Undergrads reflect on coronavirus experiences

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Coronavirus reflections

Coronavirus reflections

A new Kellogg Institute for International Studies project is letting undergraduates tell the world how the coronavirus pandemic is affecting them.

The COVID Reflections series includes essays from students, scattered since mid-March around the globe, about how the virus is impacting their home countries, their families and their daily routines. All of the undergrads are part of Kellogg’s International Scholars Program or the International Development Studies minor.

The project was initially intended to give foreign students a voice at a time when coronavirus’s impact on the United States dominates the news. Due to student interest, it has since been expanded to include their American counterparts.

Kellogg Associate Director Holly Rivers, who manages the institute’s undergraduate programming, said COVID Reflections grew from the recognition that the voices of those from abroad — and particularly from the global South — were not being heard. As an international institute, Kellogg can give them a platform to share their stories.

“The Kellogg Institute has a responsibility to represent the developing world,” she said.

The deeply personal essays have come from students in Mexico and Botswana, among other countries. One undergrad — María Luisa Paúl ‘21, a Venezuelan sheltering in Minnesota during the crisis — described “grim” conditions in her home country, which was grappling with political turmoil and extreme poverty even before the pandemic.

"I guess the greatest lesson this situation has taught me is that we must try not to be shortsighted and to look beyond our circumstances. It is easy to dwell on the fact that sports were canceled, our semester turned virtual, and we cannot leave our homes; however, there are people who are facing even worse conditions — there are people choosing between death by disease or by starvation,” she wrote.

Another student, Attina Zhang ‘21, was angered and hurt that the suffering of people in her native China was largely ignored by the West, even as heart-wrenching stories of death and despair from Europe dominated headlines. Camila Antelo Iriarte ’22 of Bolivia said she felt lucky that she and her family were able to properly mourn her father when he passed away in the pre-coronavirus era, while those who lose loved ones in the pandemic are barred from the normal rituals of grieving, like attending burials and most funerals.

Rivers said students have told her that the writing process has been cathartic.

“For a number of them, it’s been an opportunity to sit down and process what’s going on, from changes to their classes to trying to figure out where to live,” she added. “We have a lot of students who are stuck in the U.S. right now and they can’t go to their home countries. Some of them are at home but don’t know if they can get back.

“Writing helps them figure out:  What does this crisis mean and how does it impact me?”

The project was the brainchild of Rev. Robert Dowd, C.S.C., director of Kellogg’s Ford Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity, who said the essays help faculty and students alike learn how people are responding to the pandemic in different countries.

“In this sense, it is an attempt to promote greater awareness, initiate thinking about important questions raised by the pandemic and responses to it, and cultivate a sense community and solidarity across national borders,” he said.

Researchers with the Ford Program, which studies integral human development with a focus on the developing world, are also contributing reflections on how coronavirus is impacting their research projects. Faculty Fellow Wyatt Brooks wrote that the coronavirus has halted fieldwork in two projects in Kenya and Uganda. 

He described his concerns about how the Kenyan government would treat a serious outbreak in the massive Dandora slum of Nairobi, where one of his projects is based. “I fear that in a situation like that, the goal would be a harsh containment strategy rather than a serious attempt at treatment. People in Dandora generally feel like they do not get support from their government, and if the crisis intensifies there it may lead to serious loss of life.”

COVID Reflection series