Global Connectivity in the Time of COVID-19
The COVID-19 outbreak posed an unprecedented set of challenges for university students around the United States. With classes moving online and campuses shutting down through the summer, many had to hastily pack their belongings and return home. These changes have derailed the vibrant student life at Georgetown, and in particular that of seniors, many who abruptly bid farewell to friends and experienced a premature closure to their final college semester.
A number of international students at Georgetown had to return to their home countries, miles away and time zones apart from their friends. Despite the physical distance, these international students have found ways to connect and to recreate campus life with their friends.
Maintaining a Daily Connection
Students have adjusted quickly to virtual ways of staying connected. Zoom is the most popular platform for these meetings, but students utilize other platforms as well, such as Facetime.
Paul Keh (SFS’20), a senior who is now home in Singapore, says he uses Zoom and Facetime to stay in touch with his friends and the Catholic community at Georgetown. “For the most part it has been talking and catching up with friends, but we’ve also had Zoom study-sessions, and we’ve prayed the rosary together on Zoom,” he said.
Maria Pombo (C’20), a member of the Georgetown Ultimate frisbee team from Colombia, said her team had a “Zoom practice” where they caught up with each other the way they might at a weekly frisbee practice.
Additionally, she and her friends have found creative ways to recreate game nights and evenings at the Tombs virtually. “My roommates and I had a game night when we all played Cards Against Humanity online, and I was invited to a Zoomb’s happy hour,” explained Pombo.
“I am still on campus, so I stay in touch with my friends who are on campus by working out or playing video games,” explained Steven Mucyo (MSB’20), a senior from Rwanda who is remaining in DC for the time being. “In regard to those who are not close, I either schedule a Facetime or Zoom as they are the major platforms for communication. However, for my family in Rwanda, we speak using Whatsapp since it is the most common text and video communication platform back home.”
Physically Distanced But Socially Connected
The spring semester, culminating with commencement activities, is a special time of the year for many Georgetown students—especially seniors.
One senior, Victoria Lee (SFS’20), decided that she and her friends were not going to miss out on the Walsh School of Foreign Service’s Diplomatic Ball, even after it was cancelled due to COVID-19. She is home in Singapore now, but her distance from the Hilltop did not stop her from re-creating the event on Zoom.
A small group of us created a [Zoom] version of Dip-Ball, for which we wore our gowns and tuxedos. We even made our own Facebook Events page. We will definitely recreate events like Senior Ball and Tombs nights!
Spring holds special significance for Pombo, too. “Many of my Georgetown memories come from the spring,” she said. “Eating popsicles on the front lawn on Georgetown Day in my freshman year, waiting in line for crepes at the farmers’ market every Wednesday, taking pictures by the cherry blossoms, eating meals by the waterfront, winning our frisbee regionals tournament my junior year.”
Pombo said her frisbee team will hold virtual elections, so they can share speeches and elect teammates into new positions together. Lee said she too will miss the farmers’ market, because it gave her an opportunity to reconnect with friends during the week. “This makes me feel like organizing a virtual farmers’ market,” she said.
Reflecting and Moving Forward
Despite the early end to their year, these seniors are able to look back positively on their Georgetown experiences while planning for the future.
Ilari Papa (SFS’20) is originally from Albania, but at the moment she is staying with her friend in Atlanta, Georgia. Her current situation prompts her to reflect on the friendships she has forged during her time at Georgetown.
"I loved my Georgetown experience. I have made some amazing friends, people I consider family and I love very much. "My friends have been there for me even in the toughest times," she said. She cites her friend Casey as an example. "My friend Casey has offered to host me for the time being. She and her wonderful family have gone above and beyond to make me feel welcome and at home. Casey, her family, and my other friends have given me comfort in these days when I cannot go home and stay with my family."
“Undoubtedly, I will look back positively on my time at Georgetown since I feel like this has the time I have grown the most and become the person I am today,” said Mucyo. “Each and every person I got to meet opened up my mind to newer possibilities and that is what I will always look back on and see how similar we are despite our differences.”
“I will definitely look back on my time in Georgetown fondly,” said Keh.
I am certain that seniors will be able to celebrate in the future: the friendships I've made here will last a lifetime, and I know I will be back.
Lee feels similarly. “I think I’ve come to realize that even though we didn’t get to have a grand graduation ceremony as scheduled, it isn’t really all that important how we end off our 4 years, but how we experienced the 3 ½ years itself,” she explained. “It’s what happened in between that counts.”