The coronavirus and the resulting limitations recently placed on our movement challenge many of us to live within a restricted physical radius, to live with illness, loss and with fear, and to find a way forward in the face of new uncertainties. TAM’s emphasis on the value of international travel and experiential education is fundamentally incompatible with the lock downs; however, over the past weeks, right in the midst of this crisis, there have been many opportunities for intercultural collaboration. It seems the moment is especially ripe for international appreciation and learning across borders. We may have to do that kind of work at a distance now, using online platforms, but we are accomplishing a surprising amount from home. Our professors here and in Europe have been remarkable as they have found ways to meet the academic needs of the TAM students. Instructors and administrators have worked hard to support students on an individual basis. In every case, specific circumstances involving unexpected international moves home, quarantine, the care of parents, and the need for extra time to finish final papers and theses have been accommodated. The students have shown incredible resilience. Their drive to continue their TAM studies and to stay engaged with the program under very trying conditions has been inspiring.
In order to provide a glimpse into the lives of those who make up the remarkable TAM community, we reached out to some current students and graduates throughout the US and Europe and asked them to share their recent daily experiences. The levels of lock down vary, but the accounts all reference new limitations as well as new opportunities. These short texts reflect the diversity of our TAMily members and give us a glimpse into what life is like in different transatlantic spots. Let us travel by way of these stories while we cannot do so in person. We hope you enjoy these TAM texts and appreciate the richness of the program they represent.
Erin Hunt | Class of ’02
It is the fifth week of physical distancing and self-isolation in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. We are closely following the advice from Canada’s federal, provincial and municipal health authorities, and doing our part to #PlanktheCurve.
Canada has just over 27,000 total COVID-19 cases and 900 deaths (330 in Ontario), approximately three times less per capita than in the United States. On April 14, the Government of Ontario announced the extension of the provincial state of emergency for another 28 days. Only essential services are allow to remain open, such as grocery stores and pharmacies. Certain other retail businesses are partially open (e.g., hardware stores and the iconic Canadian Tire), and will deliver pre-paid goods to your car in the store parking lot. The City of Ottawa has confirmed that pools, libraries, museums and other non-essential city services will remain shuttered until at least the end of June. Prime Minister Trudeau has said that it will be weeks until people can move freely, and reopening the economy and easing restrictions will happen in phases.
In our family, we are staying home, only going out for groceries once a week. We trying to balance work, school from home, and staying happy and healthy. We have settled into a routine in this new reality, but somedays are easier than others. I have been working from home for five weeks now, and have set up an office in our family room (my husband has the office upstairs and our daughter the main floor living room!). I work for Transport Canada, the Canadian equivalent of the Department of Transportation, and have been contributing to departmental actions in response to COVID-19. My team has embraced new technologies and is chatting and collaborating well, despite being away from the office. Our daily touchpoints are really helpful in keeping up morale.
Our daughter is 5 and in kindergarten. Her school has started sending home a series of activities for us to complete each week. The Government of Ontario also has several online learning resources, including kids’ shows and games in both English and French, which we have found helpful to keep our daughter’s days busy.
The company my husband works for has been impacted by the economic slowdown, as many of their customers are not able to pay outstanding contracts during this time. Thanks to a new wage subsidy program for Canadian businesses announced on March 27 as part of Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan, my husband’s company will be able to continue to pay my husband and his colleagues.
We have been trying to keep up our family morale by doing more exercise: I’ve signed up to a local gym that is offering home workouts online (#bodiesbyphil); my husband is jogging; and our daughter continues to do her dance class at home twice a week. The weather is still a bit chilly in Ottawa, but we are also getting out for walks, and bike and scooter rides, staying at least 2 metres away from our neighbours (note Canadian spelling!). We have launched a family movie night twice a week and have started watching movies from our childhood. And we are checking in with family almost every day in Saskatchewan and the UK, and scheduling lots of meet-ups with friends after our smallest family member goes to bed!
Stay safe and healthy everyone!
- Government of Canada COVID-19 Update: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/coronavirus-disease-covid-19.html
- Government of Ontario COVID-19: https://covid-19.ontario.ca/
- Ottawa Public Health: https://www.ottawapublichealth.ca/en/public-health-topics/novel-coronavirus.aspx
- Theresa Tam, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer on Twitter (@CPHO_Canada)
- Interactive Map of COVID-19 cases in Canada: https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/2f1a13ca0b29422f9b34660f0b705043/
- Transport Canada measures, updates and guidance: https://www.tc.gc.ca/en/initiatives/covid-19-measures-updates-guidance-tc.html
- Ontario Government Online Education Resources: https://www.ontario.ca/page/learn-at-home
- Canada’s COVID-19 Economic Response Plan: https://www.canada.ca/en/department-finance/economic-response-plan.html
- Bodies by Phil: https://www.instagram.com/bodiesbyphil613/
Laura Slater | Class of ’16
The UK went into lockdown on 20th March. Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently emerged from hospital. In his age group, 50% of those who are admitted into intensive care and are ventilated have died of coronavirus. Although he was not ventilated, it was tense for a few days.
