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TEACHING DURING THE PANDEMIC: A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

(A Personal Essay)

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The COVID-19 pandemic is continuously rearranging socio-political and economic structures forcing us to tinker with our existing programs and practices. In order to adapt to the present realities which the virus forced down upon our throats, we are left with no choice but to either modify or completely reconfigure time-tested paradigms that have guided human affairs and activities in the past. Consequently, we are now witnessing a lot of changes in the different spheres of human life – social, political, economic, and what have you. More changes are forthcoming. These changes are inevitable and they are happening rapidly in the national, institutional, and personal levels.

Governments are restructuring in a hurry making all the necessary legislations in response to the ongoing pandemic. Both public and private organizations, from the biggest ones to the smallest, are rewriting their policies and guidelines. They are either amending existing protocols or creating new ones.

All of these changes have to be done because the socio-political and economic wheels have to continue turning. There are basic services and needs that ought to  be delivered notwithstanding  the COVID-19 situation. Education is among them.

Schools need to find a way to carry out their sacred oath – educate people, particularly the youth.

But we understand that students, academic and non-academic personnel, and school officials should not be rushed back to the campuses and unnecessarily expose them to possible infections. It is almost impossible to implement “social distancing” protocols in campuses where there are hundreds to thousands of students.

Schools in some countries (like South Korea) who are succeeding in  flattening their COVID-19 curves have decided to resume academic operations. How are they doing it?

They are doing it online. There’s no other way.

The only platform which schools could use to deliver education to their studentry without putting them unnecessarily at risk is online. Online education is not a new platform. It has been existing for years now. The difference is that it used to be just an alternative done mostly on “one teacher-one student basis.” Now, it’s whole classes, with varying sizes, whose members one teacher should be teaching online all at the same time. It’s a mass online education.

This is the way that the university where I am currently teaching here in South Korea is doing it.  The spring semester started on the 3rd week of March (online) and we were supposed to meet our students face-to-face starting the 1st week of April. But that was postponed to after two more weeks after the South Korean government pleaded to extend further the “social distancing” period. Eventually, our university officials deemed it necessary to postpone indefinitely the return of the students to the campus.

When I heard that we’ll be teaching online, I thought immediately that I will be playing a different ballgame the rules of which I am not quite familiar with. I am entering unchartered territory. I have never done a single minute of online teaching in the past. Of course I am using technology in the classroom and I am fond of trying whatever application is available to make my teaching better and appealing to my students who are all digital natives.  I also use applications that make my work as a teacher easier. But I  never had the opportunity to teach online in the past. Finally, the time has come for me to experience it.

Then came the training day organized to prepare us to play what I called a new ballgame –  “online teaching.”

For the first two weeks of the spring semester, we were instructed to prepare videos of our lectures and give our students assignments. We were told to upload the videos and assign the homework using the E-Class provisions of the university’s portal. I asked myself, “Is that it?” That’s how we would be engaging with our students and guide them in the process of learning? Create (and upload) the videos then mark/check assignments. Is that online teaching?

That sounded easy – just create a weekly learning video and give one homework and your work is done. Then you can laugh your way to the ATM during payday, to collect your HARD EARNED dough.

I am not saying that it’s easy to create video presentations. It entails hard work, specially to people like me who had no training in creating videos. But to think that the video we will be uploading to E-Class will replace all the functions we as teachers need to perform in the class is quite disconcerting. I am not saying too that marking/checking the assignments of the students would be easy. It’s just that I am not comfortable giving an assignment based on a particular topic that I did not actually discuss. It’s like evaluating without teaching.  As far as I know. That’s not how education works.

At that time, I consoled myself with the thought that that arrangement would only be for two weeks. So, I thought of just exerting extra effort to make up for what I may not be able to discuss to them during the first two weeks.

Until I saw very clear writings on the wall  that it may take more than two more weeks before the university would allow classes to be held in the classrooms. True enough, (as I previously mentioned) we were told that we have to carry out online teaching to at least two more weeks until eventually, the university advised us that on-campus classes are postponed indefinitely.

