Voices | FOREIGN AGENDA

Thanks to COVID-19, a study abroad term becomes study at home

by Alesia Bani

Contributing writer

When masks and toilet paper went out of stock, I didn’t blink an eye. But when I walked into my local 7-Eleven and couldn’t find an egg salad sandwich, I became concerned.

Looking back at how I envisioned my semester abroad in Japan, I never thought I’d be in the middle of a pandemic but, as with all things in life, I am trying to adapt and be flexible. I am completing my second week of online classes since Temple University Japan suspended classroom teaching beginning March 2. I have also been working remotely for my internship at The Japan Times during this same period of time as per company protocol. You never realize how much you miss the packed morning commute until your home becomes your classroom and office, too.

On the second day of telework I went to 7-Eleven to grab a quick lunch when I saw what I consider half my diet as a vegetarian in Tokyo missing from the shelves. I grew fearful of how COVID-19 would impact the remainder of my time abroad and, like other people around me, a slight feeling of paranoia began setting in. Sure enough, though, the convenience store restocked the egg salad sandwiches (and there were no lines to buy them!).

Since March 2, I’ve found myself staying inside my apartment more and more, which has been the most difficult part of the outbreak for me. Although Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested that public schools in the country be shut down to curb the spread of COVID-19, and some businesses have shut down or reduced hours, life in Tokyo hasn’t been put on hold. So, I can’t say my lack of motivation to go out and explore is due to the coronavirus, but rather the unpredictability surrounding it.

The twist I didn’t expect was that my home country of the United States would fall deeper into a “coronapocalypse” than Japan. Instead of receiving concerned messages from friends and family about my situation here, it’s now me who is checking in on them. It doesn’t seem like it was too long ago that Japan had the largest concentration of people who had contracted COVID-19 second to China, but now Japan remains relatively low on the list of countries affected by the pandemic, for now at least.

Although many students in my program have returned to their hometowns and countries, I plan to finish the remainder of my semester here in Tokyo.

I’ve had to cancel upcoming travel plans, but that’s nothing compared to what other people are going through. Part of the study abroad experience is dealing with the unknown, and I never would’ve thought that mine would depend so much on the hunt for toilet paper. Still, this will definitely be a semester that I’ll always remember.

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