What It’s Like To Be An Exchange Student In A Country With No PH Embassy During The COVID-19 Crisis
If there’s one thing we know about COVID-19 by now, it’s that even if not everyone gets infected, no one is safe against its repercussions. Frontliners are physically and mentally exhausting themselves to save lives and keep everyone else’s lives as normal as it can get, thousands are without work due to the necessary lockdown that would help stop its spread, and students are struggling to work towards their future while juggling it with the anxiety and tension brought about by the present pandemic. It’s not a good picture to paint.
While we may have our own national problems to face, there are other Filipinos stuck abroad facing the same threat as us. One such case would be Filipino international students who were supposed to spend a semester in a different country. Now that more and more countries are imposing lockdowns of their own and life as we all know it has been temporarily suspended, we can’t imagine what it must feel like to be all alone and away from your family in an unfamiliar place.
We got to talk to Franchesca Regala about her current situation in Europe amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. She is a European Studies major from Ateneo de Manila University who is currently a sophomore exchange student at Liepaja University in Liepaja, Latvia.
Latvia is currently under a state of emergency.
“Liepaja City has never been the most hustle-and-bustle type of place, so I always thought of it as way laid-back compared to what I was used to in Katipunan,” Franchesca explains. “But now that Latvia’s been placed under a state of emergency, I didn’t think it would be possible, but it became even more quiet than it already was. The only stores that are open are groceries, the market, and some restaurants that have only a 7-person or less capacity or only offer takeouts.
“In terms of the COVID19 situation, since I am in Europe, lockdowns are extremely strict. Some of our neighboring countries have it far worse and I think the Latvian government is doing its best to make sure it doesn’t happen here. Most of the cases here in Latvia are in the capital, Riga, which is about three to four hours from where I live. However, there are at least 6 cases here in my city from what I last checked; but the statistics are fluid so it could have lessened or increased by now.”
Every day is a struggle to maintain a sense of “normal.”
“Every day, I get up late since the sun sets at around 9 to 10 p.m. and rises late, too. I’m not really used to this and it’s hard to adapt. I spend the day mostly cooking and doing the chores. I attend my online classes when I have to. I spend most of my free time either on Netflix or painting.
"When I start getting stir crazy, I go to Liepaja beach to meet up with friends. The Baltic Sea is one of the treasures Liepaja City holds. Every now and then, we also meet up to play some card games but we make sure to abide by the strict laws Latvia set in place for our own safety as well."
Despite the situation, classes remain ongoing.
“Most of my classes have been taken online. The Erasmus students I’ve met are either in the same department as I am or studying computer science. I think for the IT students, it’s a lot easier to host online classes. As for me, I’m struggling a lot and I’m sure this holds for other language majors, but I know that the university’s doing all it can. My Spanish professor holds conferences over Discord twice a week. My French professor gives out homework regularly over WhatsApp and so does my Latvian professor.
“For now, Latvia has extended its State of Emergency period to May 12, so until then, the lockdown continues and so do my online classes. After that, I will still resume my studies here. Since it’s my Erasmus semester, I am determined to finish it as to not have any issues with my grant and with getting my ECTs credited. Returning home is not really an option for me since I have more to lose and it will be extremely expensive given the limited flights.”
It’s tough to be away from family during uncertain times.
“I’m far from my family so even if we communicate on a daily basis, I worry about them a lot. Since I have no close family here, they worry about me, too. Being abroad is tough in itself but being abroad in a country without a Philippine Embassy amid the COVID-19 crisis is something else. It forces you to really think only of what is absolutely necessary for survival and less about what you want.”
The only choice is to take it day by day.
“In general, I’m okay. I think I’m fortunate to know that I am safe. But some days it does get really lonely. I miss my family a lot and I think about how much better my Erasmus experience would have been if this had not happened.
"I think about my friends; most of my fellow Erasmus students have returned home a day before the airport completely shut down. I miss going to school and learning in class. I think it’s pretty obvious that learning three foreign languages through online education is not the easiest or the most conducive means, but it’s the only choice I have now. Overall, I’m just taking things day by day and looking forward to better days ahead.”
The situation will really stretch your perspective as a student.
“I know that the COVID-19 pandemic has been perhaps one of the toughest things we have faced collectively as a generation, but all hope is not lost. I think it’s important that, without going as far as to romanticize the whole situation, we carry with us the most crucial takeaways from this experience. It’s time’s like these when we can really take a step back and view things from a different and more broadened perspective.
"Indeed, our education is important, but it’s in times like these when we realize even more than getting a diploma or completing an exchange semester, it’s about how we use our education to breed a world of compassion. From the artists that give us entertainment as we stay in quarantine, to the frontliners during these tumultuous times, hopefully we students get to pay it forward in the future.”
For more COVID-19 stories, click here.
