Studying Abroad - Manchester, UK

Lockdown life

“An earth in crisis is still an earth worth returning to.”
– NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan before his return to earth (April 2020)

I cringe every time I hear/see the term social distancing. I much prefer the more appropriate term physical distancing. We need to physically distance ourselves from each other, not socially! That’s the last thing we need right now! Get it right, media.

On a different note, I’ve been doing pretty good these days.

Like many others, I’ve been doing my part: staying home. I’ll be honest, since all my flatmates left, it’s been pretty lonely, but I’m finding ways to cope. It’s been pretty good so far. Keeping in touch with friends and family is a big one. I’m so glad the internet exists. Honestly, I don’t think there’s been a better time in history to be isolating ourselves. I feel super lucky.

What would the world look like right now if our global information superhighway didn’t exist?

-Me, right now

My sleep schedule is all messed up. I made myself an excuse to feel better; “Since I video chat with people in Ottawa, I’m on Ottawa time” (-5 hours), so going to bed at 3am is ok. I’ve been getting my daily social interaction quota from video chatting with friends and family back home—which is usually super late in the evening.

  • My friends on a group call
  • My family on a group call
  • Jasen and I playing online board games

I don’t get bored. Ever. It’s just not something I feel. I always find something to do. It just isn’t always productive… On the topic of productivity, I have a goal in mind: do what I came here to do: study. But trying to get work done is hard. Really hard. Honestly, on a good day, I can maybe work for an hour, tops. After that, my brain just shuts down. Motivation is low and distractions are high. Even though I stick to my no-video-games-or-netflix-before-7pm rule, (which works out quite well) a fully stocked fridge five steps away and freshly baked shortbread cookies are quite the challenge to resist after 20 minutes.

I did find one thing that worked for me: Lego. After walking by Lego sets every grocery run, I finally gave in. I got one that had some good pieces for my style of creative building (which is mostly planes and spaceship looking things). I decided to keep the set untouched until I achieved two hours of continuous work. It stayed on my counter for weeks, until I finished my assignment on The safety of nuclear power generation in a glorious 4 hours of non-stop work. I submitted it a week before the deadline (not 4 hours before, I’m proud of myself for that). So yeah, Lego works for me, that’s good to know.

  • Wrapped lego box
  • Lego helicopter set
  • Lego spaceship
  • Lego plane
  • Lego spaceship

Since all my flatmates left—and mostly everyone in my residence hall for that matter, I’ve gotten used to the quiet Oak House. No more loud thumping music at 2am (I was up at that time anyways, so it rarely bothered me), no more broken glass by the bicycle parking and no more crowded bus stop across the road. Although, I do miss coming home and having new people sitting around the dining room table every couple of days (I met tons of people that way), and the kitchen just isn’t the same without everyone coincidently making their own dinner exactly at the same time, around 10pm, buzzing around the stove like honeybees. To think that was two months ago is mind-boggling.

I do like that now I can maintain the level of cleanliness that I like, so that’s nice. I spent an entire weekend cleaning right after my last flatmate left and it is nice that my shower never runs out of hot water anymore, plus no one is using the wifi now, so I can hog all the bandwidth.

Though the place looked nice, it needed more space decor (it always does). I had a vision: a space window in my living room. I would be reminded of what I want to accomplish in life and give me a little extra motivation to get stuff done. I spent a few days to paint my own living room space window, overlooking the earth from orbit:

My space painting
I wrapped some carboard with aluminum foil to give a nice metallic look to the window. A small hole is barely visible in the bottom left corner; I tried to throw darts behind my back.

I’m growing my own potato for scientific curiosity—and for company. I named it Mark Watney, after The Martian. I figured my situation resembles his, you know, being stranded alone on a deserted planet.

I was surprised by how the potato changed colour so quickly. It’s green now!

