“I think we, as international students, are always up to something and then the coronavirus comes and says ‘no, you can’t do anything’. And the government won’t help you and you have to keep paying the bills and keep going on with life as usual, and that’s not easy,” says Nico Betancur, a Colombian student in Australia. “We have to be grateful for the opportunity to be here and also value all the things we had because now we have nothing.”
Nico moved from Medellin to Sydney over four years ago to live with part of his family who already lived in Australia. A university student, he tells of the difficulties of studying from home in his second language, in a non-English speaking household. “It got a lot more complicated. It’s much harder to concentrate on English and the assignments. You also don’t have the teacher right there to help you. Since my family speaks Spanish at home, it gets very complicated as well. I liked to go to uni, spend the day there and meet people, you know? And when you’re in isolation, sometimes you get very discouraged,” he says.
He also adds about the challenges of maintaining friendships as a migrant, which intensify at a time like this. “Sometimes people don’t realise that we come alone and start meeting people and making friends in the process. But friends come and go because you make a friend who is from a country and then they go back and you stay. Then others come, and they go and you stay…that’s very stressful,” he says. “With this pandemic, there are a lot of people who went back to their home countries, or didn’t manage to arrive here and it’s very sad. Sometimes I think being in isolation is complicated, but it will be more complicated after it and you realise your friends are no longer here.”
Moreover, the family in Colombia is an extra cause for concern for him in these times. “I miss my country and my people, especially my mum. It saddens me that my family could get infected by the virus and we are so far away that there is nothing we can do about it. It’s sad that if something happens to them, we won’t be able to see each other in person,” he comments. “I think sometimes, because I’m in Australia, I don’t talk to them as much, because I don’t think I need to, but now I really miss them. This coronavirus made me think that I’m very grateful to my family.”
In contrast, the confinement brought him closer to the family members who share the same house with him in this pandemic. “It’s funny, but after four years, we all sat down together at the table to play a game! We’re more united and getting to know each other better and that really surprised me. In that respect, the pandemic has helped us a lot to stay more together,” says the Colombian enthusiastically.
For Nico, these are times for reflection, and for learning to value simple things and the moments we share with those we love. He also believes it’s a good time to discover (or rediscover) which activities make you happy and which ones don’t. “I had forgotten how much I liked to read, for example, or I didn’t even know I could paint and one day I decided to paint. These are things I’ve been doing to get to know myself. I think we have a chance when this goes away that if, for example, you’ve never liked doing something, then don’t do it because you don’t know if it’s going to get worse again,” he explains.
But he puts a special emphasis on music and the rhythms of Latin America as what motivates him to move forward in times of uncertainty. “It’s what’s helped me the most. I wake up, put my songs on my headset and ‘let’s go’. It is what makes me feel ‘this shall too pass’,” he concludes.