On a Plane to Nowhere, Part II

Abbie Whitehurst –

July 14th, 11:17 AM

Me and my family have been quarantining in apartments in downtown Brussels since July 2nd. We’re on day 13 today, which means in two days we get to go outside! And immediately go to the army garrison to get our IDs added to the scan-in system and to do a bunch of other check-in procedures. But that’s beside the point, we get to go out and finally adjust to our new normal here.

Jetlag is really hard to overcome when you’re not allowed to leave your living space. Normally, going out to do things, eating at regular times, going to sleep when you should, and avoiding naps are the key, but in quarantine, it always feels like 8 PM on a Thursday night, and there’s nothing to do. It also doesn’t help that the sun is out til 10 PM (since we’re so far north on the globe and west in the Central European Timezone) or that I stay up playing games online with my friends stateside into the wee hours of the morning. My mom and brother are actually still asleep. I’ve finally adjusted to a somewhat-normal-but-still-slightly-tortured sleep schedule, and my dad has actually started going to work. He got Covid-19 tested when we got here, and when a negative result came back they allowed him to go into the office.

So what does one do quarantined in close quarters in an unfamiliar environment? Practicing bassoon and writing scholarship essays take up a smaller chunk of my day than I care to admit, but a lot of it is spent in my parent’s apartment living room with the news running in the background. Never in my life have I watched as much CNN as I have in the past two weeks, and all of their news anchors are starting to get on my nerves. I must admit, though, that I’m staying up-to-date with stateside news quite well, including the apocalyptic number of cases in Florida, the lack of testing and hospital capacity statewide, and every little update the university sends my way. It is becoming harder and harder to justify coming back to campus this semester, risking my health, if not my life, to leave my new “home”. My family moved to Belgium so my dad could take his last set of orders at NATO, but I’m supposed to be in Tallahassee. I’m sure Brussels will never feel like “home” even if I do this semester remotely, but I feel safer here than I would in Tally.

For context, Belgium is in stage 4 of reopening. It seems pretty successful, but of course there are problems. Different regions are enforcing quarantines and mask rules with varying severity, and the national government just reinstated a rule that masks must be worn in any indoor public place (not just on public transportation and select businesses). But from what little I’ve seen, Belgium is in recovery rather than freefall after reopening. They’re overcoming their problems rather than letting them fester. My dad came home from his first day in his new office saying he was actually the odd one out for wearing a mask, which was initially concerning… until we considered the case numbers. Compared to Florida, Belgium has half the total population, but not even 22% of the number of cases, not to mention the rest of the US. Plus, despite problems, the government is installing new policies to reduce spread and the people are socially distancing and listening for the most part. On top of that, Belgium has been over-counting the number of Covid cases and deaths, rather than under-counting, which is what many suspect Florida is doing. I regret to say this, but the US is in a really dangerous place right now. And with Florida specifically being the new epicenter, I don’t feel safe coming back to campus. Living in close quarters with strangers who may or may not (more likely not) be taking Covid seriously legitimately scares me.

“But young people aren’t at risk of death”, some have said. I might have a lower risk of death, but my professors don’t. Many faculty are within the high-risk age bracket at FSU, as are many students’ parents who could contract Covid-19 when their asymptomatic kids visit home. I’m also at risk for chronic consequences of the virus, just like everyone else, and as a wind player, I need my lungs for a successful career in my degree field. You can’t play bassoon if you can’t move enough air. Plus, if I got sick while at FSU, and needed medical care, I seriously doubt I would be able to get it. Even if I catch Covid here, at least there are hospital beds available, unlike at 48+ facilities in Florida. I just can’t help but feel that I would be putting myself in harm’s way by going back to live in my dorm. That’s not to say I don’t want to go back; I desperately want to see my friends and teachers again, and to live on a campus that I love dearly. I want the “classic college experience”, to flee the nest and get out into the world. But it just keeps getting harder to want those experiences.

Of course, going remote has consequences. My music scholarship stipulates that I must play in an ensemble every semester they’re offered, and the College of Music is currently planning to offer modified large ensembles. UPS moved my belongings out of my dorm in the spring and are planning to drop it off at my fall dorm in a few weeks, so I would have to handle that. Piano and Sight-Singing are partially in person for music majors, so I would have to get my professors to play ball with me an ocean away. I would do all of my bassoon lessons via video submissions and all of my synchronous classes late in the afternoon and into the night, thanks to the 6 hour time zone difference between here and the east coast. Not to mention I wouldn’t get to see any of my friends for at least 6 more months, the same ones I haven’t seen save over Zoom since March.

Is it worth risking my health and paying thousands of dollars for a dorm for what will still be an abnormal semester? Should I suck it up, wear a mask, and resist temptations while doing what possible in person? Or should I just stay away completely? Is getting to see my friends and professors and community worth putting myself at risk? No matter how you phrase it, deadlines for decisions are fast approaching, and I’m still grappling with this question.


July 15th, 9:17 AM

It’s amazing what can change in under 24 hours. Yesterday I was still unsure, I thought there could still be chance that something would convince me to come to campus. It will be hard, but I’m going remote this semester. When I talked about it with my friends, I told them I’m “studying abroad” at the new FSU Brussels, Belgium campus, which will just be my room wherever we end up living.

The professors and administrative staff at FSU have been incredibly kind, flexible, and helpful in figuring out how to handle a music degree remotely. Most of all, I’ve learned everyone is human. No one wants to put all of these classes online; no one wants to take away anyone’s “college experience”; no one wants me or any other student to fail to pay for school, or worse, pay with their lives and health. It’s been an eye-opening summer, from both the university-going-remote side, and the moving-overseas-in-a-pandemic side. My family and I have learned a lot, but the journey is far from over. Thankfully, there have been compassionate people on my side every step of the way, but that doesn’t erase the dissonance between the university opening and allowing on-campus living, and faculty still working from home and moving classes to online.

I think I will one day be able to look back and be proud of how I faced the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020, of how I didn’t just throw caution to the wind, as many have. I will most likely struggle this term, as I did when we went remote in spring, with self-motivation and feelings of isolation, but at the moment, that’s a price I’m willing to pay for my own future. And, honestly, it’s entirely possible that all students get sent home early anyway, and I’ve just beat the rush by not going at all (I agree that’s a bit dark, but it’s still possible). I sincerely hope for the sake of my friends and professors that this semester goes without a hitch on campus, even if it means serious FOMO for me. Maybe the borders will open in the EU for tourism, and I can really travel abroad this semester… but for now, it looks like I’m staying put. And that’s ok.

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