The very first day of (online) classes,  I received a call from one of my students. The student asked – “Are we not going to have an online class through Cisco Webex?” It appeared to me  that their Korean professors are meeting them online. Otherwise, that student wouldn’t be asking that question.

Aside from the E-Class, the university provides us with another platform to perform our duties as teachers and deliver learning to our students online. That is Cisco Webex, a platform  for video conferencing and online meetings. The E-Class have been there long before the COVID-19 crisis happened although it was optional on our (the teachers) part to use it. In the past, I used it rarely to upload course materials and give my students reminders related to our course. Yes, rarely did I use it. The reason being – students check on the E-Class less than rarely. Now, the current situation will force them to do it regularly.

To ensure that my students get the necessary course materials and information, I had an alternative. I created a Kakao chatroom for each of my classes to serve as a conduit between me and them. They would less likely miss anything passed to them through Kakao. The Kakao chatroom for each of my classes is exclusively for members of the class and strictly for the course materials and information I need to pass to them. They could message me in the chatroom only for questions related to our course. I don’t allow them to use it for online socialization.

Now, let me go back to the present concern. As I already explained, the minimum requirement for us is to create weekly learning videos (and the corresponding assignments) based on the contents of the prescribed textbook. We need to cover the contents of a whole unit for the weekly videos we’re creating.  Teachers are required to have these videos and assignments uploaded to the E-Class. Meeting our students through Cisco Webex is not mandatory. The university left it to the discretion of expat teachers, like me,  whether or not to use it.

Let me go back to that call from my student. Before our conversation ended, I made up my mind. I told the student that starting the 2nd week (and if ever we won’t be allowed to meet in the classroom for a long time), we will regularly meet online.

I figured posting weekly videos and giving them assignments through E-Class is insufficient. I wasn’t comfortable with that arrangement. Thus, even if it is not mandatory, I felt obligated to meet my students online through Cisco Webex.

That night I started watching YouTube videos on how to conduct online classes/meetings using Cisco Webex. I was lucky too to have a friend and colleague who was more than willing to teach me everything he knows about the platform. Like me, he considered just posting videos and giving meaningless assignments a disservice to our students (and I think other expat teachers have realized this also and may have been using the Cisco Webex too). So, he taught me how to use it that night. A couple of hours with him was all I needed.

With the help of my friend-colleague, I invited my students to the Cisco Webex meetings I set. I didn’t wait for the 2nd week of the semester. The day after I made the promise, I started holding classes online.

I did not hide from my students the fact that that was my first time, not only to use the Cisco Webex platform, but to teach online as well. It was exciting but challenging. What carried me through the difficulties and jitters of doing an online class for the first time were my being a natural speaker and the fact that I presented the same things I have been discussing during first days of classes for many years now. So, notwithstanding the minor technical glitches, which I found ways of resolving, my very first online class was fun.  There was  an element of excitement because I was experiencing  something new. Somehow, the monotony of doing the same things in the classroom during regular classes on campus for so many years was suddenly broken.

I requested another session with that same friend and colleague who helped me the previous night and described to him the problems I encountered in my first two online classes. He explained to me what I needed to know and gave me some more tips about using Cisco Webex making me more confident and better-equipped in the next online classes I held.

That brought me back on track. The decision to conduct online classes through Cisco Webex erased the worry  that I would be shortchanging my students had I chosen to just create videos of my lectures and upload them to E-Class and do nothing else.

Most of our credit courses are conversational English classes whose primary objective is to develop the  speaking skills of our students. Yes, of the four macro language skills, the focal point is speaking. How do we hope to achieve that objective if we would only be providing the students with weekly videos that we assume (with our fingers crossed) that they would watch from beginning to end and try to learn from them? How would the teachers help the students develop that confidence to speak when there’s nobody with them when watching those videos? There would be no interaction at all between students and teachers and between students themselves. With online classes, minimal it may be, there is interaction. I discovered that. I could ask questions and call on specific students to answer. I could make them talk.  The speaking activities provided in the book could be carried out. Students who want to earn participation points could actively participate. And with me explaining to them how important is their participation in getting the highest grade they want, I was able to make my online classes a two-way communication channel, and not me delivering a monologue just parroting the contents of the textbook from beginning up to the end of the online class.

