The Past Two Weeks

An empty Weston Station, Toronto.

March 22, 2020

How quickly things change! I’m currently doing a four-month internship in Toronto from January to April, and will be going back to school for May to August. Two weeks ago on the weekend, I came down with a mild cold and decided to play it safe and work from home. Little did I suspect that Friday would be the last time I’d see my workplace’s office for quite some time.

I requested to work from home until I was recovered, and my manager agreed. Since my current internship revolves very heavily around computer work, working from home doesn’t result in much productivity lost so long as I have access to my work laptop and an internet connection. I did leave my laptop at the office, but my manager shipped my laptop to me the next day! I will admit I was initially a little surprised that shipping a laptop straight to me was the initial reaction, rather than having me come into the office quickly, since this was before the counter-pandemic measures went into place, and my cold symptoms were really mild. In the context of today, though, it seems like the only logical option.

It was a quiet two weeks spent in my Toronto apartment, and I quickly grew to miss walking around the office and chatting with my co-workers and co-interns. There weren’t many opportunities to get out of the house—I deigned to cancel on the other activities I had planned since I didn’t want to get anyone else sick, and only left the apartment to go for a run or pick up some groceries. I found ways to stay concentrated on work even in the relaxing environment of my own home, such as hiding away my personal computing devices and leaving only my work laptop in the room.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic response escalated. My employer recommended everyone work from home, and the office was deserted before I had the chance to return to it. I rather like the office and talking with my coworkers, so I felt a little downtrodden when I learned that I would not, in fact, get to go back to the workplace, and that my week at home was only the first week of a possibly much longer isolation.

I stayed in, like many, many other people around the world. I’ll share my thoughts on the experience. First of all, I always set my alarm to wake me up at the same time I used to get up at before working from home, even though I could have shifted the wake-up time back by a couple of hours since I didn’t have to worry about commuting anymore. I was a little scared that by letting my alarm clock timing slip backwards, my whole schedule would collapse.

Food became a little dull. I had purchased many bags of pasta and many cans of food, and pasta became my staple meal. Going to restaurants was out of the question, and I kept grocery trips to a minimum, visiting a small nearby local grocery store rather than taking transit to the big-box ones. As a consequence, my food for those two weeks was nearly the same every meal. Some eggs, bread, margarine and honey for breakfast, and pasta with vegetables and beans for lunch and dinner. It was a far cry from the lasagna and curries I’d experimented with at the start of the term, and further still from the fine Toronto dining scene I’d briefly sampled with the guidance of a few friends.

After two weeks of working from home, the University of Waterloo announced that it would move the Spring 2020 term entirely online. There was to be no in-person content on-campus. I’d been expecting the move to online content for the spring term, since I figured that there was no way the university could guarantee that the pandemic would be over by May, and therefore declaring a spring term with on-campus content would be impossible to do responsibly.

As some astute readers may have been able to glean from select past blog posts, I have a bit of a nostalgic streak for locations in which I’ve spent a lot of time and made good memories. The University of Waterloo’s main campus is certainly one of those places, and it saddens me more than a little that I won’t be returning there for the next term. Perhaps, a slight, wistful longing for the grounds of the university will make the eventual return all the sweeter.

And my classmates! A touted feature of UWaterloo’s engineering programs is the cohort system, where most the students in a given engineering program take most of their courses together. It’s great for building long-lasting friendships in a big university, and the lack of in-person contact for this next term will unfortunately remove some of that benefit. I’ve enjoyed many chats before and after class in the lecture hall, or around a lunch table at one of the cafeterias. Maybe more time apart will make our cohort’s reunion sweeter as well! In any case, I’m sure there will be initiatives to bring us together in spirit over this upcoming term, if not in person.

In the wake of news of the online spring term, my parents and I quickly decided to return me to Alberta from Toronto. A good thing about the ability to work remotely is that I can do it with about the same effectiveness anywhere in the country, and given the uncertainties of the current situation, I figured that being home to support and be supported by my family would be for the best.

My family and I booked a same-day flight, I packed up everything in my apartment, and flew home to Alberta, landing about half a day after the decision was made to return. It was an urgency born out of uncertainty in what measures might be taken in the near future to combat COVID-19. Who knows if planes will still be allowed to fly next week? Two weeks ago, few people imagined that the streets would be lined with shuttered shops and everyone would be staying in isolation.

Classmates and friends I’ve been in contact with have mostly told me similar things about their situation: returning home from distant internships, losing work hours or even losing their jobs. Working from home, now the norm. It’s the greatest upheaval in my remembered life.

I’m home now, safe with my family in the far, wintery prairies of the West. I found Toronto a fine city—a rich, scrumptious, place with an abundance of activities and sights. But there’s something to be said for the small city of Red Deer within which I now reside: quiet, open fields, a small community of old, strong friendships, and the still, serene gentleness of snow upon the ground on this delicate, winter day.

This pandemic is sure to be a difficult time for many, many people. I count myself as one of the luckiest: I still have a job that I can do safely from home, and since almost all of my hobbies can be done by myself or online, I’ve no shortage of things to do. Whenever I feel sorrow for the things the pandemic has taken from me, I’ll try to be grateful for the things it hasn’t.

So thanks for reading, take care, and give thanks to all those on the battle lines in this time of crisis. Stay safe, dear reader!

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