LUCIA TENSI WRITES – South Korea, 9th of March 2020 sometime around 2 a.m.: “Mom… MOM!… where are you? What is happeninng? Where is Dad? What about Leonardo and Claudio?”
“Lucia do not worry, we are fine at home. Your brothers are safe in their houses. You worry about yourself.”
It was 1 a.m, a boring night in South Korea. I was about to sleep but my phone vibrated, and I had to look twice because what I was reading had to be wrong.
At 1 a.m. on the 9th of March, CNN decided to give me a heart attack with a piece of news about Giuseppe Conte, the Italian P.M., declaring the total lockdown of my country. I had to call my mom, and the conversation that took place was more or less me crying and sobbing, realizing how powerless I am in front of a calamity like COVID-19, miles away from where I was born. Sitting on my bed, imagining all of the scenarios that could happen, I wanted to take the first flight back home.
I kept thinking that if the world was coming to an end, I’d rather be with Mom and Dad. I acknowledge it – my overthinking has always been the worst part of my personality. But when you are miles away from home, dead worried about not being able to go home because there is a pandemic knocking on everyone’s door, you start to question whether your life-changing decision to attend university in South Korea was right. Whether you were able to spend enough time with your relatives and friends. Whether your brothers, whom you were never really close to, know that you love them … to death.
I am not being overly dramatic. Or maybe I am. Regardless, facing a global pandemic crisis was not on my bucket list. In fact, my bucket list was full of plans for 2020: Going on a trip to southeast Asia, looking for an internship at an environmental NGO, maybe going home to spend my birthday with my parents and friends. Now, I think that the most exciting thing to look forward to is when they will announce that they have finally developed a vaccine and that everyone can go back to their usual routines… although some of us will have to bear the pain of going back to routines without loved ones anymore.
In Italy, the mortality rate of COVID-19 is the highest in the world. According to an article published by the British daily newspaper The Guardian, written by two Italian journalists within the epicenter of the virus in northern Italy, a whole generation of older people has lost their lives. The Italian army had to move coffins from overwhelmed cemeteries to cities far away from where these people were living, away from their loved ones who cannot mourn their deaths until the pandemic is over. Police forces are being deployed everywhere in the country to control people’s movements and make sure that they respect the quarantine.
I do not want to get too political, but one of my highest hopes is that COVID-19 will teach us all a few things: That those Italians who’d rather leave people dying on sinking ships in the Mediterranean Sea instead of welcoming them, come to realize, now that they, too, are trying to escape a virus-devastated area, that when it comes to saving lives- whether theirs or those of their beloved ones- there is no choice. Borders do not mean anything anymore. Wherever you can get help, you’ll go – with no second thought.
I am a student at Yonsei University, one of the Ivy League colleges of South Korea. Way before the spring semester started, we received an email saying that the start of the semester was postponed two weeks. My reaction? Then a normal university student, I just thought about all the days I could sleep in, all the nights out and parties I could have. But Covid-19 had different plans for me: Fear every time I go out, the constant anxiety of touching something infectious, my hands consumed by too much sanitizer. It’s not really about catching it – I think my immune system is strong enough to handle the virus- but what if I take the hospital bed of someone who needs it way more than me? How do you even calculate who needs medical attention more than someone else, in this chaos?
Fortunately, though, Korea seems to be the right place to be during this pandemic. The country handled the situation beautifully, doing everything possible to keep people home. Students like me are having online classes for at least four weeks; people who can work at home are forced to stay home; and people who have to go to the office are going at different hours of the day, when subways and buses are not crowded, or every other day, or on weekends instead of weekdays.
I’ve been told that the last flight from Seoul to Rome is on the 31st of March. The last one for the foreseeable future. Which means that until this virus is cured, I will be stuck in South Korea, unable to go back. But I want to be hopeful – I want to think that people are not brainless, and that they will follow the instructions from the government to keep themselves and others safe. And that when everything ends, we shall not take for granted things like a hug, a kiss, a boring routine, a deep conversation with a friend on a hot summer night under a starry sky. I, for one, have learned that I need to say “I love you” more often to Mom, Dad and my two brothers.
If this testimony reaches the next generation, I hope we show that we have finally learned to be more respectful toward nature, that the more we exploit and destroy our natural resources and disrespect the natural order of things, the more we are exposed to threats that will revolutionize the order of society.
To my future self, I say this: “Lucia! Stop being so dramatic! You sound exactly like your Mom.”
Lucia Tensi, a Yonsei University student, is taking a Spring class on foreign-policy perceptions with Yonsei’s Political Science Professor Hans Schattle, in conjunction with Prof Tom Plate’s parallel course, connected into a virtual classroom via ZOOM technology.