Work Now + Beyond

Just because we work from home doesn’t mean we should work 24/7

In theory, it is very simple. You go to the office and work, then you come home and relax. However, what happens when you have to work from home? Since people have started to work from home, there has been a 40% increase in work hours in the U.S. That’s around three extra hours of work according to data from NordVPN Teams.

People often don’t understand working from home and it’s often been dismissed as an excuse to be lazy or unproductive, lending remote work a certain pressure that does not exist in face-to-face jobs. This mentality has pushed many employees to work longer hours to prove their productivity, which is further demanded as some companies have started asking for timesheets to be filled to review employee work. This shows a lack of trust in employees that work from home and so it can create a lot of pressure to prove that you’re not slacking off just because you work from home.

Another reason why people find themselves logging longer hours is the difference between people’s schedules. This is particularly true of client-facing work where some people get a start later in the day than others and that impacts their team schedule and the overall amount of hours a day that a person spends working.

Moreover, those extra hours of work after often being pushed to the weekends. The fact that we’re not allowed to go out has somehow made it acceptable to set meetings during the weekends or to make work calls late in the evening.

There is this perception that being at home means that you are accessible, that you can be interrupted, and there is nothing stopping you from sitting back in front of the computer. Because hey we are at home, so we must be free! Therefore, making it acceptable to monopolize someone’s weekend to deal with a work issue. But it isn’t. There are a million things that keep people busy during the weekends and even if it doesn’t, keeping a work/life balance is necessary for mental health.

We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of self-care, of switching off our minds from work for our mental health.

Moreover, in times of uncertainty, where there is a lot of pressure around you, it is very easy to overwork as a coping mechanism and unknowingly pushing others to follow the same pattern. Add to that the stress and pressure of quarantine, where you can’t leave your house and there are layoffs… it’s a recipe for burnout and disaster.

Burnout can deeply affect your health as well as your self-esteem. It is a state of physical and mental exhaustion that originates in prolonged periods of stress, usually related to work. Its symptoms are exhaustion, cynism, and feeling less capable of doing the job. It can also present itself with physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachache. It is dangerous for your physical and mental health.

The time of crisis management has passed. We have been dealing with the pandemic for the past three months and have reached a “new normal”. Many people will work from home for a long time, even as businesses return to “normal”. For this reason, it is important to establish work boundaries that protect our mental health.

There are many ways of establishing boundaries and it is important to find the one that works for you. Some of the most useful ones are scheduling and having separate spaces for different activities.

Schedule your day, especially if you’re a student or a freelancer that doesn’t have a set number of working hours. Find the time where you are most productive and organize your day and your week around that. However, make sure that you establish several hours every day where you are not allowed to work. For example, this could be from dinner time onwards, or even a whole day of the week, like Saturdays. Use that time to exercise, to eat, and to spend time with family and friends (physically or virtually). During this time, don’t take work calls, don’t even talk about work or worry about it. Give your mind a rest.

Taking breaks is important. Surveys have revealed that, on avergae, employees are only productive three hours every day, and these hours should be free of interruptions. Working 24/7 is not the answer. Instead, focus on having shorter but more productive work time slots.

A study by Blake Ashforth, of Arizona State University, stressed the need for “boundary-crossing activities” that mark the transition from work to non-work roles, such as commuting. He states that this transition helps to make a mental transition as well. When working from home the transitions are a lot more simple, but not less important. Take a shower, get out of pajamas, sit on the desk. Those small actions might help to create a work mindset and, moreover, undoing them (putting on pajamas, taking makeup off, lying on the sofa/bed) will help you unwind.

The fact that we cannot leave our homes doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve a break. We do and we should take it, for the sake of our health.

Music Pop Culture

Charli XCX is redefining pop one quarantine album at a time

Unless you’ve been living under a rock this past decade, you’ve probably heard of Charli XCX. The music provocateur broke out in the early 2010s by featuring in Iggy Azalea’s iconic smash-hit Fancy, and then made her own mark in the music industry with her song Boom Clap

Truth to be said, none of these songs appealed to me. Their brashness, and lack of lyrical creativity was something I disliked (along with how overplayed they were). But over the years, Charli XCX has managed to completely flip her sound, from a traditional raucous pop formula to a futuristic, unique techno-rave one that’s ahead of its time. Simply put, Charli has become a niche, unstoppable force in her field – a kind of evolution that’s nothing short of admirable. 

And that’s why, it’s no surprise to her fans that in the past 6 weeks, she’s made an entire album from scratch. Dubbed as ‘the first album of the quarantine’, How I’m Feeling Now features experimental club tracks, edgy ballads and anthemic production. In true millennial fashion, Charli documented the whole album-making process – collaborating with fans for song lyrics, sharing melodies on Instagram Live and vlogging her all-nighters while editing its tracks – a kind of transparency in creative process that is almost unheard of.

