COVID-19 vs CULTURE Series: School and Dreams in Los Angeles, USA
Interview with Ms. Karen Marie Santos, Musical Artist
We are fortunate to have an interview with Ms. Karen; she is an international student who is in her 4th year in Musical Theatre in the American Musical and Dramatic Academy or AMDA.
GHC : What do you enjoy doing?
Karen: I may sound like I’m lying but, I honestly enjoy going to school. AMDA is so different from a normal college, there’s so much to do and so many different resources available for us, students. Aside from that I also enjoy going out with friends and hanging out wherever we can sometimes at the beach, the movies or restaurants. I also enjoy going to live theater shows and / or live performances.
GHC : What made you go to the US?
Karen: Ever since I was a young girl, I’ve always dreamed about studying abroad, specifically New York. I wanted to be part of Broadway and all that jazz. So when I had the opportunity to audition for a Musical Theatre school, I took it. Fortunately, I was offered a scholarship and my family and I couldn’t resist it. Next thing I know I’m in Los Angeles studying a 4-year Musical course.
GHC : What can you say about the customs and traditions of the people there?
Karen: Coming from a conservative and religious family and school, to say the least I was VERY CULTURE SHOCKED. I was not prepared with how to take in how people there lived. They didn’t teach me what to do if I saw a person smoking crack on the side of the road, or what I should do if your roommate sneaks in an x amount of weed on the first night of moving in. And to make it all worse, it was normal for the people there. The things I’ve experienced at 18 was something my American friends experienced when they were 13-14 years old! Honestly it took some time for me to adjust with everything.
GHC : Since you have been there before COVID, what changes have you noticed? How is the local government handling the COVID situation there?
Karen: The biggest change I’ve noticed was not the tissues running out; it was my school closing. At the beginning, the school told us that it wasn’t going to shut down, but as March 2020 came in, the shutting down of AMDA happened. At first they told us it would only be closed for one week, so I flew to Arizona to stay with my cousin and her family.
Before leaving LA, there wasn’t any restrictions. We were allowed to go outside, without a mask and all that normal life activities. When I arrived in Arizona, there still wasn’t much restrictions. We even went to watch a movie even though my family in Arizona were more cautious about safety. When I flew back to LA, they made me wear a mask and gloves. They made me bring alcohol and disinfectant wipes too. Back in LA, I was more cautious since my school advised us to wear a mask when we go outside and to clean our hands as much as possible. My school also made everyone go back home. They only allowed certain people to stay in the dorms. The supermarkets, restaurants and different establishments then started having “No Mask, No Entry” signs. When I was there, people caught without a mask didn’t really get in trouble. They just weren’t allowed to go inside any establishment that had signs.
At first, having to wear a mask was so hard! I keep forgetting to wear one whenever I went out. A lot of people were angry saying that COVID isn’t real! That the virus was just a government hoax to get more money and other things like that. People also hated the having to wear a mask rule! A lot of them thought how hassle it is to wear a mask, since they had asthma and some other breathing problems. It was just a lot, and people just hated it. At first I thought COVID wasn’t real as well, but then I saw the news and saw how much people were getting the virus, and how many people started dying. It was so scary, so being me, I decided to follow the rules even though I didn’t really understand what was happening outside the walls of my room. That time, they were saying that COVID only affects older people but even so, I thought that being safe is also helping others not catch the virus.
GHC : Are you guys expecting a 2nd or 3rd wave?
Karen: I honestly don’t think that it’s impossible since people really don’t follow the rules. A lot of people still think that COVID is fake. It’s very lax and complacent back there. The LA county already a lot of cases ever since I left and the numbers are still rising until now.
GHC: How is COVID affecting your school, career plans, family, and overall lifestyle? How do you picture celebrating Christmas and New Year now?
Karen: It’s been really hard, since I had to go home and take a break from studying. I have to take about 2 semesters off because taking musical theater through online classes does not feel it is worth it. The course is really expensive and I don’t think I am getting my money’s worth that way. It kinda sucks as well since I was supposed to graduate this upcoming February 2021. I also really miss being in LA and being with my friends. There’s also the fact that Broadway’s closed until 2021.
I honestly haven’t even thought about my career yet since everything seems impossible. I don’t know, maybe that’s just me but the world of entertainment now seems so hard to imagine. We usually celebrate Christmas out of town with my mom’s side of the family, but this Christmas we’ve decided to stay at home and just celebrate, just us. New Year would probably be the same. Just staying at home, maybe have a family dinner and celebrate a little.
GHC: What are you hopeful about now? Has COVID-19 derailed you from achieving your dreams? What are the lessons of COVID-19 for you?
Karen : Hopefully I can go back to LA by February and start studying again so that I can graduate by October. I hope by then it’s safer and that there’s a vaccine that works. I know that a lot of things will stay different but I’m still hopeful. I haven’t given up on my dreams yet, I keep myself motivated by still working on my craft even though I’m not in school.
There’s so much that I’ve learned during COVID. When I came back to LA, for the first time ever, I was alone with no friends, no family, just me in my room. It was really hard for me since I’m an extrovert and I just love hanging out with people! I was struggling with my mental health. But then I decided to work on myself and depend on myself. I started working out, eating healthy, learning new songs on the ukulele, practicing my make up skill, etc. I also started working on my faith, trying to strengthen my relationship with God. I learned so much about myself, and not to toot my own horn, I’ve grown so much as a person. Even though days seem so blur, I’m still optimistic that everything will be better and that whatever’s meant for me will happen in His own time.