Like a lot of young people, I have friends and acquaintances living around the world, many I keep in touch with only through social media. It’s year two in this global pandemic, and I decided to check in with some of them to see how they are doing … beyond the usual sunshine and manicured Instagram post.
“Hello, I’m Luiza, I am Brazilian, I was born in Rio de Janeiro.”
Luiza Teixeira is a 19-year-old from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Every morning she wakes up to the sound of birds chirping and dogs barking, and then she heads to her home gym to run for half an hour. She used to run outside, but since March of 2020, she’s had to do it from home. This is a far cry from her past experiences in her city, which were full of warm days out with her friends.
“What I miss the most is being able to go to the beach and take a dip into the ocean, have my feet in the sand. I used to spend hours sitting there enjoying the view, but now we’re not allowed to do that anymore.”
Brazil is not expected to return to normal anytime soon, and this is the case for many other countries, since vaccine distribution has been slow-moving.
Luiza says she feels the pandemic is stealing a part of her youth…
“I feel like I’m in a stage of my life where I need to meet new people. I need to have new experiences. I need to get a life... like actually live a life.”
Despite her desire to live more freely, she’s been taking the necessary precautions.
“I am aware of the dangers of COVID, so I personally don’t go out and meet up with people. And it’s been really hard for me because I tend to be very outgoing and I love meeting people. I love hugging people. I love hanging out. But I just have not been able to do that.”
“Hello, I’m Sofia and I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina.”
Sofía Rakitin, a 20-year-old from Buenos Aires, was used to going on walks on the weekend along the bank of Río de la Plata. On the clearer days, she swore that she could see all the way across to Uruguay. Now, she hasn’t gone on that walk in months.
Sofía says the most frustrating thing to her is she feels people in her country aren’t taking the virus seriously.
“There are people that don’t care about others like they prefer for everything to go on and if people have to die, then they have to die. Here in Argentina, a lot of people went to the beach and the parties continued.”
Sofía, on the other hand, prefers staying at home and enjoying time with her mom.
Despite the challenges of living through a pandemic, Sofia says life in Buenos Aires was so frenetic that the slower pace is doing her some good.
“Before the pandemic, I was very stressed about work, friendships and everything. And like during the pandemic, I had time to, like, focus on myself and exercise each day.”
“My name is Hienh Anh, or Cecilia. I am from Vietnam.”
Cecilia Vu is a 19-year-old born and raised in Vietnam. She hasn’t minded the isolation brought by the pandemic.
“Everybody knows me as someone who really enjoys my own company. Like I love being by myself. I love listening to music, watching movies, like dramas. I can do that all day, every day.
Cecilia thinks that being an introvert has helped her cope and made it easier to entertain herself during this long year, perhaps even better than other people her age.
“Teenagers, of course, they like to party, like hang out with friends, being with other people. But, like me, they can also entertain themselves and like watch Netflix all day, can be on social media, Instagram, and Snapchat.”
Cecilia decided to take a gap year from her studies at USC to avoid taking online classes outside of her time zone. Cecilia has been spending her free year back home in Hanoi, enjoying the food and atmosphere she missed when she was living in Los Angeles.
Vietnam has won praise for its successful handling of the virus, with few deaths and a relatively brief lockdown.
“We’ve been back to normal since August or September.”
Still, Cecilia is perfectly content with being a homebody.
“It’s perfectly fine for me to go out and do anything I want. I just don’t do it.”
Hello, my name is Pilar de Uriarte, I’m from Mexico City.
Pilar de Uriarte, a 19-year-old from Mexico City had just transferred to St. Andrews University in Scotland when the pandemic shut everything down.
“I definitely felt very lonely.”
Pilar says she was hit with a triple whammy -- being in a pandemic, in a new school and in a foreign land.
“I actually got diagnosed with depression. The pandemic has definitely affected my mental health. It’s made me feel a lot lonelier. I miss my friends. It made it harder at university for me to make friends, and that might have been a factor that eventually triggered my depression.”
After that, Pilar went back home to her family in Mexico City. She says she’s grateful that she at least has had her family to lean on during this time. Their late-night Spanglish talks about pop culture keep her going.
But despite having support from family, Pilar believes that teens and young adults face the greatest mental health challenges during this time.
“I don’t have the fear that older, more vulnerable people have of getting sick because I know that if I get sick, it won’t be that bad. But at the same time, I am missing out on a lot of experiences that I’m only going to be able to live once.”
Like many other people her age, Pilar says she feels like she’s missing out on crucial life milestones.
“People are always talking about how the college years are the best years of their life and they were so crazy. And I know that I won’t ever be able to do that again. It won’t be the same thing to do that when I’m 30 or 40 or even like in my late 20s. It just won’t be the same. It is very frustrating because I am missing out on this valuable time of my life.”
We’re all coping differently, but no matter where you’re from, maybe one lesson we can all take away from this year is to reach out more often and check in with loved ones. Perhaps soon we’ll finally be able to do that in person.