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"Today, I Won"
I always caught feelings for someone, and hoped so much that one day there could a thing between the two of us. I'm usually the one that makes the effort to buy and/or make cute gifts, chats them every other day, and stays up all night with him.
When I was 16, my childhood crush suddenly came back into my life. We'd constantly send updates to each other, recommend favorite songs and talk even the most random things. He'd even text me as early as 6 to just greet me good morning almost everyday. I hoped so much that when I confessed, he suddenly stopped talking to me.
For short, he ghosted me. Those 6 months I spent talking to him, allotting my time for him, and staying up until 3 am for him - all gone in a simple confession. Although I had a few crushes before him, he's the only one that got me in real pain. It was the kind of pain that I never thought I'd experience. It was the kind of pain that I couldn't believe.
After 7 years (it happened back in 2017), I thought he came back into my life to stay, but I guess he's just one of the guys who distanced. I felt a complete loser that time. But during this quarantine, everything was different. I caught feelings for someone else, but he treated me with the best kindness yet.
It happened at 2 am, May 30, 2020, when I impulsively confessed my feelings through messaging him. After saying my feelings, he responded with genuine and kind words. We both even complimented each other. Although the feelings didn't reciprocate, I still found a connection that can't be replaced with any guy.
To my 16 year old self, here I am, 18 and happy. You may have felt that time was the biggest regret and loss, but I'm here to tell you, we won. Today, I won.
Why our high school barkada is the best?
Remembering our high school years entails quite a lot reminiscing of the things we all been through when we were younger. You’ve experience a lot of new things during those 4 wonderful years and did most of them with the few people you consider your barkada. And through a series of all the lunch breaks you had together, the walks you took on the way home, and taking the same classes, you never thought you’d survive, you have made your life’s greatest friends.
Here are some of the reasons why your high school barkada is the best:
1. You figured out early teenage life together. The transition one have undergone from being a kid to a teenager wasn’t easy. For a moment you are not sure whether you should have played with your friends during recess or you should have just sat down and ate your food because you were too old for games. But whatever it is you chose to do, having friends who were as clueless as you make everything feel easier because you know, deep down, you’d figure things out eventually. You just need good company.
2. They were with you during your “jeje“ days. I bet you have pictures taken with Camera360 and Retrica. You also have pictures edited using Pizap with embarrassing captions and you somehow kept some of them so you could have something to post online during their birthdays.
3. They know all your exes. They will never EVER forget the name of an ex-boyfriend, an ex-fling, an ex-crush, and an almost you had. They will remind you of your every questionable love decision but you’ll just laugh anyway while saying “Past is past”.
4. They never judge you. They have welcomed you to their lives when you thought jelly shoes and checkered polos were the bomb! They were quick to have told your teachers that you were not feeling well so you could go home when you really just needed to poop. You tell them every embarrassing story you have and were fine with it.
5. You can always count on them. From the moment you first fell in love and the moment you first had your heart broken, they were with you. They were with you the moment you lost a parent and at moments when you thought you had nothing. Through every break-up and breakthrough, they were there to be your support system.
6. They are your family. Your high school friend’s family is your own family’s extension. Their parents are like your own. Don’t you feel a little kilig whenever your friend’s parents call you “anak”? And then eventually calling them mama and papa became so natural? I felt that, all the time.
7. They will always be your home. They are your place of refuge and security, the place who offers you their hands when you feel lost and the place you run to when you need saving. No matter how much time and distance separate you, they will be the one’s that you always long for and they are the one’s that you will always return to.
You're gonna bend and break and then at some point in your life, you feel like you don't want to fall in love again.
Not because you're no longer capable of loving but because you're so afraid to get hurt again that you don't want to take a risk anymore. And you're gonna wake up one day and realize that you're not the same person as you were yesterday. The heart aches, heartbreaks, frustration, you'll see, those will transform your whole being into something better.
Honey, move forward. Let go off all the things that are not meant for you. Let go of all the people who hurt you and take you for granted. Don't be stuck feeling miserable.
And don't turn that love into hate when you resent someone for hurting you or for breaking your heart. Just wish them well and let them go. Welcome the possibility of a beautiful love that will come your way. You're worthy of love that you keep on giving to other people. Keep that in mind.
I wish you well and all the happiness. You deserve it.
Here we are — with rough hands entwined, damned hearts at peace, broken souls resting with ease —savoring each passing moment before we part ways...hoping things will turn out to be okay. Here we are — standing still, keeping our earnest desire and ardent passion for each other at bay — hoping the Universe will finally grant us of the day that we no longer have to pretend... that things will no longer have to end.
Here we are — with crooked smiles, lingering touch that will last for a while -- gathering all the remaining courage to set each other free. Wishing for the day that our hearts will no longer have to worry. Here we are letting each other go. Even though we both know that the future is uncertain. Even though we're unsure if our paths will cross once again.