Near the end of my mandatory military service, my family and I had begun to discuss holiday destinations for my celebratory trip before I entered university. By the time I left the military, we had finished saving up enough to book a two-week tour to Europe, replete with exciting stops across multiple cultural and historical landmarks. We had begun purchasing winter clothing and planning our inventory for the trip ahead. Everything was going exactly as we expected, with only one slight complication that cropped up.
The trip was scheduled for March 2020.
As you can expect, the threat of the rapidly worsening pandemic forced countries to restrict travel, mine included. Airlines quickly canceled flights, and my family found themselves forced to give up their plans for an overseas holiday. We quickly found ourselves in a heightened confinement period as local cases began to rise at an exponential, seemingly uncontrolled rate. Before long, we were confined to our homes, only permitted to purchase essential items while going out. The height of the outbreak saw our family anxious about the future. Yet, as we saw the pandemic ravage Europe, we counted our lucky stars for dodging the metaphorical bullet.
In the past, the specter of SARS, H1N1, and Ebola were the most significant biological threats I had encountered, yet they seemed to pale compared to the COVID-19 pandemic. Coupled with what appeared to be an inability to control the virus’s spread, the gravity of the situation became very apparent very quickly. In turn, I tried to make the most out of the ‘new normal’ that the world found itself in. I wanted to see if I could use it as an opportunity to learn new things while leading as much of a normal life as possible. As it turned out, I really could.
Before the government had implemented the pandemic lockdown, I had just secured an internship under TransCultural Group. From my home workstation, I began writing articles regarding cultural intelligence, the future of our workplaces, and how we could harness our human skillsets while augmenting them with technology. Yet, in the beginning, this was a difficult task. Having spent two years engaging in military activities, switching back to the rigor of writing articles and thinking critically did not come as intuitively as I would have liked. My ability to pay attention to long chunks of text and information retention had regressed severely, so I spent a decent amount of time playing catch up.
It was refreshing to learn how to learn again, especially now that I could do it at home instead of in a toxic school environment. While the break from academics now hindered my progress, it was also a shake-up of my previous methods of absorbing information. No longer did I feel the pressure from the education system and my peers, nor did I feel compelled to memorize every fact and detail I came across obsessively. Instead, under the tutelage of my mentor, I began to view every task, obstacle, and morsel of knowledge as an opportunity to grow, no matter how difficult, mundane, or painful it was.
This new method of learning and improvement radically shifted my outlook on life. I was once devoid of optimism due to my difficult time in school, but having those few months to recollect and plan changed how I learned about new things and how I handled the challenges that came my way. Seeing risks as an avenue to learn and apply my skills, rather than the possibility of failure, would propel me to try new things. This newfound courage helped me audition for my university’s dance club and meet new friends that were more accommodating to me than my previous schoolmates had ever been.
Playing a game (of life)
My priority after leaving the military was to relax as much as I could. After all, in less than six months, I would become a student once again. I wanted to make the most out of my vacation, and if I could not leave the house, I would use the technology at hand to explore other worlds at my leisure. Or at least, that was what I told myself as I began to play all my video games.
I have written at length about how technology can be a distraction if not managed well. While that was undoubtedly the advice I was receiving during the lockdown, I was not the only one diving deeper into video games. Many locals (and indeed, many across the world) took to gaming to pass the time or escape from the dreadful pandemic surrounding them. While this meant that I had more friends than ever to play with, I was also cautious about the impact that more game time would have on my life. As the days went by, I managed to develop a routine that fit my needs as best as possible, setting aside sufficient time for my work while also allocating designated gaming time.
While some people I know would call gaming a waste of time, I respectfully disagree, seeing it as no more a waste than other forms of entertainment like binge-watching Netflix or watching sports broadcasts. As I accepted gaming as part of my identity, a large amount of my lockdown time was spent discovering how I reacted to certain situations in-game and what it said about my personality and emotional state. Because of the active participation within video games, I understood myself better: I did not respond to criticism as positively as I would have liked. My emotional state held great sway over my ability to perform well.
Upon reflection, I could see how these trends held sway in my social and academic life, helping to put some of my past reactions into perspective. With more awareness of how I react, I began to regulate my emotions and manage my response to obstacles and difficulties. Through the simulations that games provided me, I could experiment and improve my faculties while reflecting upon my past actions to improve myself in a safer environment.
Before entering university, I had some reservations about how classes would turn out. While I can hold my own in a class discussion, the anxiety of dealing with a large class of my peers threatened to overwhelm me, mainly because the university was a completely new environment. None of my friends had enrolled in Singapore Management University (SMU), so I was going to face this monumental challenge alone. Thankfully, the pandemic restrictions forced us into an online semester instead of physical lessons, where we would conduct lectures and discussions via videoconferencing.
This system helped me ease into university lessons far gentler than any orientation camp or physical session. I alleviated my fear of speaking out in a class setting thanks to the ability to voice my ideas through text chat. My fear of meeting strangers was mitigated by conversing with classmates at a slower pace, with none of the awkwardness of a face-to-face meeting. Just like that, the hindrances of my previous schooling years were swept away thanks to the pandemic restrictions, growing me into someone more confident and people-friendly.
My ability to study also significantly improved compared to secondary school and junior college. Despite most of my peers preferring to study outside, I was fortunate enough to find myself more productive while at home. I attributed this to not having to travel to school due to my professors conducting lessons online. In addition, living on the edge of the country meant that I was far away from every destination, which made for long and tiring commutes. However, since I could learn from the comfort of home, I had more time and energy to spend studying. Gone were the days of lethargy in younger years, replaced with a renewed sense of vigor and greater motivation to do the best I could.
Everything is new/normal
I dare not say that the pandemic has been a good thing overall. It would be insensitive to those who have suffered the ravages of the virus, to those who have lost loved ones, and to those who have had their livelihoods turned upside down. COVID-19 has drastically altered what we consider to be ‘normal’. Everyone is wearing masks, meeting in reduced groups, and confusion continues to linger as to when we can return to a semblance of the pre-pandemic life. While I must consider myself lucky to have avoided the worst of the virus, I am still annoyed about my trip’s cancellation, and it will be many years before my family and I will travel again.
Nonetheless, this pandemic has helped me improve in ways I could never have imagined. Not only did I expand my skill set, but I also fundamentally changed my method of learning and life outlook. I have enjoyed playing games with my friends and used that time to reflect, heal, and grow. I entered university a happier, braver, and more competent person than I ever thought I would be, as I try new activities and gain new knowledge. The pandemic may have threatened to change my life for the worse, but my life has never been better.
I continue to wait for my turn to receive the vaccine. I have seen my parents vaccinated. While they experienced feverish side-effects due to their second dose, they are now healthily inoculated and continuing their routines as best as possible. I’m looking forward to doing my part to end this pandemic and, hopefully, experience the joys of meeting my friends in groups and regularly eating outside once again. Things may be looking down, but it’s our job to try and keep looking up.
If you want to see some of the stuff I worked on during the pandemic, head over to TransCultural Group to learn more about working in a multicultural world and how technology will change the way we work.