Stories we need to tell: Studying during a Pandemic
As part of a sabbatical chair replacement at the Augustana University in Germany in the Autumn semester 2020-2021, Globethics.net Academic Dean Amélé Ekué, had the opportunity to engage with students of theology and to collect stories around young people's particular experiences in these pandemic times. The students participated in an essay competition on Students' Lives under COVID-19 and gave expression of their feeling of anxiety, stress and isolation in this period demanding particular adaptability among the young generation. Globethics.net Academy is sharing these experiences with its network. Follow us on the journey of learning from and with students and read one of these reflective stories, ‘How our life has been changed by COVID-19' narrated by Elizabeth Silayo, Doctoral student from Tanzania at the Augustana University in Germany.
According to Homerton University Hospital (2020), COVID-19 is a highly transmissible virus that mainly attacks the lungs. The transmission is through droplets created from sneezing and coughing from those infected. The virus passes in the body through the nose, mouth and eyes. They continue to assert that most commonly reported symptoms of COVID-19 are: a new continuous cough, a fever, fatigue, muscle aches, shortness of breath when moving around, sputum production, also loss of appetite, taste, and smell. In their research on guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of COVID-19, Yinghui Jin et al (2020) claimed that some people might require hospitalisation to treat the COVID-19 symptoms, while others with mild symptoms may only require isolation at home.
Life during the COVID-19 Pandemic
All of us have been lifted into a new way of living during the COVID-19 pandemic. Each day presents a new set of rules and changes that give us orders on how to live. There is more uncertainty and the feeling of being out of control. There are an incredible number of deaths being reported globally each day by different media outlets. Some of our family and friends are no longer with us due to COVID-19 pandemic. The learning style for students changed, with rise in online learning, often with its associated challenges. Our homes became a place for everything: classrooms, sports and meeting rooms, which was not the norm before 2020.
Yet, each day is unique and there are still blessings like the sun rising, birds singing, snow and rain to provide water for plants. Many families were able to spend more time together, and collected precious moments as rebirth or renewal of family togetherness, instead of being stuck in traffic. It is an opportunity to slow down our daily life, and learn to work from home. These times have given many of us a different lens to see the world and realize that each day is precious and valuable. Time that was once taken for granted is now seriously reconsidered and re-valued.
Changing during Corona times
In February and March 2020, I was overwhelmed with all the changes that were happening, especially when the cases in Europe and other parts of the global started to rise. In March, news channels notified us that universities would be closed until further notice. Within less than a month, everything started to change and the fear grew larger. I kept thinking the worst might happen, and I started imagining what if something happened to my family, my parents or my friends, who are far away in Tanzania, mostly in villages, where the health facilities and up to date information were, and still are a challenge.
Amid these moments the shops started closed, and nothing was open except food stores. I remember this time as the true starting point of quarantine. Everything seemed like nightmare that I was unable to wake up from. What made it worse was the exaggerated and fake news people kept spreading all over social media.
After the Easter vacation, we started online classes and it was good to meet friends via the computer screen, even with Internet cuts. However, it was not the same as having physical in-person classes, where my classes were international and multicultural ones, an experience I miss even to this moment. No one knows when ‘normal' life can be resume. Through this experience I can attest that the pandemic has changed every individuals life in all aspects; how we work, learn, and interact in a social distanced manner. Guidelines that everyone must follow, at a personal and professional level, national and international, rich and poor, employed and unemployed.
The COVID-19 associated restrictions have led to serious disruptions in people's daily routine, as noted by Ray D, and Subramanian S (2020). These consequences have been observed with regard to food supply and utilization, and Ammar A, et al (2020) claims that home confinement has changed eating behaviour and physical activity for many people. They also noted that the closing of gyms, fitness centres and imposed restrictions on visiting parks, playgrounds, also presented an obstacle to many in both accessing and engaging in forms of physical activity.
Changes in routine may cause trauma, which can also impact the grieving process. Recovery from trauma related to COVID-19 associated challenges may take significant time. I recognise that we are in indefinable moment on earth, and I am learning how to cope with the loss and trauma, how to give others help, and where to go for help, even through social media. Taking a walk, cycling, and any other outside physical activities strengthening my sanity, helps to get good sleep and reduce nightmares.
Coping with loneliness, trauma and loss
In this era of social distancing, I live grieving physical contact to family and friends, as is the case for many. Some of my friends and relatives died due to COVID-19, and yet, we are confined in our homes and cannot participate in mourning our losses. In addition to that, in my country, Tanzania there is no official or clear restrictions about the COVID-19 pandemic. Abdul Halim (2021) reported that "President John Magufuli has denied that COVID-19 is a problem and cast doubts on the efficacy of vaccines. His government has proposed the use of alternative therapies to deal with cases of illness". The Tanzanian government response to COVID-19 makes it harder for the citizens to follow guidelines to avoid spreading it.
In spite of being in overwhelming and mourning time, I learnt that there is no right way to grieve. Everyone experiences grief differently and each loss is unique. The important part is to be patient with yourself and accept to recover at your own pace. It is also essential to find various ways to cope with loss and grief, by connecting with friends and family through the phone, text, or any other digital platform, to talk about your loss, trauma and feelings of loneliness.
It is clear just how much our lives have been changed by COVID-19. The stories are many and all important, since everyone experiences life in a different way. Nevertheless, rediscovering who we are, and knowing that we have been given gifts and talents that can be used for ourselves and for others, gives life a purpose even in such indefinable time. I personally find that purpose gives me strength every day, and I discover a spiritual awakening and divine love that overpowers me, and helps me adjust to new ways of living. Therefore, regardless of what is happening we can live intentionally, knowing that our mercies are new each day and that our needs will be met as the Bible says in Lamentations 3:22-23. Being spiritually devoted gives hope and we can be a light to others who need hope. We can offer support to those who are depressed or fearful. The stress dissipates when we surrender to God, give him control and believe that He will be with us and never leave us alone.
Ms Elizabeth Elias Silayo
You may be a student yourself, a faculty member, or an administrator of a higher education institution. We would like to read your stories of transformative learning in pandemic times, too! Send them to us under: firstname.lastname@example.org.