Yes, teachers could create the best video presentations but what’s the guarantee that the students would intently watch them from beginning to end and perform the corresponding activities they are being directed to perform. They could play the video in the confines of their bedrooms, leave that room after starting the video to do something else somewhere, then comeback when time expires so the E-Class would give them credit for attendance for watching the video. They could also opt to sleep or watch TV while waiting for the video to finish.  The E-Class system is not programmed to detect whether or not the students are in front of the laptop (or any other devices) they are using in the entire duration that the  video is being played.

There’s one big challenge teachers face with online teaching –  the marking/grading of assignments, quizzes, and tests. How could it be done in a timely and efficient manner?

Actually, the E-Class has functions to cater to the submission of assignments and other graded course requirements and the corresponding marking/grading of the same.  I tried to check one of the assignments of my students during the first week of (online) classes. Going through the many steps to open, mark/check, and grade each assignment took very long. With me handling more than 140 students and if each of them, in a particular week, will have an assignment or two, checking them would be time-consuming. It would be better and easier if the students write their assignments using MS Word. The MA Word  has the “Insert-Comment” function which can be used conveniently for marking/checking the assignments and other requirements.

So, I asked my students to use MS WORD only when answering their assignments – no HWP, no PDF.

After that, I asked the students to send their assignments to me through email instead of directly answering them in the assignment  section of the E-Class. That proved to be a nightmare too. During the first week, my G-mail account was flooded with emails from students and I found it very difficult to organize the assignments of my students and sort them per class.

Then I recalled that my friend-colleague (yes, the same one who helped me learn to use Cisco Webex) sent to me some documents before through Google Drive. I called him and asked if it is possible to share with a person a Google Drive folder/subfolder  and both of us (only) could access that folder/subfolder. The answer was yes… and my problem was solved.

I created a Google Drive folder for each of the classes assigned to me this (spring) semester then created individual subfolders for each member of the class. It was tedious but it is the best way I could organize the assignments (and other requirements) of my students. I had to require them to create Gmail accounts  so creating (and accessing) the Google Drive folder would be easier. As a result, starting the second week of the semester, they were not sending their assignments to my email anymore. The flood of e-mails in my G-mail account subsided. All they need to do is to open their Google Drive folder and drag and drop to the subfolder we are sharing whatever I require them to submit.

If they want to know their scores and whatever feedback I had for them regarding their assignments, all they need to do is to open the subfolder (we are sharing) in their Google Drive folder. I realized then that I just created an electronic student portfolio.

In my (face-to-face) classes, I require students to maintain a portfolio. I asked them to submit to me a folder (South Korean students call it “file”), with their name, student number, and class code. In those folders, they keep the results of their quizzes, exercises, tests, and other graded activities. I keep in my office those folders and bring them to class when we meet so they could monitor their own performance. It enables them to track their own progress in the course. They can literally determine weekly how many of the 100 grade points they need for the course they already have because at the beginning of each semester I would give my students a grade checklist/guide  and transmutation tables and teach them how to compute their own grades. So, I make sure that I mark/check whatever I require them to submit before our next meeting. If I also need to communicate something (related to our course) to specific students, I would insert notes in their individual folders.

With the Google Drive folder/subfolder, my portfolio system just turned digital.

Another reason I consider just posting videos of weekly lecture materials insufficient  is this – the way our grading system is designed would require much more than just posting learning videos and giving assignments. Assessment is an integral part of the teaching-learning process. Aside from assignments, which is actually only one of the graded activities that teachers could give for the students to generate their participation points (which is 20% of their final score), there are other forms of assessment that must be done – quizzes (10% of their final score), midterm and final written tests (10%), midterm and final listening tests (10%), and midterm and final speaking tests (20%). That’s a total of 70% of the students’ final score. How would teachers who just uploaded videos of their lectures, and did not teach them, evaluate whether or not course objectives are met and then assess learning through those aforementioned quizzes and the long tests? Will they try to measure the effectiveness of their teaching by creating test items  based on the assumption that their students watched their lecture and were responsible enough to understand? Would the results of the quizzes and tests be valid and reliable?

