Written by Nguyen Manh Quoc Trung
The COVID-19 epidemic, with its travel restrictions and quarantine laws, has seriously affected people all over the world; students of the Global Discovery Program (GDP) are no exception. From not being able to come back to Japan (or return to their own countries) and having to study online, to having to spend the whole spring break at home due to strict social-distancing rules, the students in our program are slowly adjusting to the new lifestyle created by COVID-19. As an in-class activity for the course Contemporary Migration in Global Perspectives, students have taken turns to describe their situations and voice their worries in this tough time.
To begin with, several students have reported to the GDP office that they could not come back to Japan to start the new term, having gone back to their respective home countries to spend the Spring break with their families. Although the number is relatively low, with fewer than a dozen students unable to reunite with their GDP classmates in Japan, this poses a major technical problem for the GDP staff. With Term 1 already begun, efforts have been made to ensure that students are able to join their online classes and finish assignments in an orderly and comfortable fashion. So far everything has been going well. That is not to say that problems do not occur; the biggest setback for students currently away from Japan has been tiredness because of time lag: some had to drop classes because they have to join the online lesson through Zoom as early as 4 A.M – seriously affecting their health. On another note, several Japanese students have reported that they could not come back to Okayama City due to the national-wide emergency status (which as of now has been lifted) and are currently staying with their families in their respective prefectures. Having already been separated during the 2-month long Spring break, many express the wish to meet their friends and classmates face-to-face again.
The COVID-19 epidemic has also affected GDP students financially: many students have either been laid off from their current workplace, or are having their shift hours significantly cut down; many international students suddenly found themselves without a stable part-time income. Border restrictions and social-distancing rules have also undone many students’ plans for study abroad, internship programs, or volunteer work. Kantaro Fujumoto, a GDP student of the April 2019 batch, mentions the difficulties he has to face with his internship program in Kurashiki City: “Assembly meetings got shorter and shorter as the situation got worse, [and] so many activities were cancelled, so it was harder for co-interns to finish the program (we needed to work at least 100 hours).” While the emergency status for Okayama City has been lifted, many shopkeepers and restaurant owners are still hesitant to reopen for business, so many students are still uncertain when they will be able to continue working.
Having said as much, the epidemic proves to be an opportunity for many students to, in one’s own word, “realize the little things in life that [they] usually take for granted.” “Every morning I would wake up to the chirping of birds near our house [in Thailand],” Pandita Suthamporn, known among friends as PanPan, shared. “They used to sing every morning when I was younger until a few years ago, but now they came back.” And a change in nature is not the only thing students have noticed. “I could make good use of time for my hobbies,” said Megumi Kuratani, also known as Kurara, one of 2018’s April students. “I enjoyed using watercolor pencils that I don’t usually use, and also I could bake bread.” Many students are also grateful that the epidemic has given them the chance to spend more time with their family, something they have not been able to do as often because of schoolwork and distance. Another has also remarked that COVID-19 has made her develop self-responsibility and deeper concern for health and hygiene, and she hopes the same for everyone.
As of this moment, half of the first term has passed, and everyone in Discovery, regardless of students, staff, or professors, have slowly adjusted to new habits of working and studying. Yet everyone is praying for improvement in the situation in Japan, for everything to go back to normal, and for the university to open its doors again so that they can finally see the familiar faces of their friends and professors. Forrest Maynock, a full-time October-entrance student and a part-time party-goer, talks about his displeasure over bar-closures citywide: “With the bars being closed I have lost a major source of expanding my Japanese skills and making new friends. I also can’t have tasty cocktails for quite a while now… I miss Long Island Iced Teas…”
The photos in this article belong to Nguyen Manh Quoc Trung.