Health, School

I was living the dream as a student in London. Then COVID-19 struck

By Nadia Tan , 1 May 2020

I thought I had the first few months of 2020 all mapped out.

I was like any normal university student on a Semester Abroad programme. When I arrived in London, I thoroughly enjoyed my time there – making new friends, immersing myself in a diverse culture, trying to meet deadlines, and balancing all that with adventures to places on my bucket list.

Everything was going according to plan. I was like any millennial finding her way around a foreign experience, hustling hard and #livingmybestlife.

Travelling around England during my Semester Abroad. Photo: Nadia Tan.

Travelling around England during my Semester Abroad. Photo: Nadia Tan.

Then February rolled around, and news about the coronavirus generated public attention, but the panic that plagued Singapore took a while to creep into the streets of London.

The pandemic seemed so distant – until it crashed into our reality without warning. 

While necessities were flying off the shelves of local supermarkets back in Singapore, stores in London remained adequately stocked. While many in Singapore were making masks out of literally anything they could get their hands on, only a handful of the commuters on Tube rides had masks on.

While the oncoming pandemic were splashed across newspaper front pages news in Singapore, COVID-19 took much longer to hit headlines in England.

The disparity between the situation in the two countries was clear, and this lulled me into a false sense of security.

I believed that my friends and I were far from the virus. That we were invincible.

After all, we had other concerns to occupy us. We were easing into a new culture, starting to get the hang of things, growing into embrace the places that were once foreign to us, and learning to love London as the place we called home for the season.

So our focus was to remain in the experience for as long as we could. Even though the pandemic and its effects were always looming, they seemed so distant – until it all crashed into our reality without warning. 

We were jolted awake to a nightmare. Early one morning in March, official news came in (quite undramatically, in a very lengthy email) from our university – we were all going home.

We were all rendered speechless. The air was weirdly still in the apartment, and so were my friends and I, but the silence was resounding.

In the days that followed, I struggled with a mix of emotions: Anger, indignation, but mainly disappointment.

There were no “if”s or “but”s – our experiences were coming to an end. That was it. The situation was out of our hands.

While I struggled for emotional closure, trouble was already brewing on the physical front. I had a sore throat a few days before, but I had dismissed it as the usual symptoms of a cold. Getting infected was the least of my worries – coming back home to family and dealing with my disappointment were my main priorities.

Receiving my Stay Home Notice upon arriving in Singapore. Photo: Nadia Tan.

Receiving my Stay Home Notice upon arriving in Singapore. Photo: Nadia Tan.

On the flight home, a thought kept repeating itself in my mind: “Go and get tested.” I talked about it with my friends, and they shared that they had mild symptoms too, but at that time we decided against the idea as they didn’t feel severe enough.

But I kept hearing the nudge to get tested, so I packed my things in preparation for a stint at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID). The call came the next morning to confirm that I was COVID-positive.

I knew that, for all my anger, I needed to stop and pray.

Amid all of this – I realised that God was helping me through the whole situation.

My heart was still aching with the disappointment of losing out on my Semester Abroad, but I began to hear a small, still voice constantly assuring me: “You will be okay.”

When the ambulance pulled up, I went calmly with the paramedics, feeling God’s assurance so strongly that I could even tell my parents – who watched me go with tearful eyes – the same thing God told me: “Don’t worry. I will be okay.”

When I was warded, I was concerned about how fearful my parents were for me, and how they had to be quarantine at home because I had come back from overseas.

I began to hear a small, still voice constantly assuring me: “You will be okay.”

I remember feeling helpless in not being able to be with them, but instead of being paralysed by fear, my parents started praying together. Even though we weren’t physically together, we were united in spirit – for the first time, we were praying together as a family! I realised that this was God remembered my prayer, made ages ago, for my whole family to come to know Him.

Gifts sent by my church community to cheer me up during isolation. Photo: Nadia Tan.

Gifts sent by my church community to cheer me up during isolation. Photo: Nadia Tan.

Our neighbours – even those whom we weren’t as close to – began to reach out, taking the initiative to help my parents out by getting food and groceries. These acts of kindness softened our hearts with a renewed sense of hope.

My days in isolation were not particularly painful. On bad days, I had to deal with headaches and nasal congestion. On good days, I slept … a lot! The blood tests and X-rays always came back clear. To me, this was a miracle. As someone who had childhood asthma, coupled with the fact that I tend to fall sick easily, I thought I would have fared a lot worse.

The road to recovery was dreadfully long, but I learnt a lot along the journey.

The spirit of each healthcare worker and volunteer was always so positive. Their shifts are long, but everyone works sincerely and tirelessly to make sure that the patients’ needs are cared for.

Each time a cleaner, nurse, or doctor entered my room, I could still notice their humanity even through the layers of Personal Protective Equipment: The exhaustion in their eyes, masked by their upbeat courage to try their best, despite the real risk of getting infected.

Before this, everything in my life was going according to plan – my plan.

There is a lot to learn from them, and I will always be immensely grateful.

Throughout the mandatory isolation, I had two roommates I grew close to and shared fond memories with, despite the unfortunate circumstances. In our conversations, we exchanged our thoughts on everything from our dreams to our faith, and learnt from each others’ perspective – this would never have happened under normal circumstances.

I’ve learnt that friendships can still be formed, even in these most unusual of times.

I have since been discharged and I’m fully recovered.

I believe I’m still that normal university student, and I have yet to close this chapter of my life. But God has used this journey with COVID-19 to help me experience the growth that I needed.

Before this, everything in my life was going according to plan – my plan. Now, in discomfort, I understand a little more that though the seasons will change, God will always be the same.

Photo: Nadia Tan.

Photo: Nadia Tan.

It was God who held me together in that discomfort, carrying me despite my disappointment. I’ve learnt that He’ll always protect us, at times with grand gestures, and at other times, guiding us through while speaking in a small, still voice.

But one thing I know for sure – He will always love you, like a Father does. I hope someday you’ll discover that love, too.

READ: WHO IS JESUS?

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