I, and those who have training in pedagogy, those who were really trained and groomed to become teachers  and was not just plucked from certain geographical locations in the world to pose as teachers, know the answer to the questions raised in the two preceding paragraphs.

So, after hurdling the first two major obstacles – learning to hold online classes through Cisco Webex platform and marking/grading assignments and other requirements properly  – I next tried to figure out how to give those quizzes and tests. Of course, online also. But the challenge is how to make the results of such quizzes and tests valid and reliable given the fact that it would be very easy for the students to open their notes while taking quizzes and tests because I am not there beside them to watch what they are doing.

Easy (but hard) – create test items that require comprehension and analysis. Avoid creating questions or test items whose answers they could easily give by simply glancing at their review guides. The quizzes and tests should prompt the students to apply what they learned and not simply write down in their answer sheets things they have memorized.

I initially thought of giving the quizzes and tests through the Survey Monkey, the online survey tool that I am using whenever I conduct  online surveys for my research works. The tool (Survey Monkey) would do the checking and all I need to do is generate a summary report for the scores – the same things I did when I want to get the summary results of the surveys I conducted in the past. But during the 2nd week of classes I had an epiphany that I could actually give quizzes and tests through Cisco Webex but had to require them to immediately drag and drop their answer sheets to their Google Drive folder/subfolder to maintain the integrity of the testing. It’s a process simpler and more practical than what I thought doing through Survey Monkey.

I tried it. I gave my first quiz through Cisco Webex. Through the “shared screen” of the application’s environment, I opened the PowerPoint file that contains the items for my first quiz. I jokingly told myself then that it was something historical – it was my first quiz in the COVID-19 era. I gave them 10 minutes to finish the 10-item vocabulary quiz. That’s the same amount of time we give our students for their quizzes during regular classes. That’s a very long time for my “advance” students but just enough for the “not-so-advance” among them. For the dragging and dropping of the answer sheet to their Google Drive folder, I gave them an additional 3 minutes, although I know that the process of dragging and dropping files to a Google Drive folder could be done in a minute or less. It was a trial of sort,  so I was a little bit generous with the time allotment. And yes… it was a success.

Then later on I discovered that things will be easier for me and lesser would be the possibility of cheating on the part of the students if  I create my quizzes, tests  and exercises using the Google Forms and the add on formLimiter. It saved me a lot of time in the checking/marking. What I consider as the drawback of using the Google Forms is that the students wouldn’t be able to see an actual test (quiz or exercise) paper. They wouldn’t be able to see again the actual questions/items together with their answers (and the corrections to  the wrong answers they gave) the way they would be able to should I use the method I previously explained.

With all these experiences, I came to realize that online teaching is still teaching. It’s not some kind of a play that we are using to keep the students entertained while we are waiting for the COVID-19 crisis to dissipate. It should not be treated as a band-aid solution to the problem of not being able to meet the students face-to-face in the campus. We have no way of knowing how soon the pandemic would end. What if the current situation drags on not only for months but years?

It’s obvious that schools will now rely heavily on technology to carry out their sacred oath to educate. Schools need to adapt. They have no choice.

Governments who, in the past,  were wise to have invested in improving the information technology capability, including Internet connectivity, of their country’s educational system, will have no problem meeting the demands of “mass online education.” Private schools owners who slowly built up the information technology infrastructure of their schools have just realized how wise was that decision.

If the schools need to adapt, the teachers could do no less. They have to learn to play the new ballgame called “online teaching.”  The question is this:  “How prepared are teachers to this sudden transition to online learning?”

