A Tale of Two Cities: Our Communities’ Responses to Covid 19

Hi! Our names are Eleanor and Anastasia, and we are first-year students at Trinity College. We were sent home due to COVID-19 about two months ago and have stayed in touch since the beginning, talking about the ways in which our communities were coping with the pandemic. We are from large cities, Chicago and New York City respectively, both of which have suffered from some of the highest rates and densest concentrations of COVID-19 in the country. When invited to share our experiences, we decided to write about a typical day in our lives as college students home during the pandemic and compare the ways we and our communities have been impacted.

8:50 a.m. CDT / 9:50 a.m. EDT

Eleanor: I wake up slowly and relocate to my desk. I log onto my computer and open the Zoom application to join my Spanish class. I am still in my pajamas, as there is no rush to change into the other sweatshirt and sweatpants I have been wearing around the house. By 9:05, enough students have joined the class, and my professor begins to teach, sharing worksheets on her screen and having us work in breakout rooms with our “compañeros”. Because 16 out of the 18 students live on the East Coast, with another classmate and I an hour behind in the Midwest, we can still meet live. It is one of the two classes I have that still meet live, and it is the only one that has good enough attendance to allow for discussions. My environmental science class has live lectures that are optional, due to the class having students that live around the world. My other two classes, which also have many students from around the world, do not meet live. Instead, the professors upload assignments and short lectures that we then submit online. The switch to online learning has definitely taken some getting used to, but I am finally getting the hang of it. My professors, thankfully, have been more than helpful in this transition and are very understanding about issues. It can definitely still be difficult, as my mother (a teacher), brother (a student), and my father (working remotely) are all also using our home internet to upload documents and video chat.

9:30 a.m. CDT / 10:30 a.m. EDT

Anastasia: My alarm goes off for the third time, I slowly stretch, get out of bed, and change from my pajama pants to my sweatpants for the day. I walk to the kitchen and start my attempt at a hazelnut iced coffee. Back at Trinity, I would purchase an iced hazelnut latte almost every day–sometimes more than once–but at home, I simply make some hazelnut coffee and pour it over ice. Some mornings I make breakfast before class, but this morning I am running a little late, so I walk over to the dining table and log onto Zoom at exactly 11:00 for my French class.

10:00 a.m. CDT / 11:00 a.m. EDT

Eleanor: Spanish has ended, but I take advantage of this time to start working on homework from Spanish, and my other classes. There are fewer assignments now, at least in my case, but they take even longer for me to finish. I have never been able to concentrate and work hard at home, as I get too distracted. In high school, I would escape to local coffee shops to do my work. On campus, I would go to the library or Peter B’s. In addition, I feel so far removed from school that none of my assignments feel very pressing. Still, I try to focus on reviewing the Spanish Imperfect tense and then start an article for my urban studies course.

Anastasia: My French class has only six students, so we are able to use Zoom fairly easily, with our professor leading the discussion about our homework and our “new” lives now that we are at home. All of my classmates are in the same time zone, allowing us to meet in real-time on Zoom, unlike some of my other classes. Due to time differences and other reasons, my chemistry class, which meets every other day at 11;00, is the only other class that is live on Zoom. My chemistry class has about 30 people, so our professor shares her screen and teaches as if we were all present, but we are all muted and don’t have our videos on. We work together on problems in breakout rooms, so we’re still able to talk and work collaboratively in order to deepen our understanding of the various concepts we are learning. My other three classes and two labs are all on my own.  One class has narrated PowerPoints, one has just PowerPoints and assignments, and the other has certain assignments due on the days we would have had class. My labs are composed entirely of assignments and post-labs at which we talk about the data provided by our professors. Online learning has definitely had a steep learning curve for me–one that I have to admit I slid down a bit at first.  However, my teachers have been amazing at adapting to the new circumstances and have been really accommodating, especially when there are the inevitable internet connection issues. It can be a little difficult since I am online, as my sister (high school junior), my mother, and my father are all working from home.