The album heavily centers around the rollercoaster of emotions she’s felt during this uncertain time, isolation, nostalgia and the highs and lows of her relationship. The album kicks off with “pink diamond”, a bombastic, electronic expression of missed adrenaline rushes, with a Grimes-esque influence. It’s glossy and laser-sharp- setting a good precedent for the rest of the album. 

It’s similar to “anthems“, a club banger designed specifically for a party for one. The track is studded with synths, cut-up and layered in just the right places – making it feel refreshing yet familiar at the same time. It’s a Charli classic – the noisy, glamorous aesthetic that she’s mastered in previous mixtapes, like Vroom Vroom.

However, it’s at her most vulnerable that Charli XCX truly shines on the record. On “claws”, which is a neon-pink, mutant pop confession of being helplessly in love, she puts forth one of her catchiest melodies. It’s an upbeat song with an incredible beat – one that’s definitely a hidden gem in the singer’s discography. “forever”, the album’s second single, is possibly quarantine in a song. Charli XCX wistfully reminisces on the lifestyle we all took for granted before the pandemic. The production is invasive and harsh at first – but is somehow complemented by the gentle, fairy-like vocals Charli provides.

Charli manages to lend her signature, electro-pop touch to the albums ballads as well, a prime example of this being the emotional 7 years” – a tribute to the beauty of long-term love. It’s endearing and complemented by its low-key, subtle instrumental. 

While How I’m Feeling Now does have its weak, almost excessive moments – such as “c2.0” whose artistic aim is ruined by splintered, static production – it’s a cohesive, varied body of work. Charli encapsulates the anxious, yet hopeful emotion that we’re all feeling right now. With no collaborators (unlike her previous work, the self-titled Charli), it puts the singer at the forefront of music, proving how much of an innovator she is in her arena.

If there’s anyone who knows how to do internet-pop, it’s Charli XCX, and How I’m Feeling Now is a testament to that. 

Mental Health The Pandemic Love + Sex Love

What is the new intimacy in a world without touch?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the very fabric of our lives in more ways than we can count. The entire world is uncertain; not knowing where to turn or who to turn to. It seems that the only thing that is constant is this sense of dangling amongst nothing. 

Before this crisis, many people would escape their routine to find some sort of getaway within the world of dating, but now COVID-19 has taken charge and made this nearly impossible. Being forcefully torn away from such a break keeps people trapped in the banalities of everyday life. Not to mention that all of those feelings of tediousness have become exacerbated in quarantine. I can say for myself that it feels like I am spiraling in this scenario which has no end in sight. 

Something that used to keep me grounded, the relationships that I have with the people that I don’t live with, is indefinitely and physically unattainable. I’m having a hard time grappling with the long-lasting implications that this has for our generation of young people and lovers. I’m afraid that Coronavirus is changing how we date. 

Relationships have become completely reliant on technologyand I’m turned off. Sure people have been online dating for awhile now, but there was always a possibility of something in-person. I hope that when the COVID-19 outbreak blows over virtual romance doesn’t become permanent. 

In-person chemistry is almost impossible to replicate; certain social cues, expressions, and emotions can only barely be acknowledged virtually.

Therefore, a very distinct barrier exists in terms of dating and love during times like these, and it’s not our fault. We can, and we will, do what we can to fill those gaps up until we start to brush against the walls of such technological limitations

For those same reasons, I am anxious about the lack of physical touch while in isolation for COVID-19. Being able to simply touch, or be near, another person is known to generate trust and sense of community. My boyfriend and I are not quarantining together, for simple and obvious reasons.

We didn’t live with each other before all of this either. But now, our relationship has been unprecedentedly restricted. I can see the strain. We depend on things like physical touch, even just being in the literal presence of each other to feel love and comfort. The lack of touch seems to be a completely different experience than this; maybe the opposite.

I feel unsure and as if there is a dull, whole body, ache that never gets settled. In the time since our ability to touch has been put on hold, I’ve recognized just how essential it is. I am hungry to be held, even if for just a minute. I can only try to mimic his open-armed grasp with a weighted blanket for so long before I have forgotten the sensation of it entirelyuntil it becomes a distant memory. 

Sometimes, during all of this, I feel strange in my own body. It is as if my skin is thinner than ever before. I am thinking that this sensitivity is because our distance has manifested in my mind as rejection. My relationship has been steady, but shaky, while in quarantine. There are just some things that can’t be duplicated. I have found that when him and I do talk on the phone, I don’t have much to say.

Not that there is nothing left to say, there is plenty, but that I don’t want to have to say anything to be with him. I am okay with just being near. Much of the foundation of our relationship is based on small physicalities that lay on those exact walls of technological limitations.

I just don’t want to forget about them or what they feel like. I need them in times like these; my body has been trained to rely on them to feel salvation from suffering. 

I am afraid that we, as completely social creatures, will become so deprived and lonely that we won’t know how to fix it when society opens up again. The result of our current isolation is way beyond ourselves and our actions, but the implications still remain. I can’t help but wonder if we are becoming too far gone from the depths of compassion to save whatever is left of it.

