Checking In On Friends Abroad During COVID

by Tori Carr '20, Tim Keefe '20, Katie Patrick '21, Laetitia Haddad '20

Around the world, seniors have lost the last few months of high school. In light of the Coronavirus Pandemic, schools were mandated to shut, prematurely cutting off final traditions, classroom memories, and much needed closure as a result. The arrival and devastation of COVID-19 has shocked everyone. At SSSAS, students, teachers, and administrators are working together to figure out how to honor certain events virtually, or whether certain occasions should be held together once social distancing rules have been relaxed. For this piece, The Voice interviewed students in Abu Dhabi, France, Denmark, and Spain to identify similarities and differences in their experiences regarding quarantine, school, and socializing during the Pandemic. 

 

At the American Community School of Abu Dhabi, Senior Ipek Narbay says that her school shut down on March 9th, and that, initially, she was under the impression that she’d eventually return to school. Hannah Garbutt, another senior at ACS, recalls that halfway through her Spring Break, “ADEK (Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge) ordered all schools to be shut for the next four weeks.” At the end of these four weeks, students were informed that online learning would continue for the remainder of the school year. When Hannah heard this news, she was “pretty devastated.” 

At ACS, both AP and IB (International Baccalaureate) tracks are offered. Ipek notes that although IB exams were completely cancelled, their predicted scores and IAs (written essays) are being considered. AP exams are still being held, but they are shortened to 45 minutes and are online at a specific time. For students abroad, this proves to be problematic. “I have one online AP exam for Statistics,” says Hannah, “but I have to take it at 10pm Abu Dhabi time, which is going to be really hard. Some other kids have to take exams at 12am.”

Life under quarantine in the UAE is much more strict than what many students are experiencing here in the DMV.  “In Abu Dhabi,” Ipek explains, “it’s advised for you to stay home unless you have mandatory things to tend to. An 8pm to 6am lockdown is in place every day.” The government claims to be sanitizing the city during this curfew time, washing streets and cleaning public transport in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. Hannah hasn’t left the house in 3 weeks, but when her mom goes out, “she wears a mask and they hand out gloves at the grocery store. When she gets home, I help her wipe everything down with Clorox wipes.”

 

Sentiments of loss are felt by seniors at ACS. Many students who graduate from ACS are expats, and find it difficult to return. Hannah feels like she’s “been robbed of these last few months I was going to spend with my teachers and friends at school.” Ipek notes that their graduation will most likely occur online using pre recorded videos. Holding a graduation or prom in Abu Dhabi at a later date could prove to be difficult for those attending university in Europe or the United States. Hannah is especially upset about missing out on graduation.

 

“Graduation is something that’s really special at ACS because it’s held at the Emirates Palace. The date for graduation would have been June 4th, which is also my birthday.” The school is still holding onto its reservation in hopes that things could be safe enough in the coming months. However, pushing graduation further into the summer or early fall is not really feasible because of the transient and temporary nature of students at ACS, and because of the large distance many would have to travel to make it.

COVID-19 has radically changed the Class of 2020’s final high school experiences. Uncertainty and sudden loss cloud what would have been a triumphant and jubilant last few months of school with friends and teachers. As Ipek puts it, this Pandemic “teaches you to not take your life experiences for granted,” as we never know what circumstances could cut them short. 

 

As we enter what seems to be the 9th week of quarantine, the world is still uncertain as to when life will be “back to normal.” The United States is in a weird time, c’est vrai for our friends in France, as well. 

SSSAS Normandy exchange student James Hervé had some insight on what it is like in France right now. For him, in the city of Normandie everything is quiet. No one is allowed out of their houses unless it is for groceries, exercise, or work. In order to go outside, there is a tedious process one has to go through. He said “if there is any need to go outside, you have to fill a paper with your name, address, the time which you left your house as well as the reason for going outside.” 

His life is the same everyday. All of his classes have been cancelled in person and he has to do them online. He does homework, plays video games, and helps do yard work with his dad. Recently, he has started cutting wood for the winter. He also works out every day to stay busy. It is not a surprise that his day is just as monotonous as ours. He also said “it’s bothering to not have freedom during this period but I try to make the most of it.” 

