My COVID story: From Oxford to California

Image courtesy of Isaac Chizhik

Isaac Chizhik, junior Oxbridge: Molecular Biology major, has been studying at Oxford’s St. Catherine’s College. A California native, Isaac has now returned to his home. Isaac shared his experience of identifying and reacting to the pandemic and his return home.

“Needless to say, the current epidemic has confounded what would have otherwise been an amazing spring break and an even more amazing Trinity Term. My original plan was to spend a couple weeks at home in California, before setting out in early April to eastern Europe with the illustrious Nathan Wasson [junior Oxbridge: History of Ideas major]. We were to visit Germany, Poland, Czechia, Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France, traveling via train, before crossing the Channel back into England in time for Trinity. All of that is obviously out the window.”

“We first noticed something was amiss when Italy fell. We thought that we might simply avoid that part of the continent and still hit the East. That was four weeks ago. Three weeks ago, we realized that travel would be out of the question, as many more European countries were hit. I, for one, changed my plans to hunkering down in England for the duration of break. Two weeks ago, that too became impossible, as many visiting students found themselves recalled by their program or home institutions. Trump’s European travel bans were first announced.”

“One week ago, Oxford was all but abandoned. Those of us who still had yet to escape were scrambling to reschedule cancelled flights. Virgin Atlantic, the company with which I was originally slated to fly, shut down nearly all transatlantic flights, including mine. I had to rapidly book with American. The entire flight back, I was a ball of nerves, as I feared what would happen upon touchdown. The process was surprisingly painless – which makes me wonder at its efficacy, as all they did was take my temperature and have me fill out a form before letting me into the country without any pomp or fanfare.”

Chizhik commented on the state of the U.S. and California after his arrival.

“I was home, but it was much changed. The airports were empty, since by that point – it was Wednesday, March 18 – most people who wanted to fly had done so already. Everyone was eschewing contact. On each flight, everyone sat as far apart as possible, even if the tickets did not necessarily prescribe such an arrangement. Upon arrival at my house, my family systematically disinfected all of my possessions.”

“In California, everything is closed down. My mom and dad are professors and administrators, respectively, so working from home is easier on them, but we constantly consider the effects on our neighbors. Most people on our street are actually quite elderly, so they have been staying home most religiously. This is in contrast to Oxford, where, though most places were more empty, there was a more casual response. St. Catherine’s College waited until March 17 to make any major changes, which coincided with the libraries’ closures.”

Chizhik then shared his perspective on the communication he received from both Jewell and the University of Oxford. 

“The difficulty, with both Jewell and Oxford [University], is that they tell us that they are working and deliberating, but we are never told what to expect. As late as two weeks ago, Jewell said that it was making no clear decision for us Oxbridgers and that it would even support a decision on our part to stay. While I appreciate such liberty, I think that it gave me a false sense of security, which resulted in my not attempting to evacuate until things had gotten pretty bad.”

“Oxford [University] was worse. They were stubborn until a week ago about any attempts at changing policy or going online. Old traditions are strong, I suppose. In any case, their communication with the students was as decentralized and hands off as any other aspect of their administration, which is exactly what we didn’t need. We needed action. Fortunately, it finally came. Better late than never.” 

In summative comments, Chizhik hopes for an end to the pandemic and for lessons to be learned from it.

“Now, I am just happy to be home and that my comrades made successful journeys as well. I hope that we all can weather this storm and come out with a new outlook on public health and our education. I pray that everyone stays safe.”

Catherine Dema

Catherine Dema is the page editor for Features & Investigations on The Hilltop Monitor. She is a senior majoring in Oxbridge: History of Ideas and physics.

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