A stillness falls over Washington Adventist University’s Campus. Aside from the occasional sounds of vehicles traveling on the main road and the bustling and ongoings inside individual buildings, the campus has been quieter than ever. In preparation for the Christmas holidays, the familiar scenes of excited students having just finished their exams, earnestly packing for the relatively short or long trip back home, and saying goodbye to their friends and professors until the New Year, are nowhere in sight. Students are living a virtual existence, safely sequestered away in their homes or living spaces.
Nonetheless, during winter break, students are hardly ever found on campus. However, this year is different. A few students have decided to remain, having been on campus since the beginning of the pandemic. It has been a tough year for them, most being international students unable to go back home due to COVID-19. Since the dorms have closed, some students were relocated to other housing and encouraged to stay inside and away from potential COVID carriers as much as possible.
Unfortunately, even though it is necessary to follow these safety precautions, it is hard to escape the overwhelming sense of isolation that the students experience. Allendria Russell, a third-year Medical Laboratory Science student from the Bahamas, said, “I don’t mind staying in my room all day…but sometimes I want to go out, and the fact that I can’t really go out for just like one day, sometimes it drives me insane. And especially being international, you are already far from home, too. It takes a little toll on you, the fact that you are here by yourself…It really makes you feel lonely.”
Though most countries have opened up their borders to any incoming visitors, it is still greatly recommended that one avoid traveling to reduce the chances of contracting or spreading the virus. Those that decide to travel have to take the necessary precautions – taking tests, before and after traveling, to prove that their COVID results are negative and being required to self-isolate, quarantining for 14 days upon arrival. The time it would take to travel and adhere to these regulations is difficult to accomplish, especially for students who are only on break for about two weeks.
But, there are also concerns involving their families back home. In her third year as a Vocal Performance major, Ana Aguilar said that she decided to stay at WAU to eliminate the virus’s risk of spreading to her family members in Mexico. “Sometimes going back is even more dangerous than staying,” she said. “It’s as risky to stay as to go; the only difference is that I live here by myself. It’s not okay if I get sick, but if I were to get sick, I’m not going to be a threat to my family.”
Many students share this decision to self-isolate away from family – as a recent WAU graduate from Bermuda, I recall it being one of the most challenging decisions of my life. Technology is a blessing that works to fill in those gaps, allowing us to communicate with our friends and family in minutes – before long-distance communication took weeks to months. But, it cannot wholly replace human interaction.
Christmas is one family holiday that many people look forward to; therefore, it is a bit saddening that it cannot be spent how it should be this year. Instead, students have planned to – safely, of course – spend Christmas with each other. Several have been offered support from friends that live in the area, as well. “There are a few families that have opened their arms to me…checking on me constantly – and that’s so nice,” Ana said. Though they have decided to stay on campus for the winter break, these students are determined to enjoy the holiday, relax, and spend time with family and friends in the ways that they can.
There is no doubt that this past year has been one of the most trying and difficult years this generation has experienced. But, let us be proud of not giving up and making it through all of the hardships. As we now enter the year 2021, even though we do not know what’s ahead, let’s look forward to a new year full of new experiences and possibilities.