Passport to the pandemic – teenagers from around the world discuss lockers and lockdowns
By Isaac Escovedo, Editor-in-Chief
Almost a year ago, The Riptide published a front page article discussing the novel coronavirus. The article told everyone that while coronavirus seemed scary, as long as everyone washed their hands, it would all be fine. In hindsight that could not have been further from the truth. The pandemic has wreaked incalculable havoc on people’s mental health, communities, and America as a whole.
With everyone isolated at home, it is easy to forget that America is not alone. The whole world is fighting through this pandemic. Every country has combatted COVID-19 differently, resulting in similarities and differences in the teenage experience around the globe.
School has been one of the biggest changes for kids during the pandemic. Vashon High School’s classes have been online for the whole school year so far. In other countries, this has not been the case.
“On Monday I’ll be going back to actual school,” Tan Hongsyok, a senior from Thailand said. “They had us do online classes, which lasted about a month. Then when the first wave [of virus cases] went down, we went back to normal school.”
Thailand enacted strict lockdowns in mid-March and were able to curb the spread of the virus by April. A second wave of new cases recently required a two-week lockdown, but students like Hongsyok are once again attending in-person classes, though they will be sporting masks.
For other students, the transition to pandemic school was more complicated.
“In Germany there’s a rule that all the school stuff has to be done, if it’s digital, over some kind of German servers,” Philipp Tröppner, a 16-year-old student from Germany said. This law meant schools could not use established tools like Google Classroom for education, and German companies had to make their own.
“We’ve got a program called Moodle Moodle… and we’ve got a new meeting platform called Big Blue Button,” Tröppner said. Initial German programs failed, leading to several months of inefficiencies with school curriculums. “I think when you’re sitting down, you’re at ten hours of school and you always have to look at some kind of screen and you’re going to be dizzy.” Tröppner said, expressing his frustration with online school.
Online classes, like sweatpants and running out of toilet paper, are an inescapable part of pandemic life. However, the amount of time spent in online classes varies from country to country. In Thailand and Australia, online classes lasted around a month before in-person instruction resumed. In Switzerland and Italy, online classes lasted longer and were eventually replaced with half online half in-person classes, and in Germany, another COVID-19 outbreak forced classes to move from a hybrid system back to online.
“I had all my exams online, so that was very hard. They did not know how to do them,” Frida Poespodihardjo, a 16-year-old from Switzerland said. “I think we should get back to a second lock down… but I’m a little bit nervous because I have finals next week… and that’s very hard [online].”
Poespodihardjo’s willingness to go into lockdown if necessary is a sentiment shared by many students across the globe.
LOCKDOWN. Frida Poespodihardjo stares into the camera several weeks into Switzerland’s lockdown. Strict regulations early in the pandemic allowed Frida to spend the summer seeing her friends, but there is discussion of a second coronavirus wave in the small mountainous country.
“If the worst thing happened and we were locked down again, it would literally be for two weeks, that would be the nightmare scenario,” Liam Berryman said, a student in his final year of high school in Sydney, Australia. “I’d be annoyed [and] mad because I couldn’t get out and see my mates or I couldn’t play sport, but besides that, most kids use lockdown as an excuse to sleep in.”
HUDDLE. Liam Berryman (center) talks with his rugby team during a game. Because of Australia’s success at battling coronavirus Liam Berryman and his team have been able to compete in rugby competitions across the New South Wales.
Australia has been one of the world leaders in pandemic response. Quick reactions to the pandemic and early lockdowns mean that life is basically back to normal with music festivals being held, movies being shot, and zero new coronavirus cases on most days. “I think we’re lucky because most Australians live in about four major cities. The first thing they did was they shut down the state borders. Then for about three, four weeks, there were lockdowns,” Berryman said.
Other countries have also had harsh lockdowns with somewhat less success.
“The first lockdown was actually kind of nice. Well, it wasn’t nice, but it wasn’t very bad because we have balconies. We always had windows open, so it didn’t really feel as if we were locked in,” Stella Vriends, a 16-year-old living in Italy said.
“The first lockdown worked really good and everybody really did it… the difference between the second lockdown and the first is that during the second lockdown, people were less scared, so they were angrier at being locked in their houses. Some people went out anyway… they made some decisions that I’m not really happy about.” Vriends said.
