Pandemic journal: Adaptation, gratitude and growth

Teacher, students and business owner reflect on challenges brought by pandemic

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Emily Tan

In this piece, upper school students, faculty and family members share how the pandemic has directly impacted them.

by Emily Tan and Anna Vazhaeparambil

The “pandemic journal” repeater documents our stories of living in the world of COVID-19. Our perception of what’s considered normal has been upended in the last year, with every person having a different experience of their own. In this piece, upper school students, faculty and family members share how the pandemic has directly impacted them.

Susanne Salhab, upper school English teacher

I had never used Zoom in my life; that was really intimidating for me. I was really terrified that I would get it wrong, that I would mess it up and not know how to do anything. That was really intimidating for me. But you know, here we are, it’s fine. You know, thankfully, I think some of those fears have lessened. Again, it’s just a good opportunity for growth. Now I can say I feel more comfortable with Zoom. Was I initially terrified? Yes. But I think it’s important that we always be lifelong learners; we can’t get stuck and be stagnant.

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Yes, I want my students to know what a metaphor is, but ultimately, I just want the students to be happy and healthy.”

— Susanne Salhab, upper school English teacher

The biggest challenge for me, on the surface, was my fear of technology, but it was deeper than that. It really wasn’t about the technology. The idea of things that were new [and] being in a new environment was stressful for me.

Many of us in the Harker community and in the world at large suffer from this demand of perfectionism that we put on ourselves that we must perform all the time, we must execute all the time. And it’s just not realistic even in non-COVID-19 times, so I think it’s about us having more realistic expectations of ourselves and to say that it’s okay to make mistakes; the world will not come crashing down.

I’m really grateful for everything Harker’s done for me, especially as a new teacher. Anytime I meet an administrator like Ms. Gargano, Mr. Yager, or Mr. Keller or even my head of department, Dr. Paskali, the response that I always get from them is, ‘What do you need? How can we help you?’ They’ve been so supportive. I do generally feel very lucky because I have teacher friends who are not in the same situation, who don’t feel like they’re being supported or listened to. 

I want to be this rock of positivity for students because I remember being in high school and the stress that I felt constantly was weighing on my shoulders. I want to be that person that I wanted to have when I was in school. Yes, I want my students to know what a metaphor is, but ultimately, I just want the students to be happy and healthy.

Andrea Thia (11)

A few months ago, we helped my sister move into her college dorm in Missouri. At that time, Missouri really didn’t have any cases, and it’s something that’s really important to [my sister], so we all decided that it’d be okay if we went. About three to four days later, my dad started feeling sick, so he got tested. He was positive. My mom got tested. She was positive, too. 

I was shocked. I was distraught. I think what made us so afraid was the uncertainty at that time. It was really hard to admit at first. I couldn’t tell anyone because there is a stigma. If you went to school and said, ‘Yeah, at one point, we had COVID-19,’ no one’s going to welcome you with open arms. I feel like they’ll definitely hold a stigma against that. I couldn’t even tell my sister even though she’s the closest person to me. But I did tell one person. What made me feel way worse was that person told me, ‘Well, you should have been more careful.’ And instead of being like, ‘Is there anything I can do for you? Is there something I can drop off? How are they doing right now? Are you positive?’ Instead of asking those questions, they immediately went, ‘Well, you guys must have not been careful.’

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It’s so easy to take things for granted. When it hits so close to home, you’re almost shocked back into reality.”

— Andrea Thia (11)

For a long time, I tried to convince myself that it really wasn’t a big issue, [that] my emotions weren’t really valid because everyone else is going through this, not just me. I hadn’t experienced something like that before. You see Instagram posts like Hannah Kim’s, and she talked about losing both her parents, her grandparents and literally becoming orphans with her brother over the course of a few months. And hearing those stories terrified me because that easily could have been me. In that moment, I was thinking that literally could be me in a few months.

