Despite the anti-COVID health protocols that IE University has systematically implemented on campus, our interactions outside of the classroom can still make us vulnerable to the virus. When hanging out with friends, there are no health passports that need daily updating, and it is easy to tune out our perception of threat when all we want is to have a good time on a Friday night.
The truth is, when we’re not on campus, it’s up to each of us to assess the risk of contagion and decide how many precautions we want to take. Thinking about other people’s health was probably not in everyone’s mind until recently, and the ubiquitousness of the pandemic does not dawn on us until we—or someone close to us—tests positive.
A couple weeks into the new term, there have already been a few dozen cases of students who tested positive in Segovia and Madrid. Today, most of us know at least one or two people in our immediate circle who have caught the virus. When the world is trying to move on with the so-called “new normal”, contracting the virus and being forced into quarantine is frustrating and exasperating. For many, being reminded of the traumatic disruption of their lives back in March amid a strict lockdown is the last thing they want.
IE University has been trying to streamline its contact-tracing efforts and implement a protocol to follow up each positive or at-risk case. Yet there’s an invisible component in this process that’s difficult to tackle, which is the loss of emotional comfort. We all have memories of staying at home or in bed for two or three days when we have come down with the flu or a terrible cold. Going into a mandated quarantine is like that, except many of us feel perfectly fine physically. Still, even when we understand that isolating ourselves is mainly a precautionary measure, there is something off-putting about forbidding ourselves from leaving the house.
As social beings, we especially crave human interaction whenever we feel most vulnerable. Suppose I am an 18-year-old international student living in Madrid. While my intention is to make the most of my university life at IE University, testing positive in COVID-19 and having to fend for myself may be challenging. The University staff and its medical team are there to follow up on my status, but I know that my emotional comfort has been put on hold temporarily.
This is where a friend’s support becomes invaluable.
Six months after the first wave of the pandemic that led to strict lockdown measures, most of us can relate to the experience of isolation. As we count our friends who are being asked to go into quarantine today, our capacity to empathize with them is, more than ever, a necessary gesture of solidarity. The first step you can take is acknowledging your friend’s new living situation by calling or facetiming them. We might feel that texting or expecting them to follow our social media feed will be enough for them to feel our presence, but the next best thing after a hug between friends is our ability to see each other’s faces while listening to our voices.
Thousands of pages have been written in the media with advice about maintaining our emotional well-being in lockdown, so I will not elaborate on those in this post. However, I do want to highlight the importance of following a daily routine. Being stuck at home sometimes contributes to the loss of our sense of time. Maintaining a balance in our sleeping and eating habits becomes critical if we want to feel functional during the day. Similarly, periodically reaching out to your friend living in lockdown also contributes to that balance and daily routine. We usually look forward to talking to people we love, care about or enjoy spending time with—and creating spaces where we can be ourselves with our friends is priceless. Whether with words, gestures or a shared silence, allowing your friend to express themselves about how they feel or the day they’re having is immensely beneficial.
Spending time at home for days at a time puts one’s mind into overdrive, and it can either lead to fascinating experiences or become genuinely annoying, as you might remember when you were in lockdown. That’s why honing your listening skills is so important when you reach out to your friend. Think of open-ended questions, and try to limit your talking to 30-40% of the conversation. As you call your friend regularly, some conversations will last over an hour, while others may end after five minutes, and that is okay. Either way, your friend will appreciate the fact that you made an effort to call and spend some time with them.
Another significant step that you could take, when your friend is in quarantine, is understanding what they need at this moment (emotionally, medically, food, products, etc.). By doing so, you could remind them about the existence of useful resources on or off campus, such as the IEU COVID Support Office, online counseling, pharmacy or supermarket delivery service, etc. Your role is not to do things for them, but to keep them company. You want to continue being present in their lives for emotional support and provide the comfort that they might be missing.
If you have any questions about the different resources that we have for undergraduate students at IEU Counseling, do not hesitate to contact us at Counseling.IEU@ie.edu. Remember to check the information we have available for students under Campus Online > My Organizations > Mentoring and Counseling Services. Also, if you want to learn more about how to look after a friend, check Campus Groups for the Look After Your Mate workshop we offer periodically during the academic year.