moment. From then I decided not to be selfish in my thoughts and that shift in mindset has really improved my wellbeing. I am someone who likes to see the glass half full out of every negative situation that I am in, so I have taken up running. We are lucky in the UK that the restrictions still permitted a daily exercise so I took the opportunity and while pre-lockdown I HATED running, I look forward to my runs now. I get to enjoy the city in a different way, having so few cars around. Other than that, working from home is keeping my mind occupied and I am also working on my dream of becoming a rock star with guitar lessons on apps on my phone and YouTube video keeping my day to day interesting. Haha. Although I doubt, I’ll be quitting my day job anytime soon, judging by how bad I currently sound on the guitar. Lol!
I’ve got British values after all, so the first thing after lockdown is go to the pub and have a few pints with friends! (PS: I promise I’m not an alcoholic but oh how I miss that!) Living through this has definitely brought a new perspective for me. I’m very fortunate that I have been able to travel a fair amount and now it’s just made me realise more how important the experiences that I have had, the wonderful people I have met have really enriched my life and I feel very grateful that I have been able to do that. I will absolutely carry on travelling after everything is back to normal as it is the memories of these experiences that have made me happy in lockdown. While I might be able to be there right now, I fondly remember jovial Taylor and Leo who I met in Lisbon and the many others friends who I am still virtually in touch with. No big decision for me as such but I hope I move forward with the positive mindset that I set myself once lockdown is over. To finish, here’s a picture of me stopping and enjoying the sunset while on my many runs. 🙂
For more of Gavin’s travels, follow him on Instagram at @gavtravelz.
Megan | Washington, USA
I just turned 25 years old, and I’m a college graduate with three degrees: Anthropology, French, and Gender and Sexuality Studies, speaking French intermediately and Mandarin on an elementary level. I identify as a woman, am pansexual, and I’m a sun cancer and moon taurus. I’m from Seattle area in Washington State and I lived in China for two years before COVID-19 really blew up. I had finished a year of service to Americorps VISTA and hated it so I decided to leave the states. I heard ESL teaching was crazy easy and you made decent cash for a comfortable living by doing it in Asia. So, yeah, I did it. And it was just that. Easy money, comfortable life, something different and new.
I was in Singapore when I realized my two week Chinese new years trip would have to be extended due to my school remaining closed and there being no other reasons for me to return. I was happy! It was like extra vacation. I planed to go to the Philippines next but they were experiencing hella drama with some volcanoes and I didn’t want to be part of that vibe so I took a turn north and went to Vietnam instead. I ended up traveling from North (Hanoi) to South (Ho Chi Minh City) of Vietnam for the next month and during that time I realized I didn’t want to go back to China at all. I got two jobs, each in a different city, as I traveled Vietnam but I didn’t end up sticking with either of them. Eventually I just decided to make the decision to return to the states and bide my time there. Countries’ borders started closing not one week after I landed in the SEA-TAC Airport.
I got back to the states just in time to experience the quarantine as it commenced on the West Coast.
I couldn’t file for unemployment because you have to have proof of having a job in the states in the last 6 months, and I’d been teaching ESL in China for the past two years! So, I had to get a job. I managed to get a job pretty quick at a coffee shop as a barista. However, I literally work 4 hours a week and getting a second job has been damn hard to do. I have been using all the extra time to vibe with myself and introduce spirituality into my life, including doing a lot of reflecting and meditation. I’ve never been so poor and so calm in my life.
Taylor | New York, USA
If you haven’t met me yet, I’m Taylor and I created Tracking the Miles in early 2018 to document my travels and share my tips, tricks, and knowledge to make travel less complicated. I’m from upstate New York, and just before the world shut down I was traveling Southeast Asia thinking that this year would be filled with travel, adventure, and new experiences (looks like only one of those was right…can you guess which one?). I spent January and February in Southeast Asia, and conveniently got home about 2 weeks before everything started shutting down. I spent a few weeks being a potato and hanging out with my cat and catching up with family, and started a super cool remote job while planning some amazingly fun adventures for the rest of the year.
Exactly a week after starting my new job, I was laid off as lockdowns started and the world grinded to a screeching halt. It felt like a huge kick to the chest, and suddenly all my plans were thrown into limbo. Living in New York, we’ve had some of the strictest shutdown guidelines in the US, which has been an experience, to say the least. As the weeks drew on, everything seemed to be spiraling out of control, especially since the state’s unemployment system has had millions thrown onto it nearly overnight (me being one of them). It’s no secret that quarantine has affected us all pretty harshly, so there definitely are days that I struggle with functioning in the world that is just now slowly starting to turn again. I spent the first few weeks of quarantine baking and cleaning/organizing every nook and cranny of our apartment. At the time of writing this, we’ve been shut down for about 10 weeks, so I’ve now been spending most days working on my blog, writing, binging Netflix series, and reading more books.
I have no concrete plans at this point, as I’ll be starting from scratch in terms of my employment. However, I made the decision that I would go back to university in order to begin pursuing my MPA in nonprofit management, which should take about 2 years to complete. Restrictions are easing here in New York as our state has done a pretty good job at managing the crisis, so I’ve begun to try and explore my area more, as upstate NY and the US northeast are best seen and experienced in the summer/autumn. Since international travel is going to be pretty difficult for the foreseeable future, I’d love to take advantage of exploring the wonderful part of the country in which I’ve spent my entire life. Living through this pandemic and being so personally affected by it, my thought processes have definitely shifted into a more empathetic and mentally aware state of mind. The failure of the US government in controlling the pandemic and the issues that have risen from everyone being home, not working, and angry (read: the anti-racism movement that has led to daily protests in almost every major city since June) is something that will likely take much longer to fix than any of us had originally thought. This time in lockdown has definitely forced me to spend a lot of time thinking about what I want for myself and what I really want out of life and all that I’ve been given and have worked for.