Ukraine – Srishti Gummaraju
In March, similar to everyone else, we were quarantined for the rest of the year up until after summer vacation. And now this year, we’re doing a hybrid pool. We only go to school every other day, and the whole high school is divided into two groups, Cohort A and Cohort B. But the coronavirus cases haven’t decreased at all in Ukraine because people just don’t really care so much. A lot of people think it’s a myth, a hoax. They don’t really believe it, so the cases are up to 12,000. They’re really high. So we went back into quarantine for three weeks because there were a few cases at our school. And now we’re going back to hybrid learning and hopefully we stay that way for a while. We’re mandated to wear masks. We all sit five feet apart, and we don’t really share anything anymore. In the cafeteria, it’s only two people per desk, and they’ve tried to keep everyone as far away as possible. But the interesting thing is that, in elementary school, the students listen a lot more than we would expect. It’s high schoolers that are kind of iffy.
When we first closed down, they said it was going to be for two weeks. A lot of us originally, including myself, were excited. We get this two week break, let’s have some fun, no school for two weeks. And then it was extended to three weeks and then extended to two months. It slowly just declined into what is happening. When we first started hearing about COVID, there were not that many cases in Ukraine. We didn’t think that it would ever reach Ukraine. It was a huge surprise, at least to me.
When one person in my grade got COVID, it was like, “Whoa, this is real.” You would never expect it to happen to someone in your own school. You hear these stories, and it’s like, “Oh, I feel bad.” But to happen to your own friend? Whoa, that’s scary. And I had lunch with this person. I met up with this person. I was quarantined for a week or two. What’s gonna happen now? At the same time, you want to be nice, and you want to be caring to this person who has COVID and is trying to recover from it. The school keeps it anonymous, but it also depends on the person. This friend that got COVID did not tell anyone except for two or three people. And then another person who got it made sure everyone who they had been in contact with knew, and it was open information to make sure everyone got checked and stuff.
So I do know one or two people personally who got COVID: one of them was in my own grade and I do Student Council with the other one. Student Council’s a huge challenge. I’ve been in it for all of high school, and it’s been great and super fun. When I was elected, I was super excited to have big events and all these things. Now we’re not allowed to have events after school, yet. And we’re not allowed to mix cohorts, so it’s lot of divisions between different groups in our school, and Student Council is supposed to help bring everyone together in an activity. You just have to think outside the box now. We’re trying to do more smaller activities that we can do during school times, and stuff that we can do outside, stuff that we can do online. Instagram has been a huge help; I’ve done a bunch of Instagram challenges and things like that, which people really like because it’s never been done before.
We recently did one activity during last block; they would get into small groups, and then they’d move around different stations and play different games. It’s better in the sense that I feel like they would have a more personal connection with student council members because it was just one of us with a small group of five or six people. So you can actually talk to them, whereas you wouldn’t have been able to do that in like a big dance, for example. But the setback is that the freshmen don’t get to mix with the seniors, and they don’t get to interact and build this kind of community.
I like going to school and being able to see all of my friends every day instead of just half of them. But I think it’s nice to work at home as well, just because I feel like I have a lot more time to do my homework and focus on other things as well. We only have class until 12 when it’s online and after that, you work by yourself. Then if you need help, the teachers are there on Zoom. But it’s hard to focus on Zoom, and it’s hard to be engaged. Obviously, it’s a little less interesting. And the teachers and technology—not so great. My film teacher’s pretty tech savvy, but I think most teachers are trying their best and they’re really focused and they’re really passionate about what they’re doing. It’s just as a student, when you’re not actually with them, it’s just not the same to engage in a conversation for example.
Motivation is so much harder when you’re at home. For me, it really helps when I plan stuff. I set aside a certain time to sit and work at my desk, rather than listen to music or have Netflix open as well. Just focusing on my desk like I would at school, I think that helps me stay motivated. And then also taking breaks when I need to because it kind of meshes in, the staying at home and then doing your work, you kind of do it all at the same place. It’s just a huge mess. I try give time for me to watch Netflix or do something fun. And then specific times to work and just pretend like I’m in school.
And then we have winter break coming up, December 18. We have summer vacation from June/July to almost September. And then we have small breaks in between. In February, we have ski week; a bunch of people like to go to the mountains and ski and stuff because it snows.
