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17 Jun 2022

Wrapping up – So here we are, at the end of another semester. This wasn't just any semester, of course—it was our first semester back to in-person classes since the start of the pandemic. Things did start out a bit rough, with students fully masked and hiding behind acrylic barriers, but the barriers were dropped before too long (even though the masks remained). It was a transitional period, and it wasn't perfect, but it was good to be back in the classroom after two years of staring at tiny little video boxes on a computer.

“It was a transitional period, and it wasn't perfect, but it was good to be back in the classroom after two years of staring at tiny little video boxes on a computer.”

One thing that did not happen, despite all of the fears, was a massive outbreak of COVID among the students. In my undergrad class of 54 students, I only had eight students sick with COVID for the entire semester—and of those eight, seven were sick within the first three weeks. In my graduate seminar, I had one student out of seven get COVID along the way. The percentages are surprisingly close: 14.8% for my undergrad students and 14.3% for my graduate students. More importantly, there were no chain reactions or en masse absences.

Of course, I've left myself out of the above calculations, but I did have a COVID experience of my own. I thought about writing about it at the time, but when you've got COVID that's kind of the last thing you want to focus on. It all started a few weeks back, when I felt like I was coming down with a cold in the middle of the week. Was this it? Had my number finally come up? I had two classes on Thursday, so I tested on Wednesday—one of those rapid antigen tests you take at home—but it came out negative. Without a positive RAT, you can't get a PCR test from the hospital (well, you can if you really want it, but you have to pay for it), so I went to school on Thursday and taught both of my classes. By Friday morning I was already starting to feel better, and I wondered if it hadn't been a mild cold after all. When I get home late Friday afternoon, though, I could feel my condition rapidly deteriorating. HJ took one look at me and said, “You'd better test again.” I did, and this time it came out positive. So we ran over to the public health center, which is only a few minutes walk from our apartment (that's the nice thing about where we are—a lot of things are just a short walk away), and I got nasally violated. The next morning I got the results—positive, as expected.

Needless to say, this was something of a bummer. Not only would I have to quarantine and thus do an entire week of classes online, but I was also supposed to head over to Kevin's that day for dinner, a get-together that had been in the works for some time. Obviously I had to cancel, and the festivities went on without me. That weekend was the worst of it; it felt like one side of my head had been completely stuffed with cotton. Strangely enough, I didn't have any of the other symptoms generally associated with COVID, even the discount variety known as omicron. I never had a fever, I never had a cough (I did have a throat tickle, but it didn't develop into anything worse), I didn't lose my sense of taste or smell, etc. It really just felt like a bad head cold. By Monday morning I was already starting to feel better, and when Tuesday came around I wasn't feeling any worse than I had the previous week when I taught classes in person (after which, I should note, none of my students got COVID). Nevertheless, following protocol I observed my quarantine and taught my Tuesday and Thursday classes online. It sucked having to go back to that, and it confirmed my desire to never teach a semester online again. While it is true that I am better versed now in the e-classroom resources we have available to us, I would rather pair that with in-person teaching than go totally remote.

HJ and I had originally assumed that she had gotten COVID first and given it to me, since she is the one who takes the subway every day and encounters all sorts of people. As it turned out, though, she didn’t test positive until I had already started feeling better, so somehow I was the one who had gotten it and given it to her. For the life of me we cannot figure out how, but that is a moot point now.

At any rate, I finished up my final class on Tuesday, we had our professor's colloquium and end-of-the-semester party on Wednesday, and yesterday we had our undergraduate thesis presentations. That was the last of the official events for the semester, and all that remains now is the grading and other little administrative things that need to be finished up. I don't have too much time to get all of this done, as we will be leaving (very) early next Wednesday to visit family in the States, but I believe I have allotted myself enough time. One thing I have going for me is the fact that quite a few of my undergraduate students submitted their final essays early (the official deadline is midnight tonight), which allowed me to get through nearly half of the essays today. As a result I will have much less work to do tomorrow than I had originally thought and will be able to focus on other things that need to be done.

Speaking of our trip to the States, I suppose there is a silver lining to the COVID situation—namely, that we don't have to worry about getting COVID while we are there and going through the hassle trying to get back to Korea after that. Obviously whatever residual immunity we had from the vaccine was not enough, but now that we have the natural immunity from COVID itself on top of that, we both feel a lot better about traveling.

I don't have much hope that next semester is going to be mask-free; it's probably going to be some time yet before the government lifts the indoor mask mandate, especially with all the murmurs going around about a resurgence in the fall. We'll have to wait and see what happens. For now, I'm just going to try to finish everything on my to-do list, put a tidy bow on the semester, and look forward to seeing my family for the first since this whole pandemic mess started.

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