Lockdown in a foreign country
Experiences of four international students who decided to stay in Barcelona during the pandemic and the lockdown instead of returning home
For the international students of the University Abat Oliba (UAO) in Barcelona, the Spanish lockdown due to coronavirus came completely unexpected. As universities had to remain closed, they received an email from their university’s rector on Friday, March 13, saying that due to the lockdown presence classes will be replaced with online distance teaching immediately. The international students from UAO had to make the decision whether to stay in Barcelona and hope for a quick reopening of the university or to leave and continue online classes from their home countries. AULA NEWS talked to the ones who decided to stay during the lockdown. This article describes how they feel not only without the possibility to attend the classes but being socially isolated and locked down in a foreign country.
“I still want to experience much more here”
One of them is Hyunji, who we call Ariel. As most of us international students, she first thought the situation was not that serious. Expecting a quick drop of the infection rates during the first two weeks of lockdown she hoped that soon everything would be back to normal. Despite from the expensive and long flights with several stopovers she would have to wait a two-week quarantine in Korea before she could see her family and go out again. Being glad to live with two flatmates in Barcelona, she says: “I feel less lonely and can do activities with them”. The lack of physical social contact is the most difficult change for her. “I really hope the situation will be better soon so I can experience more what I wanted”, she says.
“Living alone during the lockdown was okay – for a week”
Gabriella had the same thought to continue her experience of living abroad. “Even if there was a lockdown I hoped that soon it would be over and that it was worth staying”, she says. She lived alone in her flat, which was okay for a week, but soon became really hard. “Being alone and far from home was the hardest part. But also not being able to move where you want.” Gabriella decided to fly back home after she endured almost three weeks of restrictions to have more freedom in Sweden. But still she says to be thankful for her experiences in Barcelona, even though her stay was shorter than expected. Also she commends the Spanish government for its decisions in which she trusted. “I am planning to come back some day”, Gabriella says.
“All these situations make us stronger”
Joaquina had to interrupt her Morocco trip due to the closing of the Catalan borders. “That’s when I took real dimension of what a pandemic meant. It was a desperate situation because all my plans were falling overboard”, Joaquina tells. Since she has been planning her exchange semester in Barcelona for two years and showed a lot of courage to do it, she now wants to stay. Being optimistic she tries to make the best out of the lockdown and enjoys the time with her roommates. They exercise every day and established theme days for homemade sushi, brunch, popcorn and movie nights.
In addition, Joaquina started playing the guitar and learning Italian. “I could already say that after this quarantine I am a professional cooker, a guitarist, Italian, housewife, lawyer, Olympic athlete and much more”, she says with a laugh. Although it is hard for her, that her family can’t come to visit her and she is 11.000 kilometers away from home, she stays positive. “All these situations make us grow, make us stronger and good things come out”.
“It’s important to stay thankful and humble”
“I was shocked and scared about what this meant for me as a tourist”, Helen felt when she first heard about the lockdown in Spain. She was worried about getting the virus and being hospitalized with language barriers. As she gave up her apartment before she left to Barcelona and does not want to endanger her parents who are over 60 years old, she decided to stay in Barcelona during the restrictions. When the lockdown started, Helen experienced stressful situations while trying to buy food in the supermarkets. “It was really hard because the workers were wearing masks and I couldn’t understand them”. Also the uncertainty about the end of the restrictions and around what the new normal will be is charging her.
Nevertheless, there are also positive points for her during the crisis: “I have found that my neighbourhood has been really respectful and friendly”, she says and tells about enjoying the Spanish sun while hearing children laughing, people singing and playing instruments. “It’s not all bad! I think it’s important to stay thankful and humble in this time because the virus has claimed so many lives.”