Skin Care Lookbook

My acne acts up when I’m really stressed — and I’m really stressed right now

All throughout my preteen and teen years, I’ve been locked in battle with my acne. I just feel like I’m never able to get it right for any substantial period of time before it flares up again and I’m left right back where I started: confused, frustrated, and uncomfortable. I tried everything I could before consulting with a dermatologist, who guided me in the right direction in terms of managing my skincare. But still, my skin is nowhere near perfect, especially right now. 

It’s hard to maintain and keep up with a solid skincare routine when I’m worried about keeping track of everything else. On top of that, my acne acts up when I’m under stress. So needless to say, quarantine has been a never ending fight between me and my skin. And I am losing terribly. The worst part is that my acne just makes me even more stressed – it really is a terrible, endless cycle. 

It feels ugly, too, because no one on TV or in magazines really has acne. Their skin always seems to be smooth, radiant, and totally flawless. I know that most of it is probably photoshopped, but still, it doesn’t really help my self-esteem. Plus, some people I know just have better genetics for skin, which means that they don’t really have to worry about it. When I see these things, though, I almost always feel like I’m doing something wrong, like my acne is something that I should be embarrassed about or ashamed of. Sometimes, I even feel like I want to hide. My acne has held me back from making progress in building my confidence because every time I look in the mirror, I see something wrong and flawed. 

Most of the time, when my acne gets really bad, I try to drink an exorbitant amount of water, eat healthier, and use a ton of aloe. During quarantine, however, I have fallen back into old habits. I don’t really eat very healthy and I am not exercising a bunch or getting much sunlight. This has not only brought out the worst of me, but also the worst of my skin. I thought that giving my skin a break from makeup and the wear and tear of everyday life would be good for it, but of course I was wrong. With all of the added stress of living through a pandemic on top of my normal stressors, my acne has gotten progressively worse. Surprisingly, I’m more dehydrated than I was before, and I eat much more junk food too. I’m also guilty of not really doing much to take care of my skin right now because I’m not seeing anyone or getting dressed up, and have just been incredibly lazy these past few weeks.

But now, I’m fed up. I don’t want to feel unattractive or upset with myself anymore. If I don’t do as much as I can to feel beautiful, both inside and out, then I won’t make any progress elsewhere. In any case, my skin certainly won’t heal itself. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that if I want to take care of my skin, I have to take care of myself and my mind first. So what I’ve been doing lately to work on this is listening to a lot of soothing music, doing some yoga in the mornings, and sitting by the window while I work so that I can feel the sun on my skin. I try not to go overboard with my skincare regime during a breakout because it will drive me crazy. Especially since the results are not immediate, which can become very frustrating after a while. I’d rather focus on doing things that make me feel good or feed my soul, because that is what will help me achieve an overall sense of beauty and confidence.

My issues with acne definitely won’t be going away anytime soon, so I think it’s important for me to realize that dwelling on it won’t solve anything. I just have to keep on keeping on.

Tech Now + Beyond

When the world stopped, videogames were there to let us keep living

We all feel the need to escape at some point in our lives. Even more so in the middle of a pandemic. And, in times like these, when we cannot escape physically, we do it virtually. This is why, if you have been paying any attention to social media, you would have already noticed how everyone has become obsessed with videogames. Particularly “life simulation” ones like The Sims and Animal Crossing.

We are turning to videogames that let us live normal lives.

Interestingly, the videogames that are taking the world by storm are the simple ones, the ones that imitate real life. People no longer want the adventure or fear of games set in fantasy worlds. They seem to already have too much of that in real life, with daily death counts and quarantine measures. Instead, we are turning to videogames that let us live the normal life that we are craving so much in these pandemic times.

The current situation has turned the little village of Animal Crossing into a place full of adventure. It has given us back the things that we have always taken for granted, like going for a walk or hugging a friend.

As someone who has only left their house twice in the past two months, I get that. I miss it too. I understand why even the concept of “outside” seems adventurous. I also miss a more simple life where you don’t have to worry about the health of your loved ones. Sometimes real life is stressful enough. In that sense, videogames have become our tools to ignore the sadness and stress of our current situation.

There are millions of people partaking in this escapism. You only have to look at the numbers.

According to Verizon, videogame usage went up by 75% in the US’s first week of quarantine. Data from Streamlabs shows that platforms like Twitch, YouTube Gaming, and Facebook Gaming have experienced a 20% increase in usage hours across services After the release of Valorant, by Riot Games, Twitch reported that it had reached, for the first time, the milestone of having more than 4 million concurrent viewers on its platform. Data from Comcast that shows how new game downloads have increased by 80%. One of these new games is Animal Crossing: New Horizons which sold more than 2.6 million physical copies in its first 10 days of sale. Another example is Call of Duty: Warzone which obtained 30 million players within its first week of release.

Videogames give us simple things that we can no longer do in real life.

People are not only playing videogames, they’re also discussing them on social media. In March alone, Twitter reported a 71% rise in overall conversation about videogames and a 38% rise in unique authors. In the US alone the numbers were similar: 89% spike in conversation and a 50% increase in unique authors. By far, the most discussed game is Animal Crossing, which doubles the volume of tweets of the next most popular game.