EAT. Stella Vriends (bottom right) eats dinner with her neighbors on their balconies in Italy. She says the nice weather and wide open windows made Italy’s five week lockdown bearable.
People across the world seemed happy to go into initial lockdowns to protect their communities from infection, but when a second wave of lockdowns were mandated, Italy was not the only country to have trouble keeping residents inside.
“Dutch people are really known to be stubborn when it comes to rules. When there are sudden changes, and you disagree, you just don’t listen. All my friends have gone to parties, like at least once a week I’d say,” Finn Muller, an 18-year-old student from the Netherlands said. The CDC currently ranks the Netherlands’ COVID-19 levels as “4 – Very High,” so it seems this refusal to follow lockdowns is hurting the country.
“I think that the only reason that we’re doing okay is because we have a pretty good healthcare system here. I think that Holland reacted a little bit too slow and the precautions weren’t as strict as they should have been, I’m not the only one who thinks this,” Muller said.
While most of the world locked down, Sweden made waves for not even attempting to lock down.
“I was at our vacation house in Southern Sweden and I worked at a restaurant which was open all summer,” said Adam Wehtje, an 18-year-old from Sweden. Unlike Vashon’s restaurants, which remained open for takeout or limited outdoor seating, the restaurant Wehtje worked at had no restrictions at all, not even requiring masks. “We don’t use [masks] all that much… and my parents told me that pretty much no one [wears them on public transportation],” he said.
Lockdowns have also taken a toll on mental health.
“You get really depressed by being home with your parents for six months,” Wehtje said.
“Most college students and high school students [in Japan] are feeling loneliness,” said Yusuke Morimoto, a 19-year-old college freshman from Japan. Last year Japan was featured prominently on the news for having more suicide deaths in the month of October than coronavirus deaths overall. “Before the pandemic happened, the rate of suicide was so high in Japan, and the coronavirus pandemic accelerated it,” said Morimoto.
“Many Japanese people are talking about it and looking for a solution.”
Japan and Sweden are not outliers. 67% of students surveyed for Vashon Riptide’s student mental health feature report increased struggling with mental health since school switched to online.
Whether you live in a country that has handled the pandemic well or poorly, one thing is certain: COVID-19 has impacted all of our lives.
“My dream is to travel the world and make photos or documentaries or something like that,” Vriends said. “My main dream for the future is travel and… that has stopped completely in the past [year].”
“[The pandemic] changed [my plans] a lot. I was thinking of studying out of the U.K. or the U.S., and I had done all the SAT practice tests to get ready… and then now this has happened, so I’m probably going to just be looking for Australian universities,” said Berryman.
Inability to study abroad due to the pandemic was a common problem.
“I really wanted to stay in [a family friend on Vashon]’s house for a few months and go to the high school there on the Island. We talked about it last year, and I thought… maybe this is a year, you know? And it wasn’t,” Malena Poggi, a 16-year-old high school student from Argentina said. Poggi, like many others, are starting to feel that the pandemic is nearly over.
“When we started going out with friends again after a year, it was really weird to communicate again. And in person, it was not the same as virtual obviously, but it wasn’t the same as before the pandemic. That was a huge change,” Poggi said.
For others like Thomas Neil from the United Kingdom, the pandemic continues to pose issues.
“I have to do a project and it’s a major project that can decide the industry that I’m going toward and as it’s live action, and I don’t have any skills or possibilities to work in… Having to do a film project is really quite hard when you have to do it and fill it with everything in-person,” Neil said. Neil dreams of becoming a director, and the pandemic has prevented him from shooting any projects and making progress towards his dreams.
The pandemic has affected teenagers in so many ways. At the very least, the switch to online school and the stress that comes with living through a modern-day plague has made life more difficult for a lot of students. With such a huge historical event going on, it is easy to forget that America is not alone. Living on Vashon can sometimes feel like living in a bubble, and it is always nice to be reminded that there are people outside of the bubble having similar experiences. Despite varying conditions, teenagers around the world have had similar reactions to the pandemic, and all fought to find small silver linings. Poespodihardjo took advantage of online school to go for long walks along Switzerland’s rivers. Vriends used the extra time to plan her future trips and careers. The past year has been difficult and lonely, but hearing from other people around the world is a powerful reminder that we are all in this together.