11:00 a.m. CDT / 12:00 p.m. EDT

Anastasia: Since I didn’t end up making breakfast, I decide to make myself scrambled eggs as a mini brunch, careful to be as quiet as possible. My sister has a class right now and, since I live in an apartment, finding separate spaces for all four of us to work can be a bit of a challenge. I usually use the dining table for classes or the window seat in my room, and my sister also uses the window seat or her desk which is in the living room.  My father uses his desk or the living room and my mother often uses the kitchen or her bedroom. After brunch, I make a to-do list for the day and try to motivate myself to make some progress on it. At school, my friends would often say that I live in the library, which is somewhat true. I have learned that I need to have a separate place to work and a separate place to live, so even in high school I would go to a coffee shop or stay at school late to work. Now, because I can’t really leave the apartment, it is definitely more difficult to continuously motivate myself and make sure that I stay on top of all the assignments and work that I have to do. Oftentimes, I just want to curl up on the window seat with a new book that I have just discovered.

11:25 a.m. CDT / 12:25 p.m. EDT

Eleanor: I go downstairs and make myself an omelet, careful not to make too much noise. The dining room has become my father’s home office, and my mother’s home office has become her classroom. Because of this, my brother and I prefer to meet with our virtual classes in our rooms. After eating my eggs next to my father on a conference call, I go upstairs and change into workout clothes.

12:00 p.m. CDT / 1:00 p.m. EDT

Eleanor: I start my run. Back on campus, I went to the gym almost every day, and I want to keep in shape back at home. In my first two weeks of being home, I would go to the 606, a major running and bike path, similar to New York City’s High Line. However, as the weather got nicer, the path got busier, and I began to avoid it. On March 26th, our mayor closed this path, as well as the path that spans the entirety of the city’s lakefront, and many of the big parks in response to a large number of people that were flocking to those areas to run, bike, or walk with their families. Now, I run on streets through residential areas in order to avoid other pedestrians, moving to the side to avoid the infrequent car.

Anastasia: After finishing my mini brunch, I start my homework or project for the day. Because I am taking both intro biology and general chemistry, I have two labs a week that require a lot of work. I work on my post-lab for chemistry and my brief report for biology. Once I finished the chemistry post lab and started the biology report, I do my reading for French class and answer the corresponding questions. If I have any questions about my homework, I send my professors an email or talk to friends who are in my classes.

1:10 p.m. CDT / 2:00 p.m. EDT

Eleanor: I return home from my run, shower, and put on the same sweatshirt and sweatpants I had worn the previous day. I grab a snack from the kitchen and then watch some TV. I am going to take advantage of this time and watch many of the movies and TV shows that I have been meaning to but haven’t had the time. I try not to feel guilty about watching lots of TV, as there isn’t that much else I could be doing during this time.

2:00 p.m. CDT / 3:00 p.m. EDT

Eleanor: Most days, around 2:15 or so, my father and I walk to a local coffee shop, called Gaslight. Before the stay-at-home orders, we had barely tried it before, but now that we are both at home every day, we go 4 or 5 times a week! We initially wanted to go to many local coffee shops, but many have completely shut down. Our small shop has put many protective measures in place, such as surrounding the bar with glass, limiting the number of people in the shop, and not allowing cash. It has been really interesting going to this shop and talking to the owner. He is still able to keep most of his employees on the payroll, as business hasn’t really slowed for him. He feels guilty about this though, as he knows that the success of his business is due to other local coffee shops being closed during this time. I feel similarly, glad that we are able to help this business, but also feel bad that other businesses aren’t able to be in operation during this time.

Anastasia: Since the ballet schools have shut down and stopped offering in-person classes, many schools and ballet companies have been posting follow-along ballet classes–both barre and center. This is a really cool opportunity because it’s not often that you can take a ballet class from some of the best dancers in the world. They post their classes on YouTube or Instagram and sometimes do live streams that allow us to interact with the teachers in real time and get corrections. I have been taking some ballet classes online from Isabella Boylston and James Whiteside, principals at the American Ballet Theater, and Maria Khoreva, a first soloist at the Mariinsky ballet company in Russia. It has been really amazing to learn from professionals and take classes in new styles of ballet. I am part of a semi-professional Ukrainian dance company called Syzokryli, and we have been having weekly company classes on Saturday nights which has been really awesome as well. I love being able to connect with my friends and dance with them even though we are far apart.

3:15 p.m. CDT / 4:15 p.m. EDT

Eleanor: After returning from the coffee shop, I start watching my pre-recorded film lecture about advanced editing techniques. This class has been the most affected out of all my courses. Everything that we have learned and done in class was supposed to lead up to creating a short film. We had already written scripts when we were sent home, so we had stories that we were ready to film and produce. However, I can’t go anywhere to film with anyone right now due to Chicago’s strict stay-at-home order. Even if I was able to go somewhere to shoot, I wouldn’t be able to, as I do not have access to the filming equipment and editing software that I would have at school. Instead, my professor has created an alternative film assignment: our life in quarantine. All of the students have all approached this assignment differently, and it has been really interesting to see how classmates in New York City, upstate New York, California, and even China are dealing with quarantine and virtual learning.

