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Student journalism: When a door closes, a window opens

05:00 23/08/2021

The Bulletin launched its inaugural student journalism competition in the knowledge that adolescents risk being Covid’s “lost generation”. On top of the normal stresses of being a teenager, the social distancing and interruption to routine caused by the pandemic have taken an emotional toll.

So we felt it was important to hear their voices and give them a platform. How has the virus affected their studies and their lives? What has the experience taught them, and how has it changed them? Students aged 15 to 18 from international schools in and around Brussels responded. Although the competition was in English, all the entrants were multilingual, with experience of living in other countries.

Together, their essays reflect the difficult but frequently mundane reality of lockdown, or living under “house arrest” as one young writer described it. Their remarkable honesty shines a light on an unprecedented period in their lives. We were impressed by their creativity, their storytelling skills and their capacity for self-reflection, and would like to thank each of them, and their schools, for their enthusiastic participation.

When a door closes, a window opens, by Akanksha Das

The year 2020 started like any other year for me – myriad resolutions, hopes and dreams to achieve by the end of December. However, the path for this year differed when we were bludgeoned by the Covid-19 pandemic. This virus came into all our lives, spreading like wildfire, leaving behind it despair, isolation and frustration. But we tend to forget that challenges help us grow as people – which the pandemic drastically did for me.

My life flipped over as schools shut down abruptly, giving way to a new form of education. Online school was new to all of us, from faculty to students. I didn’t lose out on any education, nor was my curriculum shortened, but I can confidently state that I endured a tough time.

Firstly, the board exams I had been preparing for for two years became a topic of farce. Back and forth, we students were told it was cancelled or postponed. This constant game of ping-pong unleashed waves of anxiety within my mind. Will it or won’t it happen?

Moreover, many people overlook a crucial aspect of school – friendship. Online school may have given us a temporary solution to continue our classes, but it didn’t help us mentally when we felt isolated.

Being shy, I had always been content with little communication. But, amid the lockdown, never had I yearned for anything as much as I did for social interaction. Furthermore, the world had sunk into an abyss of dark news, skyrocketing death rates and heart-wrenching protests. Anytime I turned the television on or went on social media, I was greeted with grim current events engulfing me further in desperation.

I needed to seal the colossal void in my heart, and quick!

Exasperated from the solitude and mental anguish, I stepped up and climbed out of the rut I was facing. The abundance of time didn’t have to translate into boredom and frustration but could instead be an opportunity. With some friends, I started an NGO by the name of  Paper Crane Society to campaign for a variety of issues, starting with mental health – a topic that felt personal. Ironically, my introverted self became the strategist and external communicator of this organisation, filling my need for social interaction. Additionally, I engaged in new hobbies like cooking, among a plethora of other projects,  some successful and some not. Keeping myself busy was the best way I found to cope, whether it was a new hobby or catching up virtually with friends.

I had entered this dark tunnel as an introverted girl and came out the other side as a confident, extroverted optimist. The pandemic taught me to grab an opportunity as you never know how unpredictable life can become. It also made me look at life from a granular and adaptive lens rather than a single one, to accommodate when situations become different and difficult.

I grew from this challenge – and I learned that smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.

Akanksha Das
Age: 17
Nationality: Belgian
School: Brussels International Catholic School
Residence: Belgian. I was born in India, but I’ve lived in Brussels for 16 years
Interests: Reading and writing; playing the guitar; working on humanitarian projects with my NGO (Paper Crane Society)
Ambition: Study PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) at university 

Written by Akanksha Das