‘Write on Cite Essay Series’: The cheaper and COVID safe version of travelling in 2020

‘Write on Cite’ is an essay series featuring the works of students from The La Trobe Student Excellence Academy students. The series is the creation of two students who had never met, Achol Arok and Priyanka Chand, as a way to connect and express their views.

The cheaper and COVID safe version of travelling in 2020‘ was written by second year Bachelor of Media and Communication (Journalism) student Achol Arok.

With the limitations of COVID-19, Achol Arok was forced to find a more imaginative way to satisfy her burning need for travel this year.

It was earlier this year when I received the news that I would be spending a semester abroad in New York. Filled with excitement, I’d started imagining all the ways I would finally live out my Carrie Bradshaw/writer in New York fantasy. Although I’d be substituting the penthouse with a shared dorm room and the Manhattan cocktail events for swarming frat parties, I nonetheless eagerly anticipated the experience of being consumed by the magic of NYC.

The situation quickly changed when the news surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak emerged and forced the world into a standstill. Many held their breath as they tentatively watched new developments from behind screens. With circumstances quickly unravelling in an unexpected trajectory, we came to realise that this virus not only threatened our health, but that modern-day life as we knew it would not be the same for a while.

Failing to completely grasp the reality of our imminent situation in its earlier stages, many like myself attempted to resume normal life with greater caution. Despite the reassurance of trusted health advice, an ominous atmosphere hung in the air and was intensified by the collective uncertainty of the world. I knew keeping any hope alive for my plans abroad was wishful thinking, but the speed at which everything came tumbling down made it seem unreal. What began as a mysterious pattern of symptoms in patients from a faraway place would be the same thing that later denied me the freedom to even leave my house for more than an hour a day. The bubbling sense of anticipation that had previously motivated me to work that extra shift to be able to finance my trip quickly morphed into resentment. But who could I resent? With nobody to blame, I became haunted by what could’ve been.

Following a trial and error period of unhealthy coping mechanisms including midnight Krispy Kreme binges and three-day-long Netflix movie marathons, I quickly became fed up with letting the unknown burden my consciousness.

In an effort to repurpose that excitement I had previously garnered, I invested my time in an alternative form of travelling. Reading.

Achol Arok

With my course of study granting me the luxury to explore a selection of electives, I dared myself to explore topics I’ve never before considered. Taking in interest in classes ranging from sociology to philosophy to creative writing, I exposed myself to a world greater than my bedroom. I was introduced to innumerable possibilities that awaited me beyond our current situation through the worldly ideas I learnt about. I was quickly reminded of the power of words, as I was effortlessly transported across the globe and through time without ever leaving the confines of my room.

Escaping the limitations of my bank account and a 24-hour clock, the electives I indulged in allowed me to elude the practical issues that would have presented themselves if I were to actually travel.

Reading about the fascinating lives of some amazing people allowed to vicariously experience things I can only dream about during a global pandemic. I also gained a sense comfort in being able to plot another person’s life on a timeline, it oddly reassured me that things can often work out. One of the books that consumed me for a while was Michelle Obama’s memoir ‘Becoming’. It’s one thing to see her proudly stand by her husband at a podium, but it was an adventure to be invited to her childhood home in the southside of Chicago in the late ‘70s or the beaches of Hawaii where she spent her honeymoon.

That flickering sense of curiosity I had for New York had been sparked again, but this time I was captivated by more than just one city.

Achol Arok

Once the bitterness had settled, I was able to gain a greater perspective. As I watched the situation with COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement in New York take a dangerous turn, I made an important realisation. I was able to deconstruct this idea I had developed in my head, that the magic of New York city relieved its citizens of the issues the rest of the world struggled with. Removing my rose-tinted glasses, I was able to see the city for what it was. Without diminishing the beauty of it, New York is just another city. More importantly, I was reminded that people move, not cities.

Nobody could’ve predicted the outcome of 2020, but I know that just because things didn’t work out right now, doesn’t mean they never will. I have no doubt that I will live out my ‘writer in New-York’ fantasy one day.