By Abigail Crump
Abigail Crump is an alumna of the Rho Chapter at Hanover College. She was the Convention Page for Past National President Beth Monnin, Rho, at the 2018 National Convention. The Aglaia editorial team asked Abigail to share her experience of living in South Korea during the coronavirus pandemic. She responded, “I have to admit, this is the first time I have sat down and actually reflected on my experience with this; there’s so much more I could say.”
My journey to South Korea started in early August of 2019. I came to Korea right after my graduation from Hanover College. I am an English teacher at a private academy for elementary students. I signed on for a year contract—and wow, these past eight months have been nothing but excitement, growth and change.
The coronavirus has been affecting my life for 12 weeks and counting. The very short story is I was in China traveling when it all started in late January and it hasn’t been the same since. Coronavirus just followed me back to Korea. My school put me on a 14-day self-quarantine per request of the students’ parents and government recommendation. I went to work the following two weeks after that and I was off work again for eight weeks.
During that time, my school, along with all other academies, was really struggling. In Korea, if the student doesn’t go to school, the parents don’t pay. Therefore, when schools were closed, academies couldn’t collect money, making it very difficult to pay their teachers and pay the rent and utilities for the school. This caused my bosses, my co-workers and me to panic and worry that our school would not reopen when the government allowed it, and/or that we wouldn’t have students to fill our school. This was a big stressor in my life and I was scared that I might have to cut short my time in South Korea, a place I was and am not ready to say goodbye to! Thankfully, our school opened again last week. It has been wonderful to again see and teach my students!
My first two weeks in self-quarantine were very lonely. Out of everyone I knew, I was the only one having to do it, since I had traveled to China alone. I filled my time with puzzles, ordering take-out food, running and lots of Netflix. I did not completely lock myself in my home, I still ventured out and got fresh air. But I didn’t see people. My friends were scared to be around me and that was really hard on me, as I am a very social person. It wasn’t fun having people tell you no and to stay away.
At that point, Korea had about 19 people who had tested positive with coronavirus and they knew exactly how and who they got it from, so it was all under control. When I went first back to teaching, numbers grew very slowly until the end of the second week. Within 1-2 days numbers tripled and skyrocketed. This forced the government to start really taking action and all schools were forced to be closed.
The last eight weeks in government-mandated quarantine were a very different experience. I could see people every day and it felt better to know that I was not the only one struggling and feeling lost in a time like this – we were all very concerned.
I remain grateful for my support system. And I would never wish this upon anyone. It is awful that this is happening to everyone, but I am glad that we aren’t going through this alone. We are all struggling, but we are all going to get back on our feet together. And I think that’s the beauty of all this coronavirus craziness. No one really knows what’s going on, and no one knows when it will end, and no one knows when we will completely get back to normal, but we have each other when it all does happen.
One word that keeps coming to my mind is steadfast—steadfast in every duty, small or large. As soon as China was affected, Korea took action. They located an area for Koreans to go when they came home from China. Korea closed schools immediately, organized days where only certain people could go to the Post Office and get two masks for themselves, so there were no shortages. They also instituted a ‘drive-thru’ testing system so that people can get tested for coronavirus without even leaving the car. When someone tests positive, they track where that person had been in the last 14 days and send out an emergency alert to anyone who could have crossed that person’s path. These alerts are sent to all phones (in Korean, so I can’t read them). Steadfast… Korea was steadfast about the coronavirus in many small and large ways.
I want coronavirus to end and I cannot wait until the day this is not the topic of every conversation. No one should be locked in an apartment for 10 weeks. No business should go bankrupt because of a virus, but it is happening. It is a really scary time for everyone, but I have been thankful and blessed. Reading Phi Mu’s Creed, I am still living out our values even through these tough times. Lending a fortunate hand by supporting moms staying at home with their kids. Being to friends, what I know they would be to me if I were to lose my job. Giving freely of our sympathies and accepting when my boss couldn’t pay me during these times. Knowing that God is protecting all of us and will guide us out of this.
I could keep going for the whole Creed, but I think we understand that people need love, we need to honor each other’s needs, and be truthful with what’s going on during these times.