My parents sent me parcels filled with little things from home. I didn’t realize how much I missed Coffee Crisps until I opened the box and 7 little yellow chocolate bars were looking up at me. It’s not like I eat those regularly or anything, it was just really nice for some reason. Since the residence reception was closed for safety reasons, getting the parcels was a whole other story. I actually only got 1 out of 3. As of writing this, 2 of them are somewhere between here and Canada, either sitting around in a depot somewhere or on their way here or back home, who knows. At least I got one, and I’m really happy about it.

My parcel
The “FRAGILE” was entirely to protect the Coffee Crisps. I am happy to announce that they arrived unharmed.

I started to really enjoy cooking. There’s just something with finding a way to make something tasty, nutritious and balanced with what’s in the fridge while minimizing time, waste and dishes. I just think it’s the ultimate design problem, the only limit: my taste buds and the size of my biggest pan. As much as experimenting around with what I have in the fridge, I try to plan out my meals when I do groceries, but when the shelves are empty, plans change really quickly.

  • Quinoa salad
  • Pancakes on the floor

I’m really happy to have all this extra time to spend experimenting around with cooking. Speaking of extra time, I decided to save myself a few pounds and do my own laundry. No, I mean, do my laundry by hand. In my bathtub. Let me just say that all the rubbing and squishing was quite the workout, and drying took a few days, so if you plan on making your laundry in your bathtub just for fun, don’t do it all at once.

Apart from work and cooking, I find ways to spend time without screens involved:

  • Apple in front of the dartboard
  • Darts into each other
  • Coffee maching in pieces
  • My door lock with picks

One main thing that’s necessary for a healthy lifestyle is exercise. I’ve been going to the park almost every day, either walking, running or biking. When it rains or I don’t feel like changing out of my PJs, I do some weightlifting with my homemade free weights: a mopstick with some cans taped to the ends (I couldn’t spare the broom, I use it too often).

  • Park in Manchester
  • Park
  • Platt Fields park
  • River
  • River

So far, it’s been one heck of an emotional journey, but I’m glad to have this opportunity to learn about myself. Being alone in another country during a global pandemic is somewhat the closest thing I’ve been to space travel, and so far, it’s been quite the learning experience. It’s not every day that you spend so much time alone with your thoughts and emotions, dreams and aspirations.

I’m glad I chose to stay. It’s really not the experience I was expecting to have on my exchange but nevertheless, it’s an experience, and I’m glad to be living it.

14 replies on “Lockdown life”

I really enjoy your post Vincent, and I do believe that you never get bored. I also like your strategies for staying on task.
Are you planning to come back in the summer?

Thanks! I’m not sure yet, it all depends on the travel situation in Europe this summer. I hope you’re doing well!

I agree. Awesome post! You seem to be doing well in the cooking department. They look yummy! I love your positive attitude and ingenuity.

Hey Vincent. Very interesting (and lengthy) post! You’re definitely improving as a writer. Sounds like you’re keeping yourself busy. You might want to check out Mark Rober’s YouTube channel. He’s a young former NASA engineer who takes on projects for fun. One was a “never miss” dartboard.
Looking forward to hearing more about your “physical distancing” adventures in England.

Thanks Michael! I hope everything is going well in Taiwan. I follow Mark Rober’s channel and really like his stuff, I’m glad to hear someone else does too!
Stay safe!

Vincent, thanks for sharing such a great look at your daily life. Sorry to hear that the halls are pretty much empty of people but I am inspired by your way of finding new talents in the same space day after day. I wish you health, happiness, and continued success in your experiments!

Cher Vincent. Amazing! J’ai beaucoup aimé toutes tes nouvelles expériences spécialement ta patates. 😂😂😂
Tu n’oubliera jamais ton expérience et les astronautes sont isolés longtemps. Hi hi. C’est le fun car tu nous fait voyager avec toi et boy, j’en ai besoin.
Ont t’aimes beaucoup Vincent. Continue à nous épater. Xoxo 💖 😘

Je suis content que je vous apporte voyager avec moi, c’était un peu mon but. Merci beaucoup, et passer le bonjour à tout le monde!

Nobody would have expected to study abroad in a lockdown. It is nice to see that you are coping very well.

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