On April 13, the president of France, Emmanuel Macron announced that he was extending the lockdown of France until May 11. In a televised address to the nation he said “ the epidemic is starting the slow down. The results are there.” He said that schools would hopefully re-open around May 11, but that restaurants, hotels, cafes, and cinemas would remain shutdown for longer. He added that universities are likely to be pushed back until the summer. The situation in France is pretty similar to that of the United States. People have been advised to stay and shelter in place until further notice. Likewise, many businesses have had to close and will unlikely survive the economic consequences of the pandemic. 

There is a lot of uncertainty in both of the countries. The only thing that everyone in the world can have is hope. That is the only thing that will help the world stay positive, to hope that something better is to come. 

 

Denmark is a small country in Europe with a population of only 5.6 million people, according to Business Insider. Despite its number of residents, Denmark was the second nation in Europe, behind Italy, to declare a lockdown, which occurred on March 11. This came even before any Danish citizens had been reported dead. 

The Danish government initially had been focusing on a “containment strategy” consisting of quarantining those at risk and increasing contract tracing and ability to diagnose patients. However, the nation never put a stay-at-home order into place, a new method: the “mitigation strategy” was initiated. With this plan, people must stay 1-2 meters apart, gatherings of ten or more people are banned, and restaurants, salons, nightclubs, schools, and daycares are closed. 

In mid-April, Denmark announced that it would be loosening its lockdown restrictions. Currently, daycares, schools, hairdressers, and other small businesses are permitted to open, and the Danish health officials have not seen an acceleration in coronavirus cases, according to the Washington Examiner

Prime Minister, Mette Frederiksen, explained, “It’s important we don’t keep Denmark closed for longer than we need to,” according to BBC. She additionally said, “If we open Denmark too quickly again, we risk infections rising too sharply and then we’ll have to close down again.”

Rasmus Stricker Mæng Petersen is a student at Haderslev Katedralskole in Haderslev, Denmark. In English, the school is called the Haderslev Cathedral School. Rasmus explains what his typical day looks like. He says, “I properly [sic] wake up at 6-7 in the morning to go for a run. Then I sign in for school at 8:05 and that goes on to around 2:30, [and] there are sometimes changes in the school schedule so I have more free time. Then I would have practice outside with my coach and only a handful of other swimmers. Because of [at the moment], the state allows no more than 10 people being together at once and this is with strict safety precautions.”

He goes into greater depth about the state of education in Denmark. He explains, “I, like many of my fellow students here in Denmark, no longer show up physically to school anymore. We have what is called VU virtuel undervisning (virtual studying). There are still people that have to go to school but this is something the state has [decided].” The children who are able to go to school are mostly young kids whose parents are not able to take care of them. 

Martin Holm Rønne, another student at Haderslev Katedralskole, says that he will be learning at home until May 10th, but that could easily be extended once again. He has been disappointed in the cancellation of this school year so far, and he disclosed that “I was supposed to go on a school trip to London with my class, but that has unfortunately been cancelled due to [the] virus. It's something that everybody looked forward to since it is the one and only study trip you have with your class to another country. You have been waiting for it since the day you start in high school.”

The two students explain how restrictions will affect traditions for the Class of 2020. Rasmus explains that “It seems that for this year's graduation there will be no big parties and no driving around in big open trucks with drunk teenagers (sadly). It's a big part of the Danish culture and a tradition everyone attends, but sadly not this year.”

Martin expresses the same sentiment, and reveals that other traditions, such as the “gala for the graduating class where they dress up and dance a traditional dance called "Les Lancier" are postponed. He additionally explains that “The formal graduation is still gonna take place but it may have to be spread over several days since there would otherwise be too many people.”

Furthermore, the Danish government is telling public employees with ‘non-critical functions’ to work from home, according to Business Insider. Rasmus explains that his parents are still working. “My mother works as an intensive care nurse at one of the main hospitals in Denmark, and my father works in the food industry. Both the medical and food sector, the state sees as very necessary to keep open.” Martin’s parents are still employed because they both work in the public sector, so they have been working from their residence. 

The CDC has recommended that citizens wear face coverings to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. According to the Danish Police, it is not recommended that healthy individuals should wear face masks in order to not risk a shortage of masks in the “healthcare and eldercare sectors.”

