I’m writing this as I wing my way back to the University of Pennsylvania to, hopefully, pick up where I left off. When Penn announced its shift to online learning, I did what a lot of kids did and headed home to mom and dad. But mine was no road trip. My decision to ride out the unknown meant I had to circumnavigate the globe to Singapore. The city-state is still very new to me; my parents moved there only a year ago, and I’ve only spent a handful of school breaks in the city-state. Like most students, I was pretty bitter about having to leave college life behind, so from half a world away I became obsessed with how the situation was being handled in Philadelphia; I’ve spent the past 3 months searching websites, blogs, and Facebook posts for some hint as to when I could safely resume my COVID-curtailed sophomore year.
What I found was that, if I wanted to assure myself that everyone was okay, I could find an article to tell me that. If I wanted to read scathing reviews of the country’s mishandling of the virus, I could find that as well. I could even watch the viral video Plandemic, which claims that the entire pandemic is a government conspiracy. Whatever I wanted to believe, there was a publication to support it.
It took a conversation with two friends living only miles apart in the US, but more than 10,000 miles from me, to realize that our three takes on the virus were wildly different. I could understand why mine might differ, as I am in an entirely different country, but why theirs? A recent Pew Research Center study found that our perception of and concern about the virus varies with the primary source of political news. When looking for facts about COVID-19, it can sometimes feel like a thousand different voices are speaking over each other, so who do we listen to? As it turns out, each of us relied on and trusted different news sources, resulting in viewpoints that were informed and genuine, but still limited.
As an American in Singapore, a small country with a population so diverse there are four official languages, I came to realize I had a leg up on my peers. The new sources here have to go far beyond Singapore’s borders to appeal to its multi-ethnic population, a fact that gave me a global perspective I otherwise wouldn't have had. Andrew, another young American who lived only four floors below me, agrees. The more varied his sources, the more it helped him “make sense of the world we live in”. I think that’s really the root of it all: In order to understand others, especially in times of global crisis, we really do have to listen to the whole world, not just those who think like we do.
The word “pandemic” comes from the Greek “pandemos,” meaning all people. The virus truly has touched all people in some way. Despite three very long flights and a twelve hour time difference, when I land back in Philadelphia, I’ll be returning to a city reeling from the same invisible enemy as Singapore. But it will be my goal to approach that enemy, and the news that it spawns, from my new, more global viewpoint, because that is how we will conquer it. The divisiveness that results from entrenched positions sure won’t. So, although my go-to sources will still be my go-to sources, they will no longer be my only sources. Much to my mother’s liking, that goal includes frequent phone calls to compare news views, differences of opinion and even shared experiences… from the extra-socially-safe distance of 15,411 miles.