COVID-19 – a check up on the mental immune system

Wong Cheuk Lam Charmaine (’17)

I thought 2020 would be a great year to experience changes.  For my whole life being a student, 2020 would be the year, supposedly, when the spring breeze tickles off, twirling around the blossoming daffodillies, swooshing and swirling in the free summer air.  My life would have begun with exploring new places and faces on my own in Brighton as an exchange student from the Chinese University of Hong Kong majoring in English.  

Nightmare struck

After two months in Brighton, nightmare struck me: the COVID-19 pandemic.  For the first time, I was overwhelmed with culture shock.  Mask or no mask became my everyday struggle as more Asians were reported being attacked for wearing masks or simply being an Asian in London.  I also encountered discrimination walking along Churchill Square with my mask on when a man deliberately came up to me and coughed at me, yelling ‘coronavirus’.  Soon, the ‘herd immunity’ tactic was announced by Downing Street.  I knew I had to leave.  In the following nights, I stayed up in front of my laptop, searching for available direct flight home.  After a few rounds of buying and cancelling air tickets when lockdown announcements poured in, I finally returned to Hong Kong on 26 March. 

And this is how my exchange experience ended: a five-month exchange programme has shrunken to two months.  Everything has ended, abruptly.

Under the London Eye during the Chinese New Year 2019

What life means

I thought I would be drowning in my own puddle of self-pity when I returned to Hong Kong.  But I didn’t.  Of course, I could spend all the hours and days wondering where I would have been right now if it were not because of the virus.  Yet, I figured this is what life means.  It is about difficulties and challenges, and this is the lesson for us to start learning to be flexible enough to adapt to changes.  Whatever happens, life still goes on. 

I felt like living a different life during the quarantine.  I started to actually embrace these changes as I realized how much I have missed out in my daily life dashing hither and thither with my very packed schedule.  The sky is no longer greyish blue, my diet is now healthier, my room tidier and even my brain is clearer because I have more time to sit and think.  Suddenly, I reckoned I have reached a new state of equilibrium. 

2020 was a great year for changes.  Not as expected but still, it is a nice change.