Mariana Ferreira '21
Studying Abroad During the Coronavirus Epidemic
As a college student who has dreamt of having a study abroad semester of travel and cultural immersion for years now, it has been stressful, frustrating, and, at times, worrying to be abroad in the midst of the global spread of the new COVID-19 virus. That being said, it has also given me a chance to experience this rare global crisis from a distinct perspective. The international studies student in me is captivated by the outbreak. From global economics and trade, to the topics of globalization, migration, human rights and global health, this crisis has allowed me to apply what I’ve been studying in the classroom setting to what’s happening in real time.
I’m currently studying and interning in Geneva, Switzerland, which is not only one of the most international cities in the world, but also a city where a number of cases have been, and continue to be, reported. I live about twenty minutes from the World Health Organization, and have been present at the past two weeks of the Human Rights Council at the U.N., (two important international institutions handling the logistics and implications of the virus). Switzerland has now banned groups of 1,000 people or more from congregating and has begun to enforce flight restrictions. Many countries are taking similar measures, and enforcing self-quarantine. Much to my dismay, abroad programs across the world are getting cancelled. Italy has enforced an unprecedented ban on movement within and throughout the northern territories of Lombardy. The looming threats of travel bans, flight cancellations, study abroad program cancellations, school closings, and quarantine-measures have utterly transformed the typical abroad experience this Spring.
Being abroad during this outbreak has given me a more nuanced understanding on certain topics in international relations. Globalization is one topic that has been particularly on my mind recently. Despite neoliberal discourse regarding the benefits globalization, citing increased trade and wealth, friendlier state relations, and the spread of ideas and technology, I have always also acknowledged the downsides of this system, including increased inequality, environmental degradation, carbon dioxide emissions, and of course, the spread of diseases.
The Coronavirus outbreak has created a link between aspects of my everyday life with macro concepts of international politics. For instance, recalling that Switzerland shares a border with Italy, I caught myself wondering what the political implications of closing or restricting movements across that border would be (measures that in other contexts, like a refugee crisis, I would likely disagree with). While grocery shopping last week, I found myself wondering which products had been imported from Italy and China, and whether I should be avoiding them. As an intern with the opportunity to attend the Human Rights Council, I’ve heard from the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, about the links between the deadly virus and human rights violations including the discimination against people of Asian descent. The High Commissioner warned that handling the virus in a disproportionate manner to the risk it poses could cause the serious violations of human rights.
For me, some of the most daunting thoughts come when considering how the U.S. government, Boston College, my host institution, and the Swiss government may react as the situation worsens. Will the United States ban travel to or from the travel from Switzerland if it gets to a CDC Level 3? What would that mean for me? Will I be subject to quarantine... or not be allowed back into Switzerland if I decide to travel? These types of questions have made me more aware of the bureaucratic and political characteristics of different regimes worldwide, particularly with regards to migration policies. I’ll continue to play this semester by ear, hoping for the best, but also understanding certain organizational decisions have to be taken that may jeopardize my stay in Switzerland.
As we move forward, it is important to separate the fear and panic we may feel from the facts of the situation. Because some governments are using this as an opportunity to disseminate non-factual statements for political ends, we need to follow this crisis closely and critically, giving special weight to advice from specialists and experts. So much relies on how we react in times of threat, as individuals and in society, and I urge that we all try to do so with the utmost degree of reason, compassion, altruism, and open-mindedness.
Mariana Ferreira '21