The truth is, with or without COVID-19, the ability to use technology in  the classroom to apply all available technology resources to education is something that teachers should have trained themselves to do long time ago. The use of technology has become an integral part of being a 21st century teacher. There’s no way out of it. Schools should have made it a basic requirement for teachers they hire. The ability to create, evaluate, and effectively utilize information, media, and technology are  required 21st century skills. Teacher are expected to possess it.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced educational institutions to teach online – to rely heavily on information, media, and technology. What will now happen to teachers who are not adequately equipped for online teaching – who did not bother to acquire the necessary skills and know-how related to it when they had the chance?

It’s impossible to fit a square peg into a round hole.

COVID-19 Watch: What Lies Ahead For the Academic Community

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We are currently witnessing the effects of the COVID-19 crisis. It’s horrifying, to say the least, and nobody knows when would it end.

The impact to the global economy is devastating. Many businesses in most affected countries have shut down (hopefully temporarily). There are shops and stores where people buy their basic needs that remain open for the few who are brave enough to venture out of their homes. But people nowadays would rather order whatever they need online. For some kinds of jobs, workers were asked to “work from home.”  Even in countries where there are no reported cases of contagion, business activities are negatively affected. Consequently, stock markets tumbled in recent days.

The societal implications are just as bad. The COVID-19 scare disrupted the normal flow of people’s lives and made social distancing a norm. There is less social interactions nowadays. Authorities have advised people to either stay at home or limit their movement for them not to get infected, or not to infect others in the event that they carry the virus without them knowing. People were told also to strictly  avoid mass gatherings and religious activities.

People have no choice but to heed and cooperate. As a result, streets and public parks are empty even in some areas where there are no reported cases of infections. Church organizations in countries like China, South Korea, Japan, Italy, and Iran where there are numerous cases of infections either volunteered (or were forced by their governments) not to hold activities for the meantime in order to prevent their members from congregating and possibly spread the virus if any of them happens to have been infected.

What about in the academe?

Like in the churches and business establishments, schools are where people gather, the majority of which, of course, are students.

There is no way that the operation of schools can be totally stopped (unless perhaps in an extreme situation when public safety so requires). It can be delayed for  a limited period of time, but eventually students will have to be sent back to school. Curriculums are time bound so schools have to reopen.

Education ministries of affected countries (like here in South Korea) have already postponed the opening of classes. But eventually schools would reopen. When finally they do (open), how ready are the school authorities?

Administrators of schools have their hands full. They ought to take a proactive stance. They need to prepare a COVID-19 strategy.

Protocols designed to prevent infection and transmission of the disease should be in place before the students, the academic and non-academic employees, and school officials return to the campus. Just a single infection would cause a shutdown of school operations for a certain period of time. That would definitely disrupt the school calendar and shake the confidence of parents who might, at the extreme, no longer allow their children to return to school. So, it’s a must that all the necessary precautions should be in place.

Creating protocols is easy. The difficult part is the implementation. It would entail the cooperation of everybody in the campus. As it is, asking young people to tow the line is a very tricky business. And that is what would make the implementation of protocols a real challenge.

There is one item in the students’ demographic profile school authorities should pay attention to when creating protocols –  geographical origin. There are areas (in particular countries, and particular areas in those countries) affected by the COVID-19. Given the fact that (according to experts) the virus have an incubation period (2 weeks or even more)  before symptoms manifest,  what is the assurance that  students returning to school from the affected areas who appear to be healthy are not carrying the virus unknowingly? How would school policy makers deal with this? This is particularly tricky in the case of universities where students come from different parts of a particular country, not unlike in basic education institutions (elementary and high schools) whose enrolees would normally come only from a limited geographical area. There are universities too with students coming from foreign countries. And that thickens the plot.

Even the geographical origins of the academic and non-academic employees of schools – particularly the teachers – must be considered in the creation of protocols for the reopening of classes. They too could appear and feel healthy but unbeknownst to them, they already have the virus in their bodies.

Everybody in the campus must be asked to disclose their travel history, domestic and international. They ought to self-quarantine for two weeks before entering the campus had they traveled in any area/country with reported cases of infections.

Whatever protocols school authorities implement in response to COVID-19 contagion, all stakeholders – students and their parents, employees, and school officials themselves – need to embrace and understand. Nobody should take offense. On their part, school authorities need to ensure that the guidelines and policies they formulate are reasonable and not discriminatory or racist in any way.

