This blog was supposed to be all about my first experience taking students on a faculty-led study abroad course called “Mexico: Cultural Exploration Beyond the Border.” I would have returned from the adventure on May 27th, and my plan was to construct this blog from vibrant, colorful pictures and fresh journal notes. Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic means that this course has been postponed for a year (one of my many COVID-related disappointments).
So, instead, I will write this blog about my experience of the pandemic and reflect on what has been difficult, surprising, and sometimes even delightful about this new reality. Of course, I write this from a place of considerable privilege. I am not an essential worker and neither is my partner. We can both work from home, and our home is equipped with decent wifi and enough space for us both to have our own office. We don’t have children, so childcare and school closures haven’t affected us. Even so, our day-to-day realities have shifted dramatically and inside all of this change I have learned a lot.
Let me begin with what I have found to be the hardest thing about living through the pandemic: staying home. I usually motivate myself to accomplish tasks and goals with promises of travel, outings, and meeting up with friends. Without these traditional rewards, I find myself struggling to stay focused and motivated. I feel like my productivity has dropped because the motivation to focusand complete tasksjust isn’t the same. There is a tedium to each day and my goals feel less urgent, and sometimes also less important, under the stay-at-home orders.
The part of my life that has changed the most is also work-related. Until the coronavirus, I had never taught remotely or online. I also had never taken an online class or experienced online learning (except for DuoLingo, which I love). So, the transition to remote teaching in March was a big step for me. I did my best to keep what students liked about the courses while taking into consideration the limitations that the new format would require. I held synchronous meetings using BlueJeans, recording and posting each discussion. I sent out announcements a couple of times a week and attempted to reach out to students who hadn’t participated or turned in assignments. I reduced assignments, tests, and tried to communicate all the changes and expectations clearly. I did my best. Now I am taking OEL’s Intensive Course Design program and learning just how much I didn’t know! And I’m using the spring and summer to plan my fall class, TEL 410 TESOL Seminar and Practicum, in an online format (or mixed-modes, if possible) rather than face-to-face.
There have also been moments during the pandemic that have been surprisingly delightful. My extended family connected over Google Meet for the first time in probably 20 years. One of my teenage cousins, who has been sheltering with her mother and grandmother in a 2-bedroom apartment in Queens, got to (virtually) meet cousins in California and Colorado for the first time! Would that have happened without the pandemic? Probably not, and who knows when they would have met?! We’ve set up lots of meetings since then, and reconnecting with my cousins has made me love my family even more.
I also feel like I understand my husband and myself better because of the pandemic. He has been working from home for years, and now that I’m experiencing it I empathize with his eagerness to get out of the house when the day is over, even if it’s just for a walk around the block. This forced closeness worried me at first, but our relationship has grown stronger over the past few months. We talk more, walk more, and spend more quality time together than we ever have.
The thing that has been helping me get through the pandemic and stay-at-home orders are the people around me. All of my students last semester were a great source of support for me and for each other. I was moved by their thoughtful engagement with each other, the humor they brought to our class meetings, and their stories of struggle and success. My colleagues and friends have also been a substantial source of support, information, and escape. We have met for virtual happy hours, shared resources and news, and celebrated small victories when they happen. And of course, I’m more connected with my family than ever, which I hope to continue even when this pandemic is over.