4:30 p.m. CDT / 5:30 p.m. EDT

Eleanor: Stuck on an editing issue, I email my professor and set aside that assignment. Realizing that it is 4:30, I text my friend and ask if she has finished her schoolwork. She responds right away and sends a link for a Netflix Party. We have been watching Tiger King together and finished the actual docu-series yesterday. Today, we were watching the interview and were very curious about how the cast members are reacting to the popularity of the show.  After finishing the episode, we call each other to discuss it more. This show really intrigued me, and I will be looking into more Netflix docu-series to watch after the semester has ended.

5:00 p.m. CDT / 6:00 p.m. EDT

Anastasia: Even though we are quarantining in an apartment, my family and I don’t see each other that much during the day because we are all working and have a lot to do.  So we all get together at 6:00 to turn on the evening news and learn about what’s been happening in NYC, the country, and the world.

6:00 p.m. CDT / 7:00 p.m. EDT

Eleanor: After watching TV, I put on my gym shoes, grab my phone and headphones, and head out for a walk. With Chicago’s weather being so unpredictable, I try to spend as much time outside as possible on days that it is nice out. I usually will just listen to music, but today I am calling an old friend in high school to catch up! While we chat and catch up on everything, she asks me about my semester and how Chicago is, and I ask about her AmeriCorps job in Wyoming. During my walk, I pass by the same “Little Free Library” that I have walked by a billion times but realize today that the box has become a makeshift mini food pantry, as it is now stocked with non-perishable foods instead of books. There is a little note reading “Take Food, Leave Food” and “We are Logan Square Strong”, and I immediately tell my friend about it. We talk about the different measures our communities are taking to support both essential workers and those who haven’t been able to work. I really love seeing and learning about all the small ways that people are supporting their fellow community members during this time. Many businesses, neighborhood groups, and individuals are donating large sums of money, which is obviously very awesome. However, I think that is also important to acknowledge the small actions being done that are still incredibly impactful. It is really nice to see people coming together to do what they can to support others during this time.

Anastasia: One of the positive aspects about quarantine and one of the many reasons I love living in New York City and being a New Yorker is the 7:00 p.m. clap for essential workers that happens every single day throughout New York City. Most people in my building open their windows and either clap, bang pots and pans, or ring bells to celebrate the essential workers who go to work everyday despite the risk to themselves and their families. The building across the way also participates in showing their appreciation for essential workers. This is honestly my favorite part of everyday quarantine life because it reminds me of how lucky my family and I are and how thankful we should all be to the essential workers who are still doing their best to keep us safe and provide us with the services we need. I remember the first time it happened, I had no idea why people were clapping and I immediately raced to the window to see what was going on. I looked out and saw posters in the windows of my neighbors across the street saying “thank you essential workers” and then the next day, the news was covering the 7:00 p.m. clap that had happened and has happened every single day since the beginning of quarantine. This show of thankfulness only lasts 5 minutes and the doormen for my building and the building across the street come out every time to wave and say hello to those of us who are clapping. It makes me proud to be a New Yorker and thankful to be part of such a wonderful community and city.

6:15 p.m. CDT / 7:15 p.m. EDT

Anastasia: After the clapping, my family sits down for dinner and talks about our days and anything exciting that happened. We always start dinner with a toast for good luck and good health and then we eat. We have been cooking much more than ordering out, and I have to say it has been really nice to have home cooked meals again because I definitely did miss my mother’s cooking, especially her lasagna!! However, we have made the conscious decision to order out at least once a week because we know some of the restaurant owners in our neighborhood and we believe we have a responsibility to help them in any way that we can. Last week we ordered sandwiches and bagels from Finn’s, a local bagel shop and this week we are planning on ordering pizza from  Don Giovanni, a local pizzeria.