Honestly, these numbers do not surprise me at all.

Videogames have always been attractive because they give users full control. Therefore, their popularity is due to rise in a time of such uncertainty.

Our routine, our normalcy, has been completely disrupted by COVID-19. However, videogames are set in worlds that we can design ourselves and allow us to do the simple things that we can no longer do in real life: go for a walk, hug our friends, host a party – they give us back control over our lives. Moreover, they provide a light-hearted topic of conversation for people to discuss on social media.

Videogames allow our minds to escape, while also creating an online community where to connect with other people. It is no wonder that we all love to play them during the quarantine.

Personally, I have turned to a more old-school game, Stardew Valley, a game where you have to create your own farm. I play at least once a week while calling my boyfriend. Together we make simple decisions: whether we buy chickens or what plants to grow next. It is much easier to do that than talk about the hard questions, like when we are going to see each other again.

I’m quarantined a continent away from my partner and playing a simple and fun game like this one together has helped us with our long-distance relationship.

Although I love Zoom and Skype calls with him and with my friends, there is a point where you run out of topics of conversation. Because we are all under lockdown and no one has any news. And the few news that we have are not uplifting in the slightest.

Playing videogames has allowed me to get a distraction from the real world, as well as a way of spending time with my loved ones, free from conversations about the end of the world. It is not right to forget about what is happening out there. But sometimes it is necessary if you want to stay afloat and hold on to hope and videogames are that buoy.

Makeup Beauty Lookbook

How social isolation altered my relationship with makeup

I wake up, make a cup of coffee, have a shower, and get ready for my nine to five. It’s a normal working day; except it isn’t. It’s a working day in quarantine. 

Being in quarantine has changed my routine in many interesting ways. One such way is that I no longer wear makeup daily. I’ve stopped spending each morning penciling my eyebrows a little darker, lengthening my lashes with mascara, or carving a cheekbone with my bronzer palette. Without spending my mornings subtly improving my face through makeup, I’ve learned to love my face as it is. 

Coming to rely on makeup:

I’ve struggled with insecurities about my face for at least a decade. Like many teenagers, I had bad acne. But my struggle with acne followed me into my early twenties. While I wasn’t permitted to wear foundation as a high school student, I came to rely on it as a matter of necessity as an adult.

To add to my plethora of adolescent insecurities, I also developed insecurity surrounding my eyes. In high school, a friend told me my eyes were, “a four out of ten.” I proceeded to develop new insecurity: my eyes. So I started wearing mascara daily, with no exceptions. Although I’ve since come to love my eyes, I still seldom leave my home without mascara on my lashes.  

Makeup became my tool for covering up my insecurities. Bronzer slimmed my chubby cheeks. Mascara made my eyes look bigger and brighter. Foundation covered my acne and acne scars. I only really liked my face when it had makeup on it, and on some days, even that didn’t do the trick.

I had become so used to what my face looked like with makeup on it, that I learned to dislike my face as it is, naturally.

The pursuit of enoughness:

Don’t get me wrong: I love makeup. It can empower the people who use it and I enjoy the artistry of it. But, I had become so used to what my face looked like with makeup on it, that I learned to dislike my face as it is, naturally. In quarantine, without wearing makeup daily, I don’t have my made-up face to compare my natural face to. I look in the mirror and I see myself. For the first time in a long time, the beauty of the person looking back at me is enough.

Enoughness is something I’ve been in pursuit of for most of my life. Much of the way that the world is represented to us through media and advertising is geared towards us feeling like we don’t have enough, and that we ourselves are not enoughI often reflect on how major corporations manufacture our insecurities to capitalize on them. Major cosmetic brand Maybelline is famous for its tagline, “Maybe she’s born with it. Maybe it’s Maybelline.” Taglines such as this perpetuate the idea that what you are born with is not enough. Forced to absorb this rhetoric, it’s easy to begin to believe these ideas of who is and isn’t “enough”.

Enoughness is something I’ve been in pursuit of for most of my life.

Unlearning beauty ideals, learning self-love:

While I’ve spent a lot of my adult life working to unlearn these ideals, that work takes time and is difficult. The work of unlearning beauty ideals that society has ingrained in us often involves deep introspection and a heck of a lot of reading. Imagine my surprise when quarantine (of all things!) helped me to unlearn some of the beauty ideals I’ve been working to overcome for at least a decade.

It’s a strange feeling for me to wake up, look in my mirror, and like what I see. It feels cheesy to articulate this feeling. Writing about self-acceptance often feels that way, but it shouldn’t. I deserve to feel that I am enough, as is. You deserve to feel enough. We deserve to feel enough.

