Feature photo courtesy of @wenlhsiao
From a 20-year-old stuck-abroad-student-freelancer
To begin with, I feel like it’s beyond-generous calling myself a freelancer. I'm actually just a thesaurus connoisseur. But, as my editor reminds me, we’re in the middle of a pandemic and of all the things to hold near and dear, imposter syndrome is not one of them.
But I digress. At the time of writing, I’ve been in quarantine, obeying the stay-at-home orders for around four weeks. It’s safe to say that I’ve managed to preserve my sanity (so far). Even though I want to lie and pretend that I’ve lived the last four weeks in a Shakespearean bubonic-plague-level of productivity, it simply isn’t the truth. Quite frankly, it’s hard enough to measure up to The Bard in everyday circumstances, let alone under quarantine.
I did not produce any work worthy of comparison to King Lear, and since we’re all being honest here, I have never read King Lear either. But, in hopes of establishing some normalcy in quarantine, I did not put my work on pause, either, and managed to get quite a bit done, especially tasks I had left on the backburner long ago (literally on the backburner - I’ve managed to deep clean my kitchen stove).
I am currently in Amsterdam until further notice, and most of my friends have fled the country with the exception of those who live in hard-hit regions, or those like me, who did not enjoy the idea of flying back in an enclosed tin-can for 13 hours only to be without an appropriate home, which means I’m stuck in Amsterdam. At first, I was not too pessimistic about this; I thought I’d found my silver lining, and imagined it would be my chance to live out my ‘Carrie Bradshaw’ freelancer-in-the-big-city fantasy.
Was it like anything I imagined? Kind of. Let me talk you through my quarantine routine in Amsterdam.
Like my pre-quarantine life, I wake up at noon every day, just in time for any Zoom lectures and seminars that have stubbornly clung to my schedule. If I somehow get up earlier, I have time to do my make-up and open my webcam in class, which helps me focus and prevent me from checking TikTok; if I unfortunately only managed to scrape by and attend the class with my bed head, I spend my time in class asking my friends in the group chat if they’re having buffering issues too.
After 'Zoom University' is over, I finish eating my breakfast that I made during class and begin the housekeeping tasks of the day. Do I need to do laundry? Definitely not, I’ve been living in my pajamas. Do I need to take out the trash? Definitely. I did not know I could accumulate so much waste in one short day. Do I need to catch up on schoolwork? Double definitely, because of all the rescheduling, I am doing four course loads simultaneously.
You might be asking: O industrious Wen, where art thou place of labor? (Told ya I didn’t read King Lear)?
The magic happens, I’m proud to say, on my dining room table, I don’t have a desk and this is a significantly smarter option than staying in my bed all day.
Once I am done with school, which now inconveniently involves a lot of group work with people scattered all across the world, I begin to work on my side-hustle; like many others, I sell worn and flipped pieces online. I weave through my closet, setting aside the pieces that I never reach for, and list them on my profile (I sell and buy on United Wardrobe). I also take this time to process orders in the past week, wrapping everything and writing thank you notes in each package. This is a relatively relaxing process, but it is very therapeutic to clean out your closet and make room for pieces with quality and longevity.
Following that, I begin with my freelance work later in the day, as it is easier to communicate with my editors and co-workers that are mainly located in North America. There’s no shame in admitting that I have definitely been struggling with a severe case of writer’s block, I feel like I am not being creatively challenged nor socially stimulated enough to be inspired. At first, I did beat myself up over it, as I grew unsatisfied with my writing. Luckily, I do have extremely talented editors and writers around me that allow me to bounce ideas off of them and are straight-forward with me about what is and isn’t working.
If I find myself really struggling with writing anything I’m proud of that day, I visit pieces that inspire me, notably, Yazz Jame’s “I Sometimes Worry That I Wouldn’t Be Such a Feminist If I Were Hot & Other Thoughts I Don’t Usually Say Out Loud” and Michelle Dowd’s “Love in the Time of Low Expectations.” Both pieces have deeply motivated me into writing more personal pieces, as they reflect on their own vulnerabilities in such an honest way that challenges the reader to seek the same qualities within themselves.
After I have fulfilled all of my grown-up responsibilities of the day, I reward myself with all of the distracting tasks I wanted to do throughout the day. I check-in on my island on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, I make myself dinner, sometimes I even make a TikTok out of the process, and I usually hop a FaceTime call with one of my friends to talk about our day.
I’ve always appreciated some alone time, but now that my days are overflowing with solitude, it has been overwhelming. The truth is that I feel lonely, and my apartment feels empty. My friends are across the city, my parents across the world, and I can’t make my way to either of them. Even though my family and friends are just a text or a call away, I miss seeing them in real life, preferably less than six-feet apart, talking and hopefully devouring clementines until our nails turn yellow.
So I think about that, realize that it will continue to be like that for the foreseeable months and hype myself with a pep talk that I can and will push through, then I go on with the rest of my evening.
On days that I am lucky, I find myself in the comforts of my bed before 3 am. On days where I feel like I’m in a rut, I am up until 5 am, talking to my dad in Shanghai who is on his lunch break (who’s telling me to relax and go to bed). I turn my phone on DND mode and toss it underneath the bed, out of reach, so I won’t resort to scrolling on Twitter until the sunrise.
My quarantine routine in Amsterdam has been mundane at best, and I truly understand that as a blessing; by staying home, we’re also staying safe. It can be difficult going through this jarring transition, reading growing numbers and haunting statistics about COVID-19 on the daily and I really hope my light-hearted take on my own quarantine routine can ease your mind a little.
In these trying times, admitting that you’re struggling with staying home can feel like a first-world problem. It is a privilege to be able to stay home under the current pandemic, while medical workers and essential workers around the world help keep everything running. If you are in the position to do so, please consider donating to the World Health Organization to fight COVID-19.