Aside from the general anxiety to be expected during a pandemic, someone living away from family and loved ones in a foreign country might have a lot more to bear emotionally and psychologically during a community quarantine. This situation is true for a lot of our teachers.
We sat down with visual arts teacher Lisa Kossen, one such teacher, and asked her to weigh in on the times.
Since when have you been in the Philippines and where does your family come from?
I arrived in 2018 some time after the school year started. That was also my first time in the Philippines. Before that I was teaching at a school in Germany -- that's where I and my family comes from.
How would you summarize your stay in the Philippines, and in Manila in particular, until the recent COVID-19 pandemic?
Generally, well. I got to meet a lot of people. The work at school can be challenging but fun. Traffic is a nightmare, of course, but you learn to work around and get used to it.
How do you fare now that the government has imposed the enhanced community quarantine?
I'm doing good, relatively speaking. Mainly because I don't live alone in the house I'm renting. I'm lucky because I only moved in here right before the school closure.
What do you think goes well for you and what things don't?
As I said, I'm lucky to not be physically alone at this time. I'm also positively surprised about the success of the on-line teaching, to be honest. Working on-line takes longer than actual classes, but then that's what you have to fill in the extra hours you get every day.
I do miss getting to move around though. Normally, my smart phone would register 5 kilometers of movement every day. That's mainly only the walking I do inside campus on a normal school day. With the quarantine though, one time my phone only registered 179 meters! But that's also because I don't carry my phone on me all the time.
You mentioned getting extra hours every day. What do you do to pass the time?
Well, work takes longer on-line as mentioned. It's not good that I'm sitting in front of the computer very long. But otherwise, I stick to my yoga exercises. I've also been reading literature, drawing. It's also a privilege now that I just get to hang out with my housemates when we all have the time.
Are your family back in Germany worried about you now?
Worried, yes. But my core family isn't so worried compared to the extended family (the aunts and godmothers, etc.). That's mainly because I keep my core family updated, even before. So they know more or less how I'm doing here, and can imagine better how I'm coping. But the rest... some of them only have this impression that I'm in a poor and dangerous country, and that in this dangerous situation, I need to get out immediately.
I'm relieved that my core family is not as worried, and they understand me. The others don't really know the real situation, so I'm not really concerned about how worried they are so much.
People I'm in regular contact with have been asking more frequently about me. But I understand that they just have a little understanding of how life in the Philippines is in general.
You mentioned being lucky earlier that you aren't living alone. What else do you think were you lucky about during this pandemic? What's not so lucky?
I feel very happy with the emergency system the school admin set-up for all teachers and staff. It's good that I haven't had the need for it yet, but just knowing that it's there makes me feel at ease. Of course, it was just great that I moved in a three-person house right in the nick of time.
What's unlucky is that I think it's harder to predict things here, compared to Germany for example. There's not much testing happening, and it's harder to know what to do exactly if you want to be tested. And so it's also difficult to assess how bad the situation already is, and even harder to predict how bad the spread of disease might go.
As someone living far away from home, you're doing well despite the community quarantine. Do you have any advice for those who, unlike you, might not have the constant human contact you have?
I've read somewhere that this is a good time for self-reflection. While that is true, and I agree, I also think now is a good time to take advantage of the things you've always wanted to do but could never get around to doing, for example personal DIY projects or finishing a book or learning a new instrument. It also takes your mind off the usual worries.
For those actually really living alone, all I can say is keep the interaction open and going -- whatever kind of interaction that is. The school is there, and a lot of people in the school might be in the same situation you are in. If we all reach out, no one has to feel that alone.