Social distancing—an immigrant perspective

Rohini Desai Mulchandani

Dr. Rohini Desai Mulchandani is a 1976 Ohio State graduate with a PhD in Food Science and Nutrition. She is a strong supporter of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences through her time and treasures. She supports current Food Science and Technology students and the continued efforts of our college.  

By Rohini Desai Mulchandani

Today is Saturday, April 18, 2020. Exactly a month ago, I ate my last meal in the “socially distanced” company of a fellow resident, Karen Carpenter, in the Legacy Dining Room. Then, the iron curtain of self-isolation descended upon us all, and life as we had known it here at the Friendship Village of Dublin came to a grinding halt. Meals were delivered to us instead, twice a day, communication became more electronic than face to face, and interaction was a wave from a distance or a few words exchanged in passing, in a hallway or out of doors in good weather. Entertainment was internalized to within our apartments and became more solitary in nature, especially for those of us who are single. News reports are now increasingly focusing on how this new pandemic lifestyle is impacting the mental well-being of Americans, especially those experiencing undue economic strain as well (I guess we retirees are fortunate in that regard). I seem to have settled in quite easily, psychologically speaking; isolation has not been isolating so far, and I seem unconcerned about how long this will last. I wondered why. Then, it dawned on me. I, an immigrant to the USA, have been through this before, though not in a pandemic mode!

In 1964, I boarded a plane and flew into the wild blue yonder to a distant land. One day I was “here,” and the next, I was “there.” The change was (equally) sudden. In doing so, the people and places, so familiar until then, became socially distanced and my Indian life a memory, a virtual reality of sorts. For seven years thereafter, I did not see, hear, or talk to my parents, siblings, and friends in India. Letters were our only means of communication. Those seven years of sustaining myself emotionally and psychologically in the “new world” taught me that connectedness has more than one layer to it. Physical interactions are vital, but we can survive without them. I had to. A sense of connectedness at the mental level, I realized, was more important. Loneliness is a state of mind. Happy memories, a joyful mental engagement with one’s present circumstance(s), whatever its nature, is more helpful in paving the way to a successful survival. No going stir crazy. In the ’60s, I delved into a merge mode with my new American life on the Spartan campus; now in 2020, it is a different routine of activities at home (some old, some new) from a month ago. My international trips have all been cancelled for this year, but I found another way to cruise the world, international movies on Netflix! While my physical travels gave me a bird’s-eye view of life in a foreign land through its monuments, museums, vistas, and food, the movies have taken me inside the lives of the natives in various countries, and provided a sense of virtual interaction at a more human level. I accidentally clicked on a Korean TV drama, instead of a movie, and found them to be engaging. How engaging? I have spent 10 years in college and never burned the midnight oil; it was always early to bed and early to rise. Not any more. Last week, I binge-watched one of those dramas, 18 episodes, most of them 1.5 hours long, from start to finish with very short breaks, and learned in the process, that I can stay up all night and most of the next day without sleeping. A new pandemic milestone for me!

The days have turned into weeks, and the weeks into a month of self-isolation, and as I said before, I don’t seem to be concerned about “How long will it last?” I have been there before, seven years’ worth of it. My story will have a familiar ring for all immigrants, everywhere. Social distancing and self-isolation from one’s norm was a prerequisite to the new normal we sought to better our lives. The only difference? We chose the former, but not the latter. The earlier experience taught us that we can survive isolation, for we did. We will survive this time, as well. So, “natives,” hang in there. This too shall pass. Our collective new normal is just around the bend and at the low point of the descending COVID hospitalization curve!

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