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‘In this suspended time, everything seems uncertain’

How Concordians abroad are responding to COVID-19
April 17, 2020
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By Ian Harrison, BComm 01

As the Concordia University Alumni Association leads with solidarity during the COVID-19 crisis, it’s an opportune time to remember that the university’s network of 220,000 graduates includes more than 5,000 who have settled outside of Canada and the United States.

Concordians abroad are experiencing the effects of the pandemic in different, yet often relatable, ways. They have concerns about the health and safety of loved ones, are navigating new ways of working and miss life before the lockdowns. They’re also determined to weather the crisis with a sense of grace and optimism.

Alumni based in Madrid, Milan and Beijing recently shared some perspectives on coping with the upheaval of COVID-19 in their respective cities.

Geneviève Tremblay, BA 97

Head, External Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility, LafargeHolcim
Madrid, Spain

Geneviève Tremblay, BA 97 Geneviève Tremblay lives in Madrid.

“The situation has been quite drastic in Spain, with both fatality and contagion numbers possibly higher than previously reported. As a result, two of the three ice rinks in Madrid were made into makeshift morgues, including the one near us where my daughter Carlota skates and where my boyfriend played hockey for many years. Some of the stories are dreadful — people are admitted into the ICU and sometimes die alone.

The restrictive lockdown (people are basically only allowed out to grocery shop or care for elders) went into effect on March 15 in Madrid and is still ongoing. We initially had our doubts as to how it would unfold — people in Spain spend a lot of time outside.

At first, people had the typical reaction to storm supermarkets for food and toilet paper, but it calmed down pretty quickly. Most people now use masks and gloves, and stores keep hand sanitizer at the doors and disinfect carts.

Working from home was an easy option for me, and overall it’s been quite manageable. However, it is harder on the kids: our daughter hasn’t been outside in five weeks and misses the park and her school friends. So we make sure to have webcam chats with family and friends, exercise, dance, do school work, arts and crafts. The key is keeping a routine.

We try to focus on the positive, such as being healthy. Also, we found out that the police are going around singing “Happy Birthday” to neighbourhood kids. We’re looking forward to hearing the sirens this Friday when Carlota turns five — it recently dawned on her that she couldn’t celebrate with friends, so we hope they show up!”

Ginette Caron, BFA 74

Founder, Ginette Caron Communications Design
Milan, Italy

Ginette Caron, BFA 74 Ginette Caron lives in Milan.

“Quarantine for Milanese started the first week of March. I was in Cyprus to give a workshop at Eastern Mediterranean University and took the last flight back to Milan because the airport was about to shut down.

Milan is at the centre of the pandemic in Italy. Most people who have a second home went away with their kids. For some, it’s like being on holiday.

For others, the situation is very different and uncomfortable. We’re allowed to go to the supermarket or pharmacy but can travel no more than 200 metres from home (and only with a mask). I’m lucky because my studio is across the street from where I live.

Having to be in quarantine is like being given free time to use how you want. In this suspended time, everything seems immobile and uncertain. It’s a real gift, in a way.”

Chen Zhang, BComm 98, MBA 03

President, Beijing Concordia Alumni Chapter
Beijing, China

Chen Zhang, BComm 98, MBA 03 Chen Zhang lives in Beijing.

“I was initially only affected by having to stay home most of the time. To keep my family members safe, I became the person who went out for groceries. I wore a mask and washed my hands frequently.

The situation became worse when my sister’s radiotherapy for lung cancer was cancelled because of COVID-19. The hospital could not make any new appointments with outpatients until further notice. She passed away at the end of last month, but her death was not caused by the delay in treatment — it would not have made a difference at that stage except to provide a bit of hope.

Beijing is gradually returning to normal. I notice an increasing number of cars on the streets — restaurants and places like barbershops have reopened.

I adapt quickly. Since I could no longer go to the gym, I began to train at home with apps on my phone. I also bought some books online and read them over the past few months. To socialize with friends, we communicated over the phone or on WeChat.

Since I knew the situation would be contained sooner or later, I did not worry too much.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the well-being of our students — many of whom can no longer afford basic necessities such as rent and groceries. If you can, please consider making a donation.

And if you’re participating in COVID-19 community projects, don’t forget to tell us: socialmedia.alumni@concordia.ca.



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