In UK hospitals at present, the overall attendances at accident and emergency have dropped substantially (which is slightly worrying for longer-term health effects). Covid-related admissions are neither swamping hospital beds or intensive care units despite the highly-publicised mortality rates. At a political level, the UK is seeking a cogent exit strategy from the lockdown.
The global sentiment from health and social care workers that the provision of PPE has been inadequate is also expressed in the UK with several NHS and care home workers having lost their lives from contracting the virus. It has been heartening to see local communities step up; Channel 4 News featured a family who had turned their house into a 3D printing factory to supply the local hospital with PPE. It is great to see Universities and companies doing the same (Go Heels!).
There are reports of an increase in domestic violence and, as in most crises, poorer groups have been hit hardest. The government has launched a series of unprecedented financial support measures (for the Tories), including a furlough scheme whereby the government will pay 80% of an individual’s wage to staff who have been kept on but whose wages the company cannot afford to pay. The self-employed earning less than £50k profit can apply for the same support. Almost one million people have applied for Universal Credit, placing increased pressure on the welfare system.
I am cherishing London’s significantly cleaner air, taking exercise by the Thames, in the parks and listening to the birds singing merrily. The weather has been magnificent – pure sunshine and no rain for over two weeks! Fortunately my job allows me to work from home and the company I work for is in education and continues to function. I cannot say I yet miss the morning commute on the tube. As the world now feels smaller but still interconnected, I feel fortunate for all my international travel experiences and am looking forward to reconnecting with old friends as and when we can.
I hope the TAM community is doing well and keeping safe during this time!
Best wishes from London,
Cassie Rice | Class of ’20
It was the second week of March when countries in Europe started closing businesses and schools due to COVID-19. One by one, borders started closing. First it was Denmark who closed its borders to non-Danes. John – my husband – and I looked at each other and we said “Well, I guess our trip to Copenhagen this weekend is cancelled.” Glued to the news, Norway was next to fall and our ski trip in two weeks’ time to Hemsedal was abruptly cancelled. My sister-in-law, who lives in Stuttgart, Germany, texted us and said “Sweden is next. Get ready.” Yet, it is now a month later and Sweden has not shut down.
After UNC called us back to the states and effectively “cancelled” study abroad, John and I spent a few tense days coming to a decision on whether or not we should stay in Sweden. By this point all of North Carolina was under a lockdown for the foreseeable future, and we had to weigh the risks of staying in Sweden with those of packing up our apartment and traveling to the US with our two young children when air travel was at its peak with hysteria. Through all of this, Sweden did not shut down and our kids were still going to school. Finally, John and I looked at each other and agreed that we would make the decision to leave or stay when Sweden shut down the preschools.
Luckily for us, the preschools have yet to close. Life in Sweden this past month is different yet feels like not much has changed. With limited regulations from the government, citizens are able to make their own decisions about how they distance themselves from society. I meet up with friends for walks instead of in coffee shops for the much beloved fika. We don’t take our kids to the playgrounds — instead we play in the woods behind our apartment. We avoid using public transportation as much as possible, which limits our traveling as we don’t have a car. I shop online instead of going out, though I will admit I went out to buy running shoes yesterday (I have a new running habit due to COVID) and I got a haircut today. Mostly, we are glad to be in Sweden with the sun high in the sky and shining. I am hopeful that this new normal is sustainable and we will be able to experience the wonderful summer Sweden has to offer.
Leah McWilliams | Class of ’07
I was traveling in Spain at the beginning of March. Despite the first clusters of COVID-19 appearing in the cities that I visited, I enjoyed my travels and boarded my return flight to NYC on my regularly scheduled departure date. I expected there to be additional screening at JFK, but I got off the plane and went home to my apartment in Queens without any hiccups. Within a week of my return, Mayor de Blasio went from insisting that schools stay open and encouraging people to get out and enjoy their lives, to holding daily press conferences about the City’s outbreak response and defining the correct way to social distance. Things continued to escalate and by March 20, Governor Cuomo had ordered all non-essential workers to stay home. Currently, that order will last until May 15.
Even though I live and work in the area of Queens that is considered the epicenter of the NYC outbreak, my daily life is quite calm and privileged. I feel very fortunate to have a city government job that allows me to work remotely. As I persist comfortably within the confines of my apartment, I regularly hear sirens. When I do venture out for fresh air or errands, I see ambulances double parked along the streets. There are confirmed cases of COVID-19 at my workplace and in my apartment building. Sadly, a gentleman that worked in our office building’s mailroom has died and his immediate colleagues are understandably upset and scared. As a city employee, there has been a lot of discussion about who is deemed “non-essential” and eligible to work from home. For many, it comes down to how much of your job can be done on the internet.