Fashion Lookbook

The fashion accessory of the moment is a homemade face mask

As quarantine begins to (hopefully) wrap up, we can only wait and see as to what else 2020 has in store for us. Just because quarantine is over, however, it doesn’t mean we can all go out and be all over each other. With a certain amount of social distancing being practiced, it is safe to say that society will – at least for the foreseeable future – be smothered in protective face masks. And due to the shortage of medical masks, most of us will be wearing homemade cloth masks – equally as protective, but decidedly more fashionable.

Mask-making has taken over homes for the better. After quarantine, fashion will undergo a necessary transformation, and wearing these masks will become the new norm. Countless DIY tutorials have been made and small organizations formed to aid in the production and distribution of these homemade masks. People have also made donations and are running fundraisers so that those in need can stay protected from the virus as well. 

Colorful mask from House of Perna.
[Image description: Colorful mask from House of Perna.] Via House of Perna.
Making these new masks has not only brought society together, but also shows how we can be resourceful and creative while in quarantine. Because fashion won’t look the same again for a while, people have already begun experimenting with different types of fabric and various patterns to make their masks look more stylish. 

For example, Californian designer Alyssa Nicole has crafted beautiful, chic black face masks and is selling them online. Others are donating their homemade masks to those in need. Companies, like Disney, have also been selling masks and donating their profits to charity so that children in underserved communities can be protected. Another example of this is Joann, a company bringing volunteers together to create face masks for donation.

Black protective face masks.
[Image description: Black protective face masks.] Via Alyssa Nicole.
Although some luxury labels have started taking charge, mask-making for the most part has stayed within American homes. This has allowed Americans to put their own creative spin on the masks, while also making them effective as a protective measure. My mom has made so many different masks, and each time she uses a different fabric or a different design. Every mask that she makes is unique, and she gets so excited every time she makes one. These masks don’t just signify a safety measure, but are also the result of a lot of creativity and care.

Colorful mask from The Collective at Indigo Style.
[Image description: Colorful mask from The Collective at Indigo Style.] Via Indigo Style.
It will definitely take some time to adjust to these masks. They look and feel different every time we put them on. Popular fashion has had to progress beyond aesthetics and feeling. Now, we have to consider the safety and health of ourselves and those around us every time we get dressed. It’s a responsibility we owe to ourselves and to our communities. So go on, get masking. 


How important are our fashion choices in the midst of a global pandemic?

It’s day twenty-something of quarantine where I live. Comfort is something I’ve come to crave in these very bizarre and scary times. I read somewhere that this situation isn’t about simply working from home – rather, it’s about having no choice but to stay at home due to a global pandemic during which we are trying to work. In the midst of everything feeling offbeat, we turn to what is safe: warming bowls of pantry pasta, Netflix parties, endless FaceTime calls, and clothes that make us feel fuzzy and comfortable – usually our pyjamas. Whilst many of us stick to PJs or sweatpants for our quarantine OOTDs, there’s a whole movement of people not letting social distancing stop them from living their best fashion lives.

At its core, quarantine fashion too can be a source of comfort for many. Dressing as if you weren’t confined to your home is, in a way, a defiant alternative to the reality of life at this moment in time. It gives those partaking in it something to look forward to everyday, and the ability to have control over and replicate a semblance of normalcy in some aspect of their everyday lives.

An example of this is the Working From Home Fits Instagram account (@wfhfits), which documents the outfits of various followers who send in photos of their chosen ensembles for the day. As you scroll through the account’s posts, what is most eye-opening is the little glances it affords us into how we humans are living right now. The account, like a candle, illuminates different parts of the world, giving us a sneak peek into the quarantine outfits of people in the midst of their improvised home offices, with their pets and their plants. There is something incredibly special about being able to partake in the experiences being shared. Everything is so unfiltered, so real and so relatable, that it creates a camaraderie and solidarity among us as we face the world today.

Could wearing our favorite meant-for-outside outfit while stuck inside really make so much of a difference in our day?

Maybe it’s the thought of wearing their pre-planned outfit that helps someone get out of bed in the mornings. Maybe it’s the group chat’s glowing responses to a photo of said outfit that brightens up their day. Maybe it’s the thought of wearing all these different outfits outside once quarantine lifts that gives someone hope. Maybe it’s what helps them see the light at the end of the tunnel.

If you can’t understand how someone dressing for comfort or making fun fashion choices, or doing a full face of makeup can be so impactful, you have to know that the magic is as much in the process as it is in the result. In a lot of ways, our outer appearance affects our mental health. If this isn’t a time for deliberate and dedicated self-care, what is?

In the middle of thinking about all this, I took out my makeup bag and swept my favorite glitter eyeshadow across my eyelids, and put on my favorite dangly star earrings. It’s been close to four weeks since I’ve done either, yet I didn’t expect such a small act to make me feel so much better while writing. What was mundane isn’t mundane anymore. What was routine can somehow bring joy to me now. Quarantine-chic, quarantine-fits, quarantine-lookbooking – there’s something to be said in favor of it all.