It is possible that in the process of implementing new guidelines and policies designed to prevent the virus from spreading in the campus, certain basic rights of individuals might be affected. These are no ordinary times. Thus, utmost cooperation and understanding of everybody in the campus are needed. These guidelines and policies are certainly transitory in character. They will die a natural death when the COVID-19 crisis is over.

Academic freedom is not under threat because of the virus. There is, however, a possibility that faculty members maybe asked to deliver instruction online in order to limit the  movement  of both students and teachers or avoid direct contact. This would require teachers to redesign their course syllabus so  learning could take place even if the students are confined in their respective homes. Online learning is not difficult to do given present technological advancements. Actually, it is not something new. To this scheme, the teachers could not invoke their right to determine how should they deliver instruction and say no. If the reason for a possible disagreement from teachers is their inability to use technology then they (the teachers) have (and would be) a problem.

The challenge now for the academic community is to look for other methods to achieve course objectives. Desperate times call for desperate measures and given the current situation educators need to think of alternative ways to make education work. There are existing distance learning methods that could be considered.

With the COVID-19 continuing its havoc, expect a different campus when classes resume. The atmosphere will be different. It’s not a question of what could be done but what must be done. Everybody must be required to enter the campus through specific entry points so their body temperature could be checked, vehicles entering the school must be sprayed with disinfectants, thermal scanners must be installed at entry points in the campus, a campus-wide fumigation must be done at least once a week, there must be sanitizers in the entrances and exits of buildings and of individual offices and classrooms, and everybody in the campus, especially the students and teachers in the classrooms must be required to wear face masks at all times.

School authorities must also get the assurance from suppliers of any products  that not a single contaminated item would  enter the campus. Even the entry of food from restaurants around school campuses must be regulated. School policy makers should not leave no stone unturned. As Benjamin Franklin said,  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

More importantly, everybody in the campus must be taught (and constantly reminded of) the precautionary measures for them not to get infected. Health personnel must be trained how to deal with COVID-19 cases if and when – God forbid – they occur.

THE COVID-19 SCARE

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Yesterday (February 26th), on my way to Haemi-myeon, I bumped into a colleague – a foreign English professor like me. We were about to do a “fist bump” but realizing that our hands were exposed, I jokingly suggested that we do an “elbow bump” instead. He agreed and we both laughed at what we did. A “fist bump” is safer than a handshake (according to research studies) but with the dreaded COVID-19  possibly clinging in somebody else’s skin and ready to jump into ours upon contact, then the “elbow bump” is a safer alternative.

A few days earlier, I had a friend who was obviously a little bit iffy meeting me in person him knowing that I just traveled all the way from the Philippines and landed at Incheon international airport. I just could not tell him that the feeling was mutual because I was not sure where he traveled around Korea the past weeks. Even if he did not travel, I don’t know who were the people he came in contact with and were they not infected by the virus.  That day I embraced the present reality – that because of the COVID-19, people around us, colleagues or not, friends or not, loved ones or not related to us, need to take all the necessary precautions – and we should not take offense.

But we don’t need to be scared, to the point of becoming indifferent and paranoid. Neither should this COVID-19 scare drive us to racism. We just have to be cautious and cooperate with (and follow instructions given by) authorities who have been doing their best to control the contagion.

While taking my vacation in the Philippines, I closely monitored COVID-19 cases, not only there but  also here in what I consider my second home – South Korea. I flew out of South Korea through Incheon Airport on the 26th of January for my winter break and if I remember correctly, there were only around 3 confirmed cases in the country at that time. When I checked for updates on January 28th, there were already 4. Meanwhile, in the Philippines, as of the same date,  there was only one confirmed case – not a Filipino citizen though but a 38-year-old Chinese woman from the reported origin of the virus – Wuhan, China.

