Michele Naideck had been in Cambodia for two-and-a-half years when the Coronavirus pandemic struck in early 2020. Her first two years were with the Peace Corps, and the latter part was with an NGO working for women’s empowerment. Michele, from Washington DC, had been planning to stay until May, but like so many others in a similar position, she had to pack her bags and leave in a hurry. With just three days notice, she had little time to say goodbye to the people who had been a central part of her life since 2017. Suddenly she found herself back in Washington DC at her parents’ home with no time for cultural re-adjustment.
This was in early March. By July, Michele was on another plane, ready to begin the next stage of her life – as a first-year medical student at MSIH.
“I had to quarantine for two weeks when I arrived in Israel,” she explains. “Fortunately I have family in the country so it was a little easier for me.”
Michele is one of 32 students in the MSIH class of 2024. “Only 13 of us are actually in Israel,” she says. “The rest are still learning from home – mostly in the US – and we’ve met only through our zoom classes.”
Due to the pandemic, first year students at MSIH take their classes online – even those already in Israel.
“There’s a lot of strained eyes and backaches,” says Michele, “but there’s nothing anyone can do about it, so we just accept the situation and make the best of it.”
“I’ve met my classmates here in Beersheva, but we need to keep apart as best we can.”
Michele is upbeat and says that despite the restrictions of the pandemic, there’s still a sense of community in the class.
“It’s not the same as if we were all sitting together in a classroom, but even through our screens we’ve managed to join together as a group. WhatsApp is very active among us, as well as on-line study sessions.”
“I’ve been amazed at the creative ways the class has found to support one another – and that’s a very positive outcome of the situation. We have a tech wizard in the class and he created some interesting things that help to bring us together. For example, there’s a place where we can ask questions of our classmates anonymously – without feeling embarrassed about our ignorance. He’s also created a “zoom room” that’s online 24/7 that we can pop into for joint study whenever we feel like it. Another on-line group is for yoga so that we can relax together. We’ve had a lot of help from second years too. They created a mentor program to explain how to study – things like that.”
For Michele – like thousands of other university students who are learning remotely from distant countries – by far the hardest part is the timing of classes.
“As some of our classmates are on the US West coast, and we’re 10 hours ahead of them in Israel, for us all to participate in a live zoom class together, lessons need to start at 4pm Israel time, and can go on until 9pm. It’s an early morning start for those in the US, but for us, it’s hard to keep our concentration late into the evening.”
As vaccinations of the general population have already started in Israel, things should be getting back to normal within a few months.
With the support of each other, as well as that of returning MSIH students, faculty, staff and the school social worker, the MSIH class of 2024 has adapted and made the best of studying medicine in the midst of a pandemic.