It’s incredibly important to remember, however, that for all those who consider style a form of personal expression and haven’t dressed up much while staying at home, that’s okay too. It is truly about what makes us feel most comfortable in these wild times. Clothes and accessories and makeup are all tools for any individual to use to their own liking. What brings comfort? What brings joy? Is it those oversized bunny slippers, or is it a tailored power-suit? It really isn’t for anyone but you to decide.

Coronavirus The World

Dear EU, I defended you and now you’re letting me down

Since I moved from Spain to the UK in 2016, the Brexit debate has followed me even in my dreams. I have spent years defending the value and importance of the European Union (EU) and arguing that Britain’s decision to leave it was a mistake. I am not so sure anymore.

During these last four years, I have been an adamant defender of the European Union.

As an EU supporter, I was appalled by its late reaction to COVID-19. The EU only closed its borders when most of its members had already done so, and failed to create a coordinated plan to buy medical material and provide economic support. While EU countries fight each other over respirators and loans, my hope on a united international response to the pandemic is slowly crumbling.

I arrived in the UK less than two months after the Brexit referendum in which the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union. This decision became the most common topic of conversation throughout my first year of university, especially when people found out about my Spanish nationality. The same happened when I went back home.

During these last four years, I have been an adamant defender of the European Union. I have argued with university classmates over the financial support that this institution provides for its members and the importance of open borders for trade and travel.

I have been disappointed by the slow and inefficient response that the European Union has had to the pandemic.

As a Spanish person, I am thankful for all the support that Europe has given to my country. Spain’s recovery from the 2008 economic crash has been possible thanks to our membership to the EU. Moreover, as someone in the world of academia, I recognize the dependence that universities have on European funding.

I have supported Europe because I believe there’s strength in numbers. However, when times of need have arrived, the EU states have failed to stick together. The EU’s response to COVID-19  has been slow and inefficient.

Despite the threat that this virus presented since December, the EU failed to create a plan to control a possible outbreak. To this day, there is still no common system across Europe for testing, data acquisition, or quarantine guidelines. Each country has had to decide individually what measures to take.

“This initial lack of solidarity with Italy has already made for a pretty big reputation damage,” said Gostynska-Jakubowska

The first decision that the EU made to stop COVID-19 was the closing of  Schengen borders, on March 17th. However, by this time, Germany, France, Italy, and Spain had already established strict border restrictions, and the United States had banned flights to Europe.

Even when Italy asked for Europe’s help, criticizing the European countries’ bans on exportations of personal protective equipment, the UE was slow to reply. 

“This initial lack of solidarity with Italy has already made for pretty big reputation damage,” said Gostyńska-Jakubowska. “Average Italians will probably remember more favorably the fact that the Chinese are now sending them equipment and will hold it against the member states for turning their back on them.”

While EU countries fight each other over respirators and loans, my hope on an international and solidary response to the pandemic is slowly crumbling.

The EU has recently agreed on some economic measures to financially support its members. For example, they have lifted the rule that governments must keep their budget deficits under 3% of their GDP. The European Central Bank has also created a €750 billion emergency plan to buy government debt.

Nonetheless, it is not enough, and governments keep debating. Last week Mauro Ferrari resigned from his post as head of the European Research Council. He told The Times: “I arrived at the ERC a fervent supporter of the EU [but] the COVID-19 crisis completely changed my views.”

On April 7th the European finance ministers had a 14-hour online meeting to discuss further financial aid. It arrived to a dead end.  A second meeting a few days later approved a €500 billion European package of funds to support member states during the pandemic. However, countries still fight each other. Italy and Spain defend the need for “coronabonds” that would raise money against shared European debt. However, nations such as Germany and the Netherlands strongly oppose them.

Despite the knowledge of the possible threat of COVID-19, the EU failed to create a coordinated plan to control a possible outbreak

One diplomatic source told CNN: “After this is over, we can’t all go back to sitting around the table and pretending this didn’t happen.”

I have always defended the European Union. I believe that international institutions keep nationalism at bay and promote a more peaceful world. I do not want the EU to fail, or collapse. However, it needs to do much better if it wants to maintain its pre-pandemic position.


This pandemic offers Muslim women the opportunity to reclaim agency over their religious practice

For many Muslims, Ramadan is a month met with much anticipation. For some, it’s an opportunity to rekindle connection – with nightly iftars, congregational prayers, and other mosque activities, it’s a time where community spirit thrives.  For others it can be a challenging time; both physical and cultural barriers result in some, such as women, or mothers, having an unmosqued Ramadan. This is due to the fact that in some countries or communities, women are barred from attending the mosque, or the infrastructure and space allotted to them suggest women’s space in a mosque as an afterthought rather than an integral or central part of the Muslim community.

For the entire month, the Imam leads the congregation in Taraweeh prayer, which happens only during Ramadan. Ramadan 2020 is taking place in the midst of a pandemic, and most people are observing social distancing in some form. As such, mosques will be mostly empty except for the Imam and possibly a handful of congregants.

Understandably, many people fear they will miss out and have a less meaningful Ramadan this year. Without the mosque, there is a lack of that sense of community that so many people look forward to and rely on. The concept of going virtual is somewhat difficult to grasp being far from what people define as a community.

