In a rather unconventional family reunion, Camila Toro ’21 is home with her family during the school term for the first time in seven years.
Both Toro and her younger brother Alejandro left Colombia as teenagers to go to boarding school in America. For Toro, who hasn’t left her building since the country’s national lockdown on March 23, living at home amid all the unpredictability of the pandemic has been an adjustment.
“The uncertainty of it all — when it’s going to end and how it’s going to impact people — is the hardest part,” Toro told the News in an interview. “Right now my priorities are to know that everyone I know is healthy, and everything else comes second.”
Worrying about her old grandparents and shouldering additional family responsibilities have become part of Toro’s daily routine, one that has radically changed since her time on campus just a few months ago. For Toro, the difficulties that accompany navigating a shared space aren’t confined to the physical realm; sharing space also means sharing access to an already tenuous Wi-Fi connection.
“When I come home I can usually watch Netflix and talk to my friends, but now my dad is on calls, my brother’s doing classes, I’m also doing classes, so we just have to prioritize when people use the internet, when they don’t,” Toro said, with her camera turned off during the interview to minimize bad connection. “My times aren’t as flexible as other people and my accessibility isn’t as good.”
Toro’s unsteady Wi-Fi connection has taken away some of the internet’s ability to act as a connecting agent during isolation. From society interviews to classes to hangouts with friends, Toro shared her frustrations with being unable to turn on her camera and continually breaking off in Zoom calls.
Her struggles with keeping up with school aren’t just with Zoom instruction. As an international student, Toro wasn’t able to return to her off-campus house to retrieve her belongings, including journals filled with class notes and most of her clothes. In the meantime, Toro has been supplementing her wardrobe with her mother’s clothes.
With the University’s recent decision to implement Universal Pass on April 7, Toro is grateful that her poor internet connection and her abandoned class notes won’t cause additional academic stress.
“As my [Head of College] has always said, grades do not define us,” Toro said. “I am excited to keep learning, but at the same time have space to focus on my priorities during the pandemic.”
Staying home for the rest of the school year also means leaving behind extracurriculars and friends. As an active member of the Silliman community, Toro reflected sadly on all the traditions she would miss going into the spring semester.
However, being quarantined at home has also given Toro the opportunity to spend more time with her family and explore her own interests. “She left when she was fourteen … she’s a lot more interesting now,” Toro’s father Camilo joked.
Toro has been filling up the time by keeping up with the Cuomo brothers, daydreaming about having a cat, following Instagram live dance instructors and a lot of cooking. On a rotating cooking and cleaning schedule divided between her family members, Toro has gotten to try experimental recipes that she wouldn’t have been able or had the time to do in her off-campus kitchen.
At home, the Toros gather to eat their meals together, a practice that Toro says is very typical in Colombian culture. Watching the news and movies together at night, as well as attending online church services with the Pope have also acted as bonding activities for the family.
“I am interacting more with [Toro] and we’re catching up because we don’t live near each other and don’t talk much except over breaks,” Alejandro said. “We’re just helping each other with things like exercise.”
Every night at 8 p.m., Toro and her family join in with the millions of Colombians who go to their windows and clap for all the healthcare workers and people in the front lines fighting COVID-19. The evening ritual is a cue to stay hopeful and positive in these challenging months, as well as a reminder of solidarity — no matter how socially distant everyone is, Toro explained, we are all together in the fight against the disease.
“It just minimizes the problems that seemed big beforehand. If we’re all healthy, everything can be built back up,” Toro said. “I’m hopeful, but maybe that’s just my personality.”
Rebecca Huang | email@example.com
This story is part of a larger series profiling Yale and New Haven community members during the COVID-19 pandemic. To read more, click here.