I am a 26 year old Canadian who was living in Switzerland as I pursued my Master’s degree when the pandemic was declared. I was a month and a half through what was supposed to be a six month internship. Like most of Switzerland, I had transitioned to working from home and was turning down social engagements, aiming to comply with social distancing to limit the spread of the virus.
Then, on March 16, the Canadian Prime Minister issued a statement urging Canadians to come home while commercial options were still available. Around the world borders were closing and flights were being cancelled. It felt like if I didn’t leave now, I didn’t know when I’d be able to. My parents made it clear that they wanted me home.
It was a tough decision. Leaving meant quitting my job, knowing that there were no job prospects back in Canada. It meant no hugs or goodbyes with my close friends in Europe, not knowing when I’d see them again. It meant choosing to put myself at risk of contracting the virus when travelling (which involved a tram, train, and plane, all of which were acknowledged to be points of risk), and then enduring a strict 14 day quarantine. I also knew that upon returning to Canada it wouldn’t be the home I was used to. I wouldn’t be able to see and embrace all the friends and family I missed, or delight in eating at my favourite restaurants. I knew that home would look a lot different this time.
Compounding this challenging decision was the knowledge that time was of the essence. I had already heard the frustration of friends around the world who had flights cancelled at the last minute. I worried that if I waited a week to decide to go home it would be too late, I wouldn’t be able to. Flight prices were also a factor, as I worried that prices would jump with a decrease in supply and increase in demand. Of course, in hindsight I now know that flights flew between Switzerland and Canada until March 28, and prices were regulated to make sure they were not extortionate, but at the time there was no guarantee that this would be the case.
In the end it was a small thought, needling at the back of my brain, that was my deciding factor. I needed to be home if something happened to someone I loved. Once I realized that, the next steps became clearer and easier. I booked my flight that night (March 16). On March 17, I quit my job, packed up my life, sent voice messages to my European friends letting them know, and took a train to Zurich, boarding a plane in the early morning of the 18th. It all happened very quickly.
The following three weeks have felt incredibly slow by comparison. The days blend into one another, and weekends are no different than weekdays. Even though my days are quite full, filled with exercise, reading, Zoom calls, watching the news, and cooking, they feel slow. Life is going at a different pace right now, which takes some adjustment.
Life in Canada looks drastically different these days, as it does all over the world. Individuals are encouraged to only leave their home for essential reasons, such as picking up groceries and medication, and this should only be done 1x/week. You need to keep a distance of 6ft between you and other people who are not part of your household, and failure to do so can result in a $1000 fine. Non-essential businesses and schools have been closed, and hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs. The Canadian government is no longer struggling to avoid a recession, instead focusing on avoiding a depression. A lack of PPE has health care workers around the country scared.
This crisis has further heightened my awareness of my privilege, thankful I had my parents to fall back on during this crisis. While a 14 day quarantine is never ideal, I have to acknowledge that my setup was pretty good. My parent’s house is large enough that I was able to have two rooms and a bathroom that were entirely mine, so they never had to cross into “my zone.” My parents cooked delicious and nutritious meals for me, that were slid across the floor to me using an extendable paint roller. I had internet access and was able to virtually chat with friends everyday. This is all in addition to the things I take for granted everyday, which include a roof, heating, a non-violent household, and more. The fact that I was able to quit my job knowing that my parents would be able to support me when I moved home is a luxury many people cannot even fathom. I am very aware that my privilege is a key factor in my ability to cope with the current crisis.
I also think this privileged position means I have to work that much harder to comply with the government’s social distancing rules. The mathematical models for SARS-CoV-2 do not expect a 100% compliance with social distancing, acknowledging that this is impractical. Instead, various models predict what would happen if 40% to 70% of the population comply. I think people in similar positions to myself, for whom social distancing is manageable with minimal discomfort, need to make sure that we are doing it to the fullest extent possible. Stay home because we know that some people can’t.
Like most people, I’m anxious about what the coming weeks, months, and years ahead will look like. But overall, I have been really inspired by the acts of kindness and support I’ve seen in the community. I hope this continues long after we are able to shake hands and hug one another because the road ahead will be challenging.