OzTREKK Ambassadors: COVID-19 in Western Australia
My name is Gabrielle and I’m a second-year medical student at the University of Western Australia. Many people have been asking me on social media about the situation in Australia with respect to COVID-19. I’m hoping that this post can give you a bit of insight to the experience of being across the world during a global pandemic, and how things may feel during the worst times to be abroad. Rather than discourage you from studying abroad, I’m hopeful that this post may show you that although the bad is indisputably bad, there are good things to keep in mind!
My university’s response
At the University of Western Australia (UWA), the cancellation of face-to-face learning began on March 15. This was following increased warnings and precautions to sanitize and practice hand hygiene, but as the COVID-19 situation worsened, my cohort’s unit coordinator handled it amazingly. She was quick to take us online and entirely restructure our clinical schedules. Now, one online surgical rotation down and one week into the online component of my psychiatry rotation, I am both relieved and thankful for her swiftness. At the moment, my tentative return date to clinical rotations / being in hospital is late August.
Staying in Australia during COVID-19
My family and I made the decision for me to stay in Perth and continue my studies quickly and early. In the initial months of COVID-19, Ontario (where I’m from) and Perth were neck-and-neck with the number of reported COVID cases. For this reason, we decided that traveling back to Canada (which would entail minimum 2 and up to 4 flights total) would risk too much exposure. This proved to be a good decision, as my year’s online Zoom lectures enforce mandatory attendance, and having lectures/tutorials from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. (EDT) would not have been enjoyable in the least.
On the other hand, one of my housemates is from Melbourne, and as soon as Western Australia announced that it would be shutting its borders (roughly 2 months ago I believe), she booked a seat on the next flight home. I told her that while it was sad to lose her, it was bittersweet, because seeing her again would be a sign that things were getting better. To our relief, as I am writing this blog, she is flying back within the week, as Perth’s numbers are low, to the point of near eradication.
It’s strange that in a time of social isolation and being in Perth, which is also known as “the most isolated city in the world,” I’ve never felt more connected to and further away from people back home.
In addition to Zoom study dates with my classmates, I’ve Facetimed and Skyped more with people back home than I have in the total time that I’ve been here in Australia. I’m ecstatic that I was able to reconnect with people from high school and old jobs that I haven’t had enough time to talk to in years. My grandparents have learned how to use Zoom, and we had a crazy hat party with 30 of our family members, some of whom we haven’t been able to see in years. My sister (who is also in the UWA medicine program) and I joined for the 5 a.m. start, and it was well worth it. Communications with people that you don’t see every day or don’t usually have the time to see are made with more intention.
However, I am also saddened by being so far from home during these times. In all honesty, being away from home is really hard right now. I wasn’t home for the passing of my childhood dog, and with my father continuing his work in nursing homes and clinic, I worry a lot about the safety and well-being of my family.
To summarize, being far from home has its perks. Being back in Ontario would be far more dangerous right now than being where I am, so in that sense, I feel very blessed to be in Perth, where (to my knowledge) there have only been 2 new cases reported in the past 2 weeks, with a record of over 7 days without any new cases before that. However, as there are with all things, the drawback is that being far from home during a pandemic and during times of loss is extremely difficult.
By no means is this meant to discourage anyone from choosing to study abroad. First, this situation is unlikely to recur in the future, to these proportions. Second, I’m hoping this can highlight that although things may be hard, there is lemonade to be made from the lemons that 2020 has dealt!
Stay safe, healthy, and reach out to your loved ones if you can.