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October 2020 - Year 22 - Issue 5

ISSN 1755-9715

What I learned in the Face of Covid-19

John Liebeskind specializes in Legal English and teaches Business English, General English and preparation for Cambridge and TOEFL tests, as well. He completed Trinity London CertTESOL ESL teacher certification in Prague in 2017. For most of his professional life John worked in law and holds an American Juris Doctor degree as well as a Masters (Ll.M.) in Intellectual Property law. A natural interest in technology led him to become certified as a software trainer in legal document review software and he spent many years training attorneys, paralegals and others in the use of these platforms. John has taught English online and face-to-face in the United States, the Czech Republic and came to teach in Bratislava in December of 2019.

                        

When asked about what the Covid-19 crisis has taught us, I thought to myself “wow, where do I begin?”. The list of lessons learned is a long one and, surprisingly, much of it comprises positive and productive ideas arising from a negative and frightening experience. To begin with, I learned quite a few good things about myself.  Those of you who do not know me well might be surprised to be told that I am, by far, my own worst critic.   We were all placed in a sudden and unfamiliar position requiring a great deal of self-reliance and self-sufficiency.  I am not bragging or patting myself on the back when I say that I am proud of how I handled the onset of the Covid-19 scare. 

In March of this year when everything came to a crashing halt, I was a newcomer to Slovakia,  having arrived  a mere 3 months earlier.  I do not speak Slovak and I had no idea how to make a mask or what to do when there were no disinfecting agents available in the stores.  But I soon learned how to make a mask.  And some very helpful individuals told me the names of products that were previously unfamiliar to me (e.g. Savo).  I made a hand sanitizer out of high proof vodka, aloe vera gel and essential lavender oil.  In addition, I was able to find bottles of Listerine in the shops.  I went online and researched what materials I might already have at home and discovered that kitchen towels are some of the best materials for keeping out the virus molecules.  Scissors in hand, needle and thread within reach and elastic bands next to them, I began cutting up one of my IKEA kitchen towels.  I was impressed with the result, and this makeshift mask provided the freedom to grocery shop and ride on public transport.  My friend at home in Florida told me via online chat that my new homemade mask made me look like a terrorist!

As I rode on a tram or a bus and saw others wide-eyed with that initial look of fear, I realized I was not alone although thousands of miles from home.  Soon I began to see/witness random acts of kindness as I waited in line, properly distanced, to go into the supermarket.   There was a man in Tesco who was responsible for dispensing hand sanitizer and checking masks and he was friendly and kind at a time when everyone was slightly terrified as  new safety measures were put in place.  Gradually, we settled into our new routines of staying home and venturing out as little as possible but only to restock supplies.  I was fortunate to have had experience with/of online teaching and training and enjoyed offering tips and seeing my less experienced colleagues rise to the challenge of learning a new skill.  And they did so quite cheerfully and with enthusiasm.  Thankfully, at least for a short while, a few online lessons a week kept our minds off what was happening.

As time progressed my thoughts wandered to times in the past such as World War II when people in my country joined together and did without essential supplies.  I realized that in the past, for instance, I had been interested in what my grandparents experienced with ration books and unavailable items.  My grandmother still had booklets of partially used coupons.  But then I realized with kind of a jolt that rationing shoes and tyres, and doing without ice cream and other staples and luxuries, was a whole lot better than what was happening at that time where I now live – here in Central Europe!  I honestly do not think that most Americans are completely cognizant of the horrors.  We have certainly studied history but perhaps modern forms of entertainment – movies and TV shows – have de-sensitized us a bit.   Being limited to small amounts of butter, sugar, eggs and other items sure sounded good by comparison.

Another thought that came to mind was that this Covid-19 scare was really the first time when the entire planet came to a grinding halt at the same time and all almost at once.  Regardless of what corner of the globe we inhabit, we were all obliged to stay at home and adopt serious measures unlike at any other time in history .  How strange that realization felt!  We even started to regain/revise our sense of humour, e.g. when I made jokes with friends and family about how lucky we were (in Slovakia) to live in a land when toilet paper was plentiful!  My poor friends and family in the U.S. were not as fortunate!

On the other hand, at times, I became a bit teary when I saw posts by friends around the globe showing people on their balconies coming together creatively while maintaining proper social distance.  Human ingenuity really knows no bounds and responses to the virus has shown how we can be bothresilient and flexible.  In no time we were able to adjust to the new challenge before us.

We seem to have now settled into a ‘new normal’.  Having said that, I fear that some have already become complacent and seem to be trying to find comfort in the mistaken belief that the pandemic is mostly over, and that the worst is behind us.  I dearly hope that this is true, but I  must also say that we should not drop our defenses or lose sight of the cost of disregarding simple procedures.   When I see people without masks, or with their noses hanging out, I shake my head and wonder how they think it is worth risking lives; as I  move away with haste!)  I am horrified by the reports of my own countrymen who are so actively resistant to wearing a mask by claiming that their civil rights are being violated.  They seem to believe that they are, however, entitled to violate everyone else’s right not to contract a deadly virus from some imbecile who refuses to wear a mask!  Please do not think badly of my country.  We are going through a rough patch and we find that, almost inexplicably, the tail is wagging the dog.   

On a more pleasant note, I learned another valuable and impressive skill.  As national borders closed and my  food issues were more difficult to satisfy without frequent shopping adventures in Vienna  (I am vegetarian plus seafood for 10 years now but also have a lot of likes and dislikes that make food preparation an exact science!), I taught myself how to make bagels.  OK, now I AM going to brag and pat myself on the back because I have started making amazing bagels!  For the record, the quality and selection of food in Bratislava is excellent but slightly/somewhat limited (seafood, for instance).  On the way to learning  the art of bagel-making, I discovered spelt flour.  Spelt is not a common ingredient in the U.S.  I now adore spelt flour.

To close this rambling stream of consciousness about what I have learned from Covid-19, I acknowledge that I have not perfected tolerance of others or any other noble traits.  Those remain a work in progress and I remain hopeful.  What I did learn was of practical significance and it gives me comfort.  I reaffirmed my ability to be self-sufficient when necessary.  I found camaraderie in a shared experience with relative strangers.  Moreover, I picked up some fun and entertaining skills to keep  boredom at bay when  I am  alone in my fun little one-room apartment.  I sincerely hope that, as we have all discovered how to conduct practically every human activity “virtually”, we use this newfound adaptability to become more environmentally focused.  I reflect on how fortunate I have been up to this point to remain among the living.  I regretfully mourn quietly for those we have lost. Unfortunately, a few of them I knew personally.  To conclude, I wish everyone a safe and healthy existence as we continue to confront this strange and unique development in our lives.

Tagged Voices 
  • "Lend Me Your Ears!" - The Challenge of Developing Listening Skills
    Ben Gwillim, United Kingdom

  • Language is Not Only What We Know, It’s What We Do
    Daniel Kral, Slovakia

  • Teaching in a Time of Corona
    Emma Wyatt, UK

  • Learning – For Better and For Worse
    Juraj Stredansky, Slovakia

  • What I learned in the Face of Covid-19
    John Liebeskind, USA

  • To Plan or to Netflix?
    Anthony Forsyth, Scotland