- Continuing On: Looking into the Lives of Yonseians since COVID-19 May 13, 2020
Yonsei students share personal stories of pandemic life
<Contributed by student reporters Chaewan Lee and Beom-su Jo>
I began this semester in a panic. As editor-in-chief of the Political Science & International Studies (PSIS) department's newspaper, I was given the task of conducting meetings online for the first time in the newspaper's history. Having to imagine myself displayed across the monitor and speaking to the laptop was not easy.
I have to admit - it was awkward. An hour before our first-ever online meeting, my heart was pumping. Although I have seen professors give lectures via Zoom, I have not imagined myself being in the same position. Asking some of my close friends for help, I practiced conducting meetings a few times beforehand. "Hi, my name is Chae-wan Lee... I'll be the editor-in-chief for PSIS newspaper this year…" My sentence would trail off awkwardly.
This semester is not an easy one for students at Yonsei University due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. While I was panicking to conduct meetings online, other students were facing different types of challenges and finding their own resolutions. Fellow student reporter Beom-su Jo and I looked into how other Yonseians' lives have changed since the pandemic.
We all face dilemmas
A week before the start of the spring semester, Nicholas Newton saw his friend off to return to their motherland, the U.S., in the middle of his exchange leave. An exchange student from Oklahoma who had planned to study for two semesters at Yonsei University, Newton was also at a standstill in late February like his fellow study abroad students. He had to decide whether to stay in Seoul and finish his remaining semester or return to the U.S. He broke the deadlock by choosing to stay.
It was not an easy decision. Newton had to see friends leaving for their home countries. “I had some things planned with other exchange students that were planning to stay here (at Yonsei) for a year like me. But they all got called back to their home universities, so everything got canceled,” he said.
However, he noted, "I still think it was a good decision." Adding that this pandemic would be difficult to control in any country, he explained his reasoning before making the decision. “Because Korea is more controlled, there is a good sense of where things are. However, in a big country like America, we have a lot more suburban areas, which means we are a lot more spread out."
Newton showed his gratitude towards his host university for providing masks as he was struggling to purchase them in advance. "I received an email from Yonsei saying international students could get masks. With my alien registration card and student ID card, I was able to get a hold of masks at the Global Lounge," he said.
Social distancing at heart
While some handle the COVID-19 pandemic alone, some witness those close to them experiencing it at heart. Seung-wan Cho (Sophomore, Underwood International College, International Studies), has recently seen his father coming back to South Korea, but from a distance.
Cho's father, who has been working in India for over a year, was called back home to Korea by his company two weeks ago. Upon his arrival at the airport on a chartered flight, however, Cho was only able to greet his father from a 50-meter distance. Though Cho had not seen him since the Lunar New Year, he had to wait until his father finished the mandatory quarantine period upon arrival. The distance at the airport was barely enough for him to recognize his father's silhouette.
Ever since his father's arrival, Cho has been staying at a hotel with his mother. “The company was going to provide and pay for the hotel, but most hotels near my neighborhood were not receiving potential COVID-19 patients," he explained. Thus, Cho had to leave his father alone at home while he and his mother, who need to go out regularly, reside at a hotel.
While waiting for the family reunion, Cho has been spending the majority of his time at the hotel, taking classes just like a regular semester. “My schedule became more flexible. Last semester, I would take all classes consecutively, but this semester I have the freedom to listen to classes when I have time because not all of them are done interactively with Zoom,” he remarked. Although he commented frankly that the hotel space is not spacious enough for two people, Cho is trying to stay positive. "I am still grateful that I get to see my father in a couple of weeks," he said.
From adaption to breakthrough
The pandemic may have brought the campus to a halt, but there are Yonsei students who remain dedicated to their campus duties. One example is Je-woo Shim (Junior, Underwood International College, Quantitative Risk Management), who is currently working as a Vice-Chief Residential Assistant (RA) of the Underwood House dormitory at Yonsei International Campus (YIC)*.
*Note: The entire Yonsei freshman class resides at the Yonsei International Campus for one year as part of the Residential College program, where they live and learn together and experience creative community education.
As Shim heard the delay in the dorm move-in date for first-year students last February due to COVID-19, he was faced with a dilemma of either giving up his duties or adapting.
"An RA's job is similar to volunteering," stated Shim as he shared his experiences for the past few months since COVID-19. The unprecedented situation is definitely a first in his previous three semesters as an RA.
At Yonsei University, RAs are appointed to one of 12 “House” dormitories, where they plan various programs for freshman students to help them adjust well to Residential College education. Additionally, individual RAs are assigned to approximately 30 first-years to serve as their mentor, confidant, and advisor during their stay at YIC. "With the pandemic, these duties were no longer relevant, as the freshman class cannot check-in the dormitories," said Shim.
However, Shim was not wavered by these adversaries, choosing to serve his responsibilities in other viable ways. "The position of RA isn’t defined by the work you do, but rather your attitude to serve the freshmen students," stated Shim.
His determination to continue supporting students first began with translation programs to address the difficulties international students at YIC faced regarding school announcements that need to be urgently translated into English. "I am currently running a program where freshman students fluent in English can volunteer remotely as translators. I oversee the overall assignment of work to the volunteers and posting of the translated announcements," explained Shim.
Yonsei International Campus may not be full of excited first-years like last year, but Shim’s everyday life as an RA is business as usual. Be it weekly 90-minute meetings on Tuesdays, or drafting new proposals for online RC programs for the freshman class, Shim continues to serve his duty across the computer screen at Underwood House.
Life after the pandemic?
As Yonseians experience the COVID-19 outbreak into the second quarter of the year, everyone has high hopes and plans after the end of pandemic life, whether it be traveling around the country, meeting friends, or greeting new students.
"I’d like to travel and explore South Korea freely,” said Newton. Before coming to South Korea last year, Newton had planned on visiting Gwangju, Jeju Islands, and Busan. Though his plans have been postponed, he still hopes to travel the country before returning home. “After high school, I went to the U.S. military, and from then, all of the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East. So, it feels normal for me to pack up and move every once in a while,” he added.
Cho also has similar plans, although his motive is different. “I will begin my military service in a few months, so I really want to visit the ocean before I leave. And I would love to see all my friends who I have not been able to meet during COVID-19 one last time.”
Shim, who is serving his last semester as an RA, expressed his hopes to see YIC once again packed with first-years eager to start the new chapter of their life at Yonsei. “This probably applies to all RAs, but I feel really sorry for our freshman class who did not get to enjoy their first semester of university life on campus. I hope they will enjoy Yonsei life to their heart's content next semester and attend many long-awaited events such as AKARAKA and the Yon-Ko Games.”
Comma, rather than a full-stop
The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought our lives to periodic disruption. However, like the various stories of Yonsei students, we can see that the epidemic is merely a comma rather than a full-stop in life. Adversities allow people to grow and mature; some make life-defining decisions; some realize the importance of family, while others diligently carry out their duty to serve others. The pandemic may be far from over, and we are still in the middle of this journey with an illusive end-point. Still, there is one thing that we are assured—we will overcome this crisis together eventually, and when we are back to our ordinary lives on campus, we will be stronger than ever.