Being from Bhutan, as said the happiest one and not to forget the developing one too, I was the lone recipient of Global Korea Scholarship from my country. I landed at Keimyung University, Daegu on August 23, 2019, and everything was going as planned until the invisible antagonist started to invade over.
When it comes to COVID-19, everyone will have a story to tell. Stories about the grief of losing someone dear, of enduring the unpredicted situation, of patience with the “new normal,” and many more. In between this chaos, social media became another word for the “untouchables.” Little did I know that today I would also have a story to share.
February 21, 2020 was like any normal day in the freezing winter. I could feel the cold breeze slowly brushing through to my pale skin and was dazed as the warm morning sunrise just peeped through the cottony clouds. With my hefty, bulky Korean-language textbooks and notes in my hands, I walked along the street from my dormitory toward the classroom. Unceasingly, I always found it to be an achievement every time as I was the first one in class to arrive. For the past few days “Patient 31,” who had been detected in Daegu–a few kilometers away–on February 18, 2020, had been a hot topic among my classmates. Normally, classes started at nine o’ clock and teachers came in with the lesson plan for the day. Nonetheless, since the pandemic, the class would definitely start with an update on the increasing number of confirmed cases and the situation in the country. That day, sharply just two hours prior to the outset of the class, a knock on the door was heard. A humble woman with a worried expression announced that all students should rush back to the dormitory and would not be allowed to come out until “further notice.” Sure enough, we soon packed our stuff whilst staring at each other. It was like being struck by lightning in broad daylight. Everyone was aghast and numb, with no idea of what was going on. Nobody in the class had ever dared to imagine that this kind of disheartening situation would someday show up in front of us. It was so novel that all emotions– curiosity, anxiety, fright–got mixed up.
It was as dramatic as if some zombies were chasing us. In the blink of an eye, everyone, including teachers, was in haste to marts and other nearby stores to buy food stock. I noticed people buying mountains of everything that came in their catch. As the woman had mentioned “further notice,” I understood what it meant. Unfortunately, the rules of the dormitory forbade us from cooking in the kitchen and, on top of that, we were not even allowed to store food in the refrigerator except for medicine. For this reason, at the end I had to select the eatables cautiously and decided to purchase merely a few vegetables and some instant food. Looking around at my bedroom, my gaze finally fell upon a window panel. The cold winter and window panel combined to serve as my temporary refrigerator to store my valuable foodstock.
Not long afterward, I could hear my phone’s ringtone every hour, showing my “parents” name on the screen. I understood their worry as they were thousands of miles away and thus, I was determined to prepare my script beforehand of what to say and how much to share to appease and lessen their uneasiness. I kept telling them that I was alright, and the situation was not as bad as what the news reported to the public. But deep down, it was suffocating as I didn’t dare reveal my true feelings.
With the feeling of being trapped in a dark, haunted basement, my room and its four walls became my only world and thus began my new normal. When the sun rose, I could see some beautiful creatures passing by my window and sometimes they would let me listen to their soothing chirping. In that split second, I would always find serenity, which wiped out all my anxiety. As the sun and the moon continued to take turns in their roles, the days kept on adding like this and soon came the sound of soft drizzles indicating that spring had arrived. Since it was impossible to walk outside during the daytime, I would always walk at night under the galaxies of streetlights. As I walked down the alley, I could feel more soft drizzles. I kept mumbling “It will end soon. It will.”
We started receiving some recorded videos and were instructed to learn them thoroughly. As a novice in the Korean language, I found it a little ineffective and later we were informed that exams would be canceled. Thus, all plans had been changed. Would I be able to continue my master’s program? Would I be stuck here, or would I have to go back? All these questions haunted me often to the point that I dreamed of all those possibilities. The bizarre thoughts never ended. All I could do was to focus on what was coming and to be prepared. I watched the video sessions, listened to songs and wrote down the lyrics, watched the drama in English subtitles first and watched it over again with Korean subtitles. This way I could memorize new words and it also helped me in speaking. After months we could finally go to class with all the safety precautions. All the international exams were canceled and, as admission for the master’s was around the corner, instead the language Institute conducted exams in two categories: interview and writing. Luckily, with all the hard work and patience, here I am at KDI School of Public Policy and Management, following the perfectly implemented safety precautions and not to forget the smooth flow of stationed digitalized system in every corner possible by management. All I got to do is to employ my neurons on absorbing definite information on Development Policy.