There are thousands of Chinese in the Philippines and nobody knows how many of them came from (or might have travelled to) Wuhan when the virus was still silently wreaking havoc. There could also be Filipinos, or foreigners, who might have traveled to China who could possibly be carrying the virus without them knowing and were roaming around my country. Scared by these possibilities, I decided to cancel a road trip I was planning to have with family and friends. Also, I intentionally did not contact friends I promised to see during my vacation. Reason – I wasn’t aware of their travel history. Better safe than sorry.   Conversely, that was also beneficial to them, I passed through two airports, Incheon and Manila, and have mingled with hundreds of foreigners in the process. I was not sure then if I did not get infected. Thankfully, I was not.

By the 30th of January, more cases of COVID-19 infections were reported here in South Korea. The following day (31st of January), when there was a dramatic increase of confirmed cases of infections, the university (where I am currently employed) cancelled the graduation ceremonies that was supposedly scheduled for February 21st. That was a very good decision. It was for the best interest of everybody that our university did so. I have several PhD students, one of them was my dissertation advisee, who were supposed to formally receive their diplomas that day. They have long waited for that to happen and they were saddened that because of the COVID -19 scare, it was cancelled. They  said that there is nothing they could do about it and besides, they themselves were also hesitant to participate in the graduation ceremonies had it pushed through as scheduled because a lot of people coming from different parts of South Korea (including those with confirmed cases of infections) would be coming and there would be a lot of foreign students (and possibly their families too) attending too, some of them coming from China.

On February 1st, there in the Philippines, the first COVID-19 death outside of China, happened. On February 5th, the third case was reported bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 3. All those reported infected were Chinese. There was no community transmission in the Philippines though. It was a different case here in South Korea where more and more cases were reported during the first week of February even among people who have no travel history to China. This prompted our university officials to move the opening of the Spring Semester to March 16th. Another wise move.

When I received the email stating that the opening of School Year- 2020 would be delayed for 2 weeks, I contemplated about extending my vacation in the Philippines so I could stay longer  with my family. But I decided not to because should the COVID-19 problem in South Korea gets worse, there was a possibility then that the Philippine government would not allow flights to and from this country, the way it did to flights to Macau, Hongkong, China, and Taiwan.

So, as scheduled, I flew back to South Korea (from the Philippines) on February 19th. The previous day, the 31st COVID-19 case was reported. When I got settled in my apartment the following day (February 20th) and checked the internet for updates on the virus, I was shocked to find out that cases of infections have breached the century mark. More infections and deaths related to the virus were reported in the next couple of days prompting me to take all the necessary precautions.

As of today (February 27th) there are already 1,766 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections and 13 deaths here in South Korea. Reports identified Daegu City and the neighboring province of Gyeongsangbuk as the regions in South Korea that were hardest hit by the virus. The vast majority of infections took place in the said places.

I have been back here (in South Korea) for a week now but I have yet to enter our university campus. I need to complete the 14-day mandatory self-quarantine period before I do so. I am hoping that all foreigners – students and workers – who traveled overseas would do the same.

I have not ventured out of my “cave” much the past 7 days except when I had to buy food and other supplies (thrice that I have done so) and eat in a restaurant. Only twice so far that I visited my favorite restaurant. That’s how I restricted my movement  so far, not because I am scared but to ensure that I don’t get infected, or I don’t infect other people in case I am already carrying the virus and I just don’t know.

The COVID-19 scare clearly disrupted my routine. I could not go to the gym in our campus to do my regular workout. I have also avoided walking around and hiking in my favorite spots around here. For the meantime, I am making do with the stationary bike and some weights in my apartment.

Thankfully, technology can provide the entertainment I need. Even if I could not go to a nearby city (Seosan-si) to watch movies, there are plenty of them available in my favorite websites.

With me hesitant to venture beyond the door of my pad, I have more time to create contents for my website, read, write, and meditate.

As always, the Facebook messenger and Skype, allow me to be in touch with my loved ones through “video call” almost 24/7.

I am confident that humans can overcome the onslaught of the COVID-19. It’s just a matter of time. The homo sapiens is a resilient species.

God’s love and mercy towards humanity never end. Sooner or later, the COVID-19 scare will be a thing of the past.

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