Young and Abroad: A Student’s Take on the French Lockdown

It starts with rumors and whispers. “It is just like the flu”. The news becomes white noise as journalists talk about the rising number of cases around the world. There is no way the numbers could become that high in your own country, you think, until the President goes on television Thursday night stating that all schools and universities will be closed starting Monday. Saturday night, the Prime Minister states that all bars, restaurants, and non-essential stores must close starting at midnight. Monday arrives and the President is speaking to the nation again. This time he is describing a war: all citizens must stay in their apartments and the borders will be closed for the next thirty days. You only have twelve hours to figure out where you will be spending your days confined and where to get necessities. Train tickets are soaring as people leave the capital to spend their days in the countryside or with their family. The news states that these people are “fleeing”. There is an omnipresent fear hanging in the air as queues start outside of grocery markets and there is a haunting feeling of seeing daily activities being performed with masks and gloves. What was sufficient in stores now is not enough as people stockpile what they can.

Then, confinement starts. You can’t leave your house without an authorized document stating why you are outside. Police are numerous on the streets you used to stroll. You can get fined up to 135 euros if you are not following protocol (and it might get more expensive if people continue to not listen). The city of lights has gone from picturesque to a ghost town. This “war” we are living is invisible. There is no immediate threat.

My view everyday during lockdown

Yet, as I see my friends and family back home begin to question when these regulations will be put in place by the American government, I also see through social media those who still continue to go out to bars, restaurants, and who choose to travel for spring break declaring, “Life is short!  Social distancing is a joke! It’s just like the flu!”. The problem is, this new virus has no known vaccine. There is a lot of uncertainty since it has only been around for such a short period of time. We are just starting to see how it can impact our societies as the death rates are escalating. More than 70,000 confirmed cases in Europe with more than 3,300 deaths according to the World Health Organization. Not everyone is getting tested. The goal of social distancing is to flatten the curve, so that the numbers do not continue to rise and hospitals will not collapse due to the overload cases that could possibly come in. These regulations are put into place so that doctors do not have to make heartbreaking decisions. Back in January, we in France did not think that we would be in this situation. Now, we are left to wonder what is next and trying to plan how to survive this month. My masters program will not have online classes since we are a research program, but we are expected to continue working on our dissertations. That is difficult when we can’t go to the archives or even abroad to continue our research. Students who were studying abroad are coming back to France. Many of my friends in other universities are now switching to online classes, which for the French is a new concept. At work, I have been put on chômage partiel, which means “part-time unemployment”. Normally, I would only be paid a part of my salary. During the COVID-19 outbreak, I am being promised 100% of it, yet there is still a part of me that is not sure since there are so many unknowns. As a student, it is terrifying to think that one of my only main sources of income could be reduced to a point where I would be put in a position of being unable to sustain myself.

Great Britain is only now starting to close schools and urging its citizens to stay home. Though the Trump administration calls it the Chinese virus, I know the American people are smarter than that and will see that this virus is not confined to just one country or race.

This “war” President Emmanuel Macron described Monday night is invisible, and if we fall sick, can be a lonesome battle. It is not just one country fighting though, it is all of humanity.

Article written on the 19th of March – it was never published where I had sent it to, so I decided to publish it here.  

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