It was mid-March when reality seemed to slowly come apart at the seams.
I remember one rather ominous meeting. I and a couple of my peers met with an academic who was supposed to accompany us on a study trip to the US. I had been following the news both in the UK, where I study and in the US and knew that the likelihood of the trip going ahead was quickly diminishing. This academic, who had arranged the meeting, informed us that while the original purpose of the meeting was to discuss the itinerary for the trip, the meeting would now be spent discussing if we felt it was safe to go at all. We were set to visit New York and Boston with the university. We were supposed to visit New York University and Boston University, for lectures at both institutions along with trips to some historical and political landmarks. Furthermore, I was planning to Visit MIT and Yale to discuss master’s degrees. As a result of the coronavirus, none of this ended up happening.
Over the course of the year, out of the first 95 days (125 total) of teaching, 22 had been cancelled due to strike action. Now 5 more days would be cancelled due to the pandemic, and the final 25 would be moved online. I spent the last five days before 1 month of our scheduled Easter Break finishing up some coursework. This turned out to be a mistake. I had decided to go back to my parents’ house in Denmark since all activities that required me to be on campus (lectures, seminars, exams, and so on) had either been moved online or cancelled altogether. When I ordered my plane ticket back to Denmark, it kept getting cancelled time and time again. I ended up having 5 cancelled plane tickets before the 6th one finally got me home, 2 weeks later than expected.
My university is in the North of England, so I usually fly via Manchester. That was no longer an option, meaning I had to take the train to Heathrow in order to get home. Taking the London metro during a pandemic, with an entire subway full of people wearing masks and gloves, I am fairly certain will be one of the most surreal things I will ever do.
I have now been home since April 1st. When trying to describe what I have been doing, the word that I find most accurate is “cope”. I have been trying to cope. My only objective has been to preserve my humanity for as long as possible. I am fortunate to have been locked up in a gilded cage, but it has, nonetheless, been dreadfully difficult to motivate myself to study topics that I know I will not be assessed on, as all my exams have been cancelled. Fortunately, I find most of the material absolutely riveting. To compensate, I try to waste my time as productively as possible. I am currently making my way through Yuval Noah Harari’s course “A Brief History of Humankind” which formed the basis of his best-selling work Sapiens. It is available for free on his Youtube channel. Otherwise, I might study Japanese or check in with friends, which is a mutual service, that I highly recommend to anyone in this weird, weird time.
Stay safe out there, all of you. And wash your hands!
Written by Marius Henius Dreijer