Mary Clare Freeman | Class of ’15 | Madrid, Spain
On March 8th my brother arrived for a two week visit to Madrid, where I have been residing since late 2017. The first case of COVID-19 made it to Madrid in mid-February, but was still not of great concern and deaths were not widespread. That weekend in Madrid, the Women’s protest of over 100,000 people progressed, two football matches of over 60,000 people occurred, and a few political protests were carried out. By Sunday night (March 8th), the Community of Madrid decided to close all schools. By Wednesday midday, cases had doubled and deaths were on the rise. And by Friday, the Spanish government had announced the National State of Emergency would happen the following Saturday. Overnight, the country shutdown, except for restaurants offering carry-out, supermarkets, pharmacies and medical centers. We were allowed outside one-at-a-time to go to one of these establishments (with proof of purchase or appointment), if you had a dog – to walk that dog briefly, or in case of emergency. Police began dressing in street clothes, and were writing tickets/citations of up to 500 euros.
Reports from the United States were to come home now, or be prepared to stay where you were indefinitely. Spain had closed its land borders, and were only allowing permanent residents or Spanish citizens to enter. Ostensibly, as an American with a visa in renewal, I could leave, but I could not come back.
After a week of quarantine with my brother and restrictions tightening in Spain, we both decided it was time to go home to the United States. In addition to the week-long contemplation of leaving behind my established life/home and not knowing when I’d be back to it, I had to consider two things: health insurance (which I didn’t have) and where to quarantine for two weeks, as my parents are both in the “vulnerable” age. In the end, I landed in a very generous family member’s vacation home in Kure Beach and an overpriced high-deductible insurance plan (coming from free universal healthcare in Spain, where I also had private healthcare for 68 euros/month – including dental!). I have just finished two weeks of quarantine, where I have been able to maintain a steady workflow with my job that is based in Spain and in Gibraltar, however, I am not sure when I will be getting back to home and to work!
But currently, my biggest concern is the trash that I wasn’t able to take out in time, as I rushed to escape COVID-19 in Madrid. This is a fact I know, makes me very lucky.
Nathanael Brown | Class of ’20 | Bremen, Germany
About a week after UNC put out its call to students abroad to return and the subsequent logistical scramble, in mid-March Germany began to shut down. The German path has thus far been a sort of middle-way between Southern Europe’s lockdowns and Sweden’s permissive approach: as Germany has a heavily devolved government, each Land has (technically) been able to choose for itself what its restrictions will be and how they will be enforced. This system has interacted with Angela Merkel’s obvious desire to have a unified response in interesting ways, with frequent (remote) meetings between Merkel and the 16 heads of the German Länder leading to a semi-organized approach. This meant the closing of all “non-essential” businesses (grocery stores, home supply stores, etc.) from mid-March to mid-April and outlawing meetings of more than two people, but no legal restrictions on movement in most of Germany. Many more businesses and institutions, including Uni Bremen, seem to be headed for reopening May 4th, a welcome development to put it mildly. Overall, a combination of circumstance, coincidence, good planning, and (likely) a cultural tendency to bend to social pressure seem to have spared Germany the worst of the crisis while avoiding hard lockdowns, while the other large nations of Western Europe suffer.
Through all of this, I suppose as little changed for me as anyone due to its convenient coincidence with the TAM thesis schedule and the easy portability of my student-job work; as I am sure all of my peers do as well, I worry about the job market after graduation. Of course, it is best to remember that such worries are the privilege of the well.
Drew Sampson | Class of ’13 | New York City, US
Working with Democracy Prep Charter Network in East Harlem teaching Global History, we began shelter in earlier than most other organizations and cities have. Since the early part of March, we have sheltered in. It feels so long ago. I live in Harlem with my roommate. He leads AA and intervention programs for troubled youths in New York. Day-to-day, it seems our household is a non-stop Zoom circuit, where we are assisting communities in need. Most of my day consists of trying to maintain a routine for myself, coping with the stresses of shelter in and anxiety from the pandemic, and running virtual classrooms to deliver on content as well as support our families. It has been a true test to our capacities as teachers, but we are navigating dynamic challenges with aptitude and collective effort. The most interesting part for me has been watching Governor Cuomo act in lead for our state. So much of how he manages this pandemic uses approaches teachers use in the classroom. I am both excited and a bit on edge for phased re-opening as New Yorkers are bustling with cabin fever and in strong want to be able to go out again. The next months will show our capacity to live in this new “normal”. Seeing the cooperation of around 9 million New Yorkers in limiting the spread coupled with lacking federal level assistance speaks loudly to New York’s ability to unify and tough out any storm. It has been — truly — a crazy two years since I moved here to start teaching. Wishing our TAM network and all whom are reading the best in these tenuous times.