I stayed in my room for maybe 20 days straight. Being in your room all day, 24/7, getting out maybe two times to use the restroom each day, it’s really demotivating. You really don’t feel like doing anything after that. During those two weeks, going to classes, I just didn’t want to do it. 

I’m not traumatized, I’m not looking for pity, I’m not looking to dramatize the situation. That’s just plain facts, how I felt and what happened. After those two weeks, I got to eat with my parents again. Their symptoms have kind of been on and off for the past month, I’d say. It’s so easy to take things for granted.  When it hits so close to home, you’re almost shocked back into reality.

My Ngoc Le, co-owner of branch of Lee’s Sandwiches and Harker parent

I didn’t know what the future was holding for us. We were more afraid of how to keep our employees safe because our employees are key. We were doing our best to follow every single guideline that was out there from the county of Santa Clara. I want to be right there when our customers are afraid to even come in. During that time, everyone was paranoid.

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I didn’t know what the future was holding for us. We were more afraid of how to keep our employees safe because our employees are key.”

— My Ngoc Le, co-owner of branch of Lee's Sandwiches

Because of the pandemic, I had to reorganize the sandwich shop and take out my chairs and tables and turn it into a small grocery store. [Customers] don’t want to go to too many places. They don’t want to enter supermarkets where there’s too many people. I have a sandwich shop that is approximately 4000 square foot, and right now we have a maximum limit of 10 people in the store at all times.

Learning from the pandemic, it helped me reorganize my store and boost our business. I know a lot of businesses are struggling at this time, but I must admit the grant that the government gave us the first round was a big boost to help us because when we first hit shelter-in-place, we were dead silent for a month. We were thinking of having to cut our employees, cut our hours because there weren’t any customers. But the grant helped to reassure us that we can keep our employees and that they don’t have to be laid off. 

A restaurant or any business that has barely any customers for a month is a big shock. I did see a lot of businesses closing, and I’m really sad to see them go. But I also see that we have to learn to actually move on with our life and to also be careful and see what is best for all of us. A lot of places are opening up, and I think it’s better now that we’re in the purple tier, but it’s still not safe. We have to keep our mask on. We have to sanitize, we have to stay focused and stay healthy. And I think that’s the bottom line. When people feel that they are healthy and they feel they are confident that they can shop, then that will bring back a lot of business for everybody.

Leah Anderson (12)

I have not had COVID-19 thankfully. My grandfather had a stroke in April, and he was in the hospital, and we weren’t able to see him, so that was definitely a big thing that impacted us. He had to go to a rehab facility, and we had to stand outside the window through the screen to visit him. It wasn’t ideal. And it was definitely hard on him that he couldn’t have family there more often. The person in my family who actually has had COVID-19 is my older brother, Jared (’19).

My grandfather had a stroke in April, and he was in the hospital, and we weren’t able to see him, so that was definitely a big thing that impacted us. He had to go to a rehab facility, and we had to stand outside the window through the screen to visit him.”

— Leah Anderson (12)

It was more my grandpa that I was worried about because my brother is really resilient and a fighter. My grandfather is 75, and he’s dealt with heart issues. And now he just had a stroke, that was more of a worry. Not only that, but the hospitals have lots of COVID-19 [cases], and there have been huge outbreaks. If my grandfather got COVID-19, I am almost 100% sure that he wouldn’t make it through because of that toll on top of having a stroke.

It was pretty difficult because we had to sit there and cross our fingers. We could call him, but we couldn’t really be there for him, and we really wanted to but we had to draw the line between being there for him and risking giving him COVID-19. It was highly likely that we could be asymptomatic.

It’s definitely changed our perspective as a family. It’s also made me much more grateful. I know a lot of people have lost family due to COVID-19. And it’s made me super grateful. The fact that the older people or someone who has breathing issues or one of my cousins who has autoimmune diseases, the fact that none of those people have gotten sick has made me realize more of what a blessing it is.