Both Rasmus and Martin have not become accustomed to wearing masks. Rasmus asserts that it is “not necessary to wear a mask [because] we are Scandinavians [and] we know how to hold our social distancing, it's part of our culture pretty much. Even before the pandemic, people didn't sit next to each other on the bus, and nothing has changed about that.”

Martin explains that different parts of Denmark are affected differently by the virus. He states, “I don't personally wear masks because we don't live in a very densely populated city. I haven't seen a single person wear a mask in my town. As far as I know, no one has contracted the virus in my municipality. Most cases are in the bigger cities, like Copenhagen.”

There have been several recent changes in Denmark because the nation is beginning to reopen. Martin mentions that “Kindergartens and grades from 0th-5th grade have been reopened since that is seen as the least riskful thing to do so far. It is also possible to visit the elders now, as long as it is happening outside and you practise social distancing.”

Michella Jørgensen, a student at Haderslev Katedralskole, explains that the seniors at her school have returned ‘part-time.’ She states that, “The kids from kindergarten until grade 6 are in school again because the parents can’t work while the kids are still home. And now the seniors are out too, but there’s been an increase [in coronavirus cases] in the age group 13-19. It’s doubled actually. But we can’t really feel it because Denmark really didn’t have a lot to begin with. Compared to other countries of course.”

Michella adds that these schools reopening has made her life much easier to handle than before. She explains “It impacted my life that the kindergarten opened up again. When I babysat my brother I often didn’t have time for school because he’s a baby and I couldn’t participate in the online classes while watching him. And I had to do all my homework at night when my mom came home. “ 

Many Danish citizens have been applauding the government’s actions in handling the coronavirus lockdowns. Rasmus believes that the communication between citizens and the government has been very helpful during a stressful period of time because “the state is planning everything for us as of now, [and] pretty much every to every other day the prime minister Mette Frederiksen informs us about the situation with her advisers on the sideline to answer questions. We don't exactly know what will be the next thing to open up but we have been given some idea of what is to come next.”

Martin comments that “The government has chosen to invest heavily into the economy to ensure that we get out of the crisis in the best way possible. Businesses can get compensation for financial losses and the government is offering to pay up to 90% of the salary for workers. All in all the government is spending around 44 billion USD. This might be small compared to the United States but in Denmark this is a huge amount. Luckily the state has very low debt, so it can afford to loan this money.”

 

Behind Italy, Spain is one of the worst countries being affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. In the latest pandemic developments, people in Spain were just recently allowed out of their homes for the first time after a seven-week lockdown. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has announced a four-week reopening plan that would hopefully lead to a “new normal” by the end of June.  

In 2018, SSSAS had a group of students from Spain come visit and stay with our own students for about a week. The Voice contacted some of these exchange students, who seemed to be hanging in there pretty well, despite the news about Spain being devastating. 

Lucia, a 17 year old girl from Aranjuez, Spain explained how she has not gone outside in a month unless she was taking a quick walk to get fresh air. She has not been able to drive anywhere or see any of her friends, which has made her very sad, but she expressed what she is most worried about is her grandparents and her mom. As her grandparents are very old, she does not want them to get this virus and her mom is at risk with her job, which could be very bad for her family. Overall, she explains how it is a very uncertain time that she hopes ends soon. 

Another exchange student named Carlos, explains how he personally is not having any difficulties dealing with the virus, but being stuck inside has been hard. He explains how he has been very busy with school work and how teachers have been assigning a ton of work. He has online classes in the morning where they primarily just go over the work they were assigned to do. 

Profe Gasper, who has lots of connections with our exchange students school, says that unfortunately she has not been able to get much information about how her friends are doing. However, she does know that their head of exchange and travel had COVID-19 and is currently recovering. All of the teachers are teaching online, but they do not have as advanced tech and equipment as we do. As it has been hard for them to communicate in this given situation, Profe Gasper has not been able to get much info about if or when they would come back for another exchange next year. 

 

Globally, COVID-19 has put governments to the test. On Monday, May 4, an international conference was held to discuss and pledge money towards the speedy discovery of a coronavirus vaccine. A delegation from the U.S. was missing from this summit, but other nations including Turkey, Japan, England, and France spoke online about the importance of international cooperation and solidarity at this time. Though governments are responding in varied ways to COVID-19, the breadth of this health crisis is all-encompassing.