7:30 p.m. CDT / 8:30 p.m. EDT

Eleanor: My family starts to plan for our dinner. Everyone is feeling lazy, so we decide to get food delivered from a local Thai restaurant, Hot Woks, Cool Sushi. Before quarantine, we would get food delivered weekly, usually on the nights that everyone was super busy or on family movie nights. However, now that there is a pretty strict stay-in-place order, we order out more frequently. There are many small restaurants in my neighborhood, and I am very worried about how they will be able to survive this. Obviously, they have had to suspend all types of dining in, and some have completely closed temporarily. Others are able to continue business through delivery or pick-up service, but they aren’t able to offer the same menu, products, or experience. It is very scary especially for small restaurants–regardless of whether they are currently closed or open with limited offerings–as they are facing extreme cutbacks and many won’t be able to recover. Signs around my neighborhood say that as many as 4 out of 5 Chicago restaurants might have to permanently close after this. Because we know the severity of the issue and are close with many local restaurateurs, we do what we can, which means ordering pick-up or delivery three or four times a week. A friend from high school compiled a list of the restaurants owned by family members of my former schoolmates, so we try to rotate through that list. My family is quite fortunate to be able to do this, as both my parents’ jobs are able to be done remotely.

Anastasia: After dinner we clean up.  Actually my sister, Catya, cleans up.  She and I have a deal, I don’t like to clean up, so I set the table each night and she cleans up. All the while, our parents decide choices for movies that we are going to watch and maybe the game that we are going to play that night. We have been watching a lot of old movies recently.  Yesterday we watched The Sound of Music and last week we watched The King and I. It’s been nice to rewatch and watch new movies with my family.

9:00 p.m. CDT / 10:00 p.m. EDT

Eleanor: After dinner, we usually will do some sort of activity as a family. This could be board games or calling family members, but it usually ends up being watching TV or a movie together. I usually enjoy this part of the day because it is the only time that we are all not busy doing online classes or schoolwork. We have been tackling our “To – Watch’ movie list, which is a collection of movies that any of us want to watch that no one has seen yet, but tonight we are watching my all-time favorite movie, Inception.

11:00 p.m. CDT / 12:00 a.m. EDT

Eleanor: When the movie is finished, I start to get ready for bed. After showering and brushing my teeth, I get in bed, although I usually am up for another hour or two, reading or calling with friends from Trinity. I really enjoy this time because my friends are usually free, and we are able to catch up. It is more difficult throughout the day since everyone has their own school schedule, and other tasks that they need to do since they are home. It is really interesting to me to hear about how classes have been since they’ve moved online, as well as hearing how everyone is coping with being home. We usually try not to dwell on the coronavirus the whole call, though, and will ask each other about tv shows and talk about funny moments from throughout the day.

Anastasia: After the movie and/or game, I go to bed but don’t go to sleep for a little bit. I usually end up staying up for a few hours talking or Facetiming friends, Netflix partying, reading and eventually I end up watching TikToks.

CLOSING

The sudden onset of a global pandemic, causing college students to abruptly be sent home and having to quarantine with their families, has changed everyone’s lives, both in ways we know already and ways we don’t. In comparing a day in our lives from our respective cities, we wanted to share not only the scary and somewhat weird things that are now a part of daily lives but also the good things that have happened such as the clapping at 7pm everyday in NYC and the “Little Free Library” in Chicago that is now the “Little Free Pantry”. It might sound cheesy, but we think it’s also true, that though the world is crazy right now and it has been a very weird two months, there are parts of humanity that have come through and shown how communities can band together during stressful times to give thanks to essential workers and help neighbors out.


About the authors: My name is Eleanor Chmielowicz. I am a first year student from Chicago, Illinois and I am interested in studying Environmental Science and Urban Studies. To keep busy during quarantine, I have been writing cards to essential workers and watching a lot of TV with my family.

Hey! My name is Anastasia Hanifin and I’m a first year student from New York City. I am interested in studying neuroscience and French. During quarantine, I have been taking zoom classes with my dance company, Syzokrili, to stay busy!

Copyrighted by Eleanor Chmielowicz and Anastasia Hanifin. Editorial assistance provided by Joe Barber. This work is part of the “Telling Our Covid Stories” project by the Center for Hartford Engagement and Research (CHER) at Trinity College.

As the co-creators of “A Tale of Two Cities: Our Communities’ Responses to Covid 19”, we agree that this is our original work, and that we retain the copyright. Also, we grant permission for this work to be distributed with our full names to the public, including formats such as print and the Internet. Under this agreement, we keep the copyright to our work, but agree to share it under a Creative Commons Attribution—NonCommercial—NoDerivatives 4.0 International license (BY-NC-ND). This allows the public to freely download and share our work, but only if they credit the creators, use it for non-commercial purposes, and do not make any changes. Learn more about Creative Commons licenses at https://creativecommons.org/licenses/