The absence of Taraweeh prayers and the mosque community bring to light a pertinent question: why are men the gatekeepers of religion?

Men are finding themselves in a strange predicament – this year they are on the receiving end of being unmosqued; it’s the first time they’re faced with closed doors, being unwelcomed, and not having a space for worship. Women, on the other hand, know these experiences all too well.

For too long women in Muslim communities have been on the receiving end of the false narrative that their spiritual growth and development are tethered to a man or the men in their communities. For a woman, it’s taken in stride that her presence is not always welcomed or encouraged in the mosque environment, with it being cited that it is better for women to pray at home instead of at the mosque. Women have learned to adapt to these cultural mindsets and advocate for reform within the constraints of a mosque board,  though it is not always received well – change is hard to come by.

A spiritual path for women has been purported to be through men, whether an imam or their relatives. Accessibility to God, through religious practices, is taught to be fixed method, that men lead in worship, women follow, and it’s extrapolated that without men leading, women are therefore cut off from particular modes of worship, and their spiritual journey is curtailed. 

Social distancing and a pandemic may be putting a damper on regular Ramadan activities, but I’d like to put forward the idea that it’s a time where women can flourish spiritually, and it should be embraced. This Ramadan is an opportunity to flip the script and reclaim what is ours. Now is the optimal time, as women, to recognize and reclaim Ramadan as a spiritual experience that we can set the tone for and experience in our own ways. 

It’s scary and unnerving for some women who’ve been conditioned or brought up to think that their spiritual well-being relies on being led by a man when the opposite is actually the reality. In early Muslim communities, women led other women in prayers; they were in charge and invested in their own spiritual growth. Countless women memorized and recited Qur’an, a topic that can be contentious nowadays; though in some countries it is accepted (and encouraged)  for women to recite in public, there are still places where the overarching cultural perception is that a woman should refrain from projecting her voice in public spaces. 

This Ramadan is surely going to be different from what we’re used to, but there is a silver lining in all this COVID-induced chaos. The absence of congregations this Ramadan actually levels the gender-biased playing field. It gives women the space to unearth what they require to nurture a spiritual relationship for themselves – one which men are not privy to.  

Music Pop Culture

Dua Lipa’s new album “Future Nostalgia” is exactly what we needed in these hard times

I listened to Future Nostalgia the day my country went into complete lockdown. They say art is an escape from the most turbulent of times – which is why, it only felt right to be transported into Dua Lipa’s dazzling, 80s-inspired dance party while I was dreadfully quarantined at home.

The Grammy-winning artist’s sophomore album is smooth, impeccably produced pop studded with thick baselines and funky beats. It’s a distinctive dash of neon in the bland, trap-infused world of modern day music – and perhaps, her boldest statement yet.

If anything, it’s a testament to the fact that Lipa has finally owned her sound. Right from the album’s opener, Future Nostalgia, where she expresses her female-alpha nature over groovy, Prince-inspired guitars, to its final track, ‘Boys Will Be Boys’, where she tackles sexism in the most badass way possible –  Dua Lipa exhibits a blasé confidence. It’s an unmistakable quality which gives us her strongest moments on the LP, of them being ‘Cool’ – a synth-heavy track showcasing Lipa’s gorgeous, raspy voice. Heavy bass is sprinkled across the song’s chorus, leaving you with no option but to dance along. It helps in setting the right tone for the rest of this musical journey through the decades.

But the party has just begun. As the album progresses, Lipa’s tracks burst with increasing energy and euphoria. ‘Don’t Start Now’ is a triumphant anthem about successfully moving on. ‘Physical’ (inspired by Olivia Newton John’s hit of the same name) is an absolute disco banger. ‘Break My Heart’ and ‘Love Again’ are her most vulnerable moments on the record. Both tracks feature incredible disco strings and hypnotic verses. They convey the common anxieties about falling in love and risking heartbreak.

However, the subtly-produced ‘Pretty Please’ is an unexpected highlight. Lipa’s voice is the undisputed star of the track. It shifts from fluttery falsettos to harmonies, giving it a charm that’s alluring and effortless at the same time.

There’s no doubt that in Future Nostalgia, Dua Lipa has somehow crafted the perfect mix of contemporary pop and retro sounds. Although its upbeat nature juxtaposes the gloomy timing of its release, it is an album the world desperately needs right now.

Not only does it provide a surge of happiness that distracts us from our worries, but also makes us nostalgic about a time when our dance parties weren’t just for one. “I wanted to make music that takes your mind away from that,” Lipa told Vogue Australia recently. “I wanted to just make it a bit easier for me to get out of bed and not think about the negative things that are going on in the world all the time.”

While her previous effort Dua Lipa saw her trying to find her niche between generic tropical and dark indie sounds, this album marks the success of her experimentation. Her meteoric rise to fame may have been faster than the time taken to count her ‘New Rules’, but Future Nostalgia proves that she’s here for the long run. And although Lipa doesn’t deliver any heart-on-your-sleeve lyrics or stirring emotional moments on the LP, she still manages to create an impact in her sphere.