I’m not good enough to go to huge mountains, but I’ve gone to a few classes. I’m afraid of heights, so it’s a little bit scary for me, but it’s cool. I’ve seen quite a few people do it. It’s pretty fun sometimes but I have some traumatic experiences. I remember once, me and my sister had a ski instructor and I didn’t really know how to stop very well. He was holding my sister and taking her down slope and I was just doing it by myself. And then I couldn’t stop. So he tried to stop me and stop my sister. And we just all ended up tumbling down all the way.
My sister’s been coping better than me, actually. She’s very focused, very motivated. So I think for her, it’s just easy to stay on task. Whereas for me, it’s all over the place. I’ve tried to learn how to cook with my sister. When we’re super bored, we’ll try to learn a new recipe and try to cook something. Or I get more time to just play the piano and sing a little bit, I have more time to do that. Like most people, I binge watch a few Netflix shows: How to Get Away with Murder. I watched all the seasons. Right now I’m watching Modern Family.
The government closed malls and all that stuff on the weekends. But other than that, you’re allowed to do whatever. It’s because Ukraine’s economy isn’t as strong as the United States. The government can’t afford to close down everything for that long. With small businesses, we have a lot of grandmas who have shops. And that’s their only source of income here, so if they close everything, it’s kind of hard for a lot of people to survive.
So far, we don’t have a lockdown. But I think all the countries are getting a second wave; I feel like every month Ukraine’s like, “Oh, now’s the second one. No, now’s the second one.” I think this is probably the highest increase in cases we’ve seen since March. But now, people are a lot less scared even though there’s a lot higher number of cases. It just looks like disaster waiting to happen. If the government was going to say lockdown, people start to protest. They don’t want to close down everything again. I haven’t seen any of the protests because they are not really big, but I’ve heard about some of them for sure. It’s crazy to see how the pandemic has impacted people in so many different areas of life. Something that started so small escalated into this thing.
For me personally as an IB student, I know that other public schools take it a lot less seriously than we do here. It’s mandatory technically to wear masks, but it’s not as enforced as it is in our school. The government doesn’t want to shut down schools and is trying to maintain it for as long as possible; if that’s just not monitoring the cases at school and kind of hiding it a little bit, that’s what happens. Whereas in our IB school, we only had two cases, and we still wanted to make sure it didn’t escalate quickly. I think the parents here are a little bit more cautious; plus, my international school is not just in Kiev, it’s like a group of schools. They have to report back to a Head in a larger administrative group, whereas with the public schools, it’s mostly what the government says. And if the government isn’t really paying attention, then it’s like, whatever. I think we’re just more focused on making sure everyone is safe. The government’s more focused on trying to keep schools open completely for as long as possible.
Then again, I’ve never been to a public school, I’ve just grown up in international schools. I’m from India, but I’ve never lived there. I don’t really know what it would be like to go to public schools, so I don’t really have anything to compare it with. But I think IB is really nice because it gives you a very broad view on things. My friends are from so many different countries, and there’s a lot of different cultures in my class. You’re exposed to a variety of things and perspectives and attitudes. The hard part would just be losing friends because they move or you move and just making sure that you’re considerate, keep in mind other cultures, and you don’t offend anyone.
Before, I was in China, so I went to an international school there. And then I moved to Venezuela. And then Russia and now Ukraine. I could not imagine staying in one place. This is my normal. That’s the four times I’ve moved, but I’ve also gone to like quite a few schools in each country, around 10-12 schools.
When I was younger, it was a lot harder than this now. Now I’m just more used to it. And it’s like, after three years out of school, I’m like, “Okay, isn’t it time to move?” But when I was young, definitely, it was hard leaving friends and having to make new friends and building relationships with teachers, even just letting them know who you are. But it’s also really cool to meet so many new people. And you get to reinvent yourself. You have so many opportunities to learn new things. So it has its advantages and disadvantages.
I really hope I get to have a normal graduation. I feel like we’ve missed out on so many things. It’s obviously a little selfish, but I just want to have that one final thing to end 12 years of education. Normally we do a walk where people clap and you walk through and that’s really cool. I would love to experience that.