In January, I received an email saying that I had been accepted at Korea University in Seoul in the fall semester of 2020.
However, as we all know, it is not the same world today as the one we knew back in January. The level of uncertainty continued to rise every day from when I received that e-mail, to the point where just days before I was due to leave I would still address it as “I think I’m going” and I had the date marked in my calendar as “South Korea?”.
Nevertheless, after a 17-hour journey wearing a mask, shield, gloves, and going through several security and health checks, I finally made it to Seoul.
South Korea had its first case of COVID-19 in January but as the result of quick action, extensive testing, and technological innovations, they have managed to flatten the coronavirus curve at a level where everyday life can continue with some modification, with people wearing masks at all times and social distancing.
I’m very appreciative that this is 2020 and not 1990
As a safety measure during the current situation, all long-term visa holders are subject to 14 days of self-isolation upon arrival after testing negative for COVID-19. I have always loved being busy and staying active, so these two weeks seemed pretty unimaginable. However, at the same time, I have always loved a challenge, which this definitely seemed like.
So, how does one cope with self-isolation in a foreign country, living out of a suitcase in a small (but clean) Airbnb, where both the language and the alphabet are very far from both Danish and English.
You are not allowed to leave the apartment under any circumstances so all meals have to be delivered, you have to keep all your trash inside the apartment in a big special orange plastic bag, and check-in on a government app several times a day with your temperature and answer a list of symptoms.
This might all sound a bit extreme, but I appreciate that they are taking the situation seriously and taking every precaution to protect everyone, which makes going on exchange during a pandemic feel a lot safer.
I don’t think there is any one way to cope with self-isolation, but I do believe the best advice is to accept the situation. You are not going to be as productive as you want to be with all the extra time and your circadian rhythm is put on hold.
Here is a bit of advice that goes against everything I stand for, but I have come to find accomplishment in putting on real clothes and sitting by the table and not lying in bed.
I have also spent a lot of time ordering food, which is quite a process, since most delivery services don’t accept European credit cards. I see this time as my chance to catch up on all the Netflix shows I would not have the time to watch at home, learn how to crochet, read books that are not school-related, and for once be the friend that has time to talk whenever it suits the other person.
There are, of course, also downsides to it all, but as I was aware of the current situation when I left, I stay focused on the fact that my life can go on semi-close to normal while I adapt and follow regulations.
I guess change is the new normal and part of the experience when going on exchange during a global pandemic
Today I’m half-way through self-isolation and fortunately, I’m both less crazy and lonely than I thought I would be. The past week is a blur of Netflix, take-aways, and YouTube workouts.
I’m very appreciative that this is 2020 and not 1990. A lot of my everyday life is spent talking to my friends, boyfriend, and family back home, which really gives a nice sense of reality in the midst of the hand sanitizing and temperature taking.
During the past week, the COVID-19 situation has progressively been getting worse with cases spiking to heights not seen since March, which has led to nationwide enhanced social distance rules to Level 2 (on a three-level scale) This is, of course, worrying but hopefully, they will be able to get it under control soon.
I feel very lucky to have the opportunity to go on exchange despite everything and grateful to be in a country that is on the front lines with the situation. Even though this is indeed a very unique and not very social beginning to an exchange stay, I am still looking forward very much to staying at the dorm, meeting everyone, and getting a sense of the culture.
Maybe I will appreciate it all even more than I would have if these had been normal circumstances. I guess change is the new normal and part of the experience when going on exchange during a global pandemic.