This week, the South Korean government announced that the country will be moving forward with their “Living with COVID” plan, a far cry from the strict level-based social distancing plan I had just grown accustomed to. Starting November 1, my fellow Ewha students and I will no longer have to split up into groups of two for dinner, rush to finish our food before the 10 p.m. restaurant curfew or take our classes online.
While I’m excited to experience this new step in getting back to some semblance of normalcy since the start of the pandemic, I can’t help but also feel anxious about the change.
Personally, I’ve really enjoyed how diligent South Korea is when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19— even though two straight weeks of quarantine upon my arrival felt horrible. Rules like signing into every building I enter, very strict mask mandates, and vaccination-based gathering restrictions would never fly in the United States, but having some sort of order has made me feel much safer from the virus than I did back home.
Now that we’re just past midterms, I’m also worried about adjusting to a new routine so far into the semester. As a student with ADHD, getting settled into a routine is really important to my success. And don’t get me wrong, I hate Zoom classes just as much as anyone else, but I can’t help but dread having to re-adjust. After all, I am halfway through the semester and I still have no idea how to use the campus shuttle bus.
I’m also nervous that the rapid loosening of mandates will cause another spike in COVID cases in South Korea, and I’m hoping that we will be able to avoid another lockdown. We’ve seen time and time again different countries opening up two quickly and triggering a whole new spike. After all the progress and effort made in South Korea, it would be a shame to have a misstep. Although, South Korea achieved an over 70% vaccination rate this month, and the case numbers are beginning to reflect that change.
Regardless of the social distancing rules, I’m committed to doing my part as a guest in this country by avoiding high-risk areas, getting my vaccine registered, and wearing a mask the entire time I’m in public. The expectations are completely different from the States, but as an exchange student, it’s important to be willing to abide by your host country’s rules.
No matter where you’re heading, studying abroad during the pandemic requires some level of adaptability— but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy. Before the beginning of your study abroad experience, make sure to stay updated on COVID news in the country where you’ll be studying and learn more about what changes the country expects to enact as they adjust to new case numbers.