Through her brilliant, technicolor attempt to bring grooviness back into the world, Dua Lipa has provided a glittery dose of positivity to me, and millions of other people around the world. Future Nostalgia may be an album made for the clubs, but its euphoria can still be experienced within the limited territory of your four walls. It’s an absolute blast through and through and cements Lipa’s place as the disco queen of the new decade.

Coronavirus The Pandemic Inequality

I am staying at home even if it means not saying goodbye to my loved ones

It’s day 30 of national lockdown in Spain and I have only left my house once: to go to the pharmacy. I am social distancing and staying away from my loved ones who are sick, and I am asking you to do the same.

I have an uncle who has been receiving oxygen at the hospital for the past two weeks and two aunts self-isolating at home with COVID-19 symptoms. I am confident that all of them will recover but I will not dare visit them. My cousin is also a few weeks short of her labor date and will need to go to the hospital to give birth. An event that was meant to be filled with joy and family will happen in silence, and it is for the best. It is not allowed, and it will do more harm than good.

I want to hug my aunts and tell them my uncle will get well. But, even if I feel fine, the risk is too high.

For all of them, for your loved ones, and for the people that you don´t know that also have loved ones, I am asking you to stay at home and social distance.

I have the relief of knowing that my family members are not in a critical stage and hopefully all of them will recover soon. But not everyone has that. Right now, the person that I feel for the most right now is my best friend. Her grandmother passed away last week. Yes, it was because of COVID-19.

My friend’s grandmother started having a fever a few days after her chemotherapy session. She went straight to the hospital and was diagnosed with an infection and tested for COVID-19. The test came back positive. She stayed alone at the hospital for several days. She was soon sedated so my friend and her whole family stopped being able to talk to her over the phone. A few days later she passed away, and the family was notified of the death in a phone call by an employee of a funerary home. Only four members of the family were allowed to attend the incineration, all while maintaining the security distance between them.

Given the case, I can grieve alone, but I will not be the cause of another person’s grief.

My friend’s grandmother was an incredible person. She grew up with supportive parents that encouraged her and her six sisters to have the same ambitions as their brothers. She finished a university degree and became the youngest female university professor at a time when most Spanish women were housewives. She loved playing bridge and golf, two games that she learned to play passed the age of 50, and she was very competitive in both. She had cancer but was starting to recover. She lived a full life, that has been sadly been cut short by the virus.

My best friend said goodbye without hugs or the kiss on the cheek that is traditional of Spanish greetings. She is grieving at home, and online, where she received hundreds of virtual messages. Her family, longing for a way to connect, organized a video conference to comfort each other, tell stories and grieve together.

I am asking you to social distance, even if your government has not. I am asking you to listen to the authorities and do as they say, even if it means not going for your daily run or being stuck in a tiny apartment. I too miss the streets, and fresh air, and seeing my friends and family that I have not visited since I went back to the UK after the Christmas break. I want to check on my sick family members and make sure that they are okay. I want to hug my aunts and tell them my uncle will get well. I want to meet my cousin’s baby. But, even if I feel fine, the risk is too high.

My best friend is grieving at home, and online.

I know that social distancing can be hard and that people’s homes can sometimes be very difficult environments. I feel lucky to be in a position where I can social distance and keep studying without worrying about the next paycheck. Many people live in small houses or do not have a good relationship with the family they are quarantined with. My boyfriend spent a week inside his room to protect his father, who is considered high-risk. We are quarantined on different continents, and I don´t know when I will be able to see him again. Quarantine is hard, but it saves lives, and I am willing to do what it takes for a cause like that.

Because every day the death tolls are lower. Last week we were counting almost 1,000 deceased in a day, and today we ONLY had 510. That is around 500 people that have been able to keep their lives, 500 healthy people, 500 families not having to grieve.

For the first time in a long time, our individual actions matter. We may not be able to cure cancer or end discrimination, and most of us work in industries that are not life or death. But today we can make a difference. A real one.

Quarantine is hard, but it saves lives, and I am willing to do what it takes for a cause like that.

We need to remember that COVID-19 is treatable. However, it only is if you can access the necessary medical care should you need it. By limiting the spread of the virus we give space for hospitals to breathe and treat the current patients. The biggest challenge of COVID-19 is the length of time that it takes for a person to show symptoms and that many people never show them. Therefore, although you might feel fine, you might be the cause of someone else’s illness. So please stay at home. I know the sacrifice is great, but the alternative is appalling.

Instead of longing to go out, I have learned to find comfort in the small things that remind me of human compassion and solidarity. Every evening, at 8 pm, the whole of Spain comes out to their balconies and gives an applause to the healthcare workers and other people that are out in the trenches for us. The sound of the country coming together gives me enough strength to face the next day and hope that my loved ones are also hearing that applause. At the moment that is all that can give them. Because, given the case, I can grieve alone, but I will not be the cause of another person’s grief.