In Quarantine With a Family I Must Leave

On top of pandemic stress, U.S. immigration rules require me to move.

by Anonymous

I already was experiencing a lot of uncertainty when the coronavirus hit New York.

I have been in foster care in New York City for six months, after fleeing political violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). I have a great foster family in the Bronx, at least until I turn 18 this month. Then, under the U.S. rules for unaccompanied minors, I must be moved, which has been more stress hanging over everything else.

Since March 16, I’ve been locked in the house. It’s just me and my foster parents. Their rules are (1) wash your hands, and (2) stay in the house as much as possible. My foster mom said if I’m really bored I can go outside for a walk wearing a mask and gloves.

It feels strange to be more worried than my foster family is. The other day, my foster mother said, “Let’s go outside for a walk.”

I said, “Mom, the news said to stay home!”

She started teasing me about being afraid. We laughed.

They cannot be as cautious as me because they both have to go to work. My foster dad works Wednesdays and Thursdays, and Mom works every day from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. They wear gloves and masks and wash their hands thoroughly when they get home.

Home With My Family

I feel scared that they could get exposed to the virus, but their companies require them to work. Though they tease me, they are scared too.

We have our routines now. Every Wednesday I clean the whole house: bathrooms, kitchen, and the rest of the rooms. I hang out with my foster mom in the kitchen or sitting room when she’s home. Recently I took a car ride with my foster father to pick up some food from a restaurant, my first time outside in a month. It felt great to breathe fresh air.

We talked about the lockdown and how strange it was that there was no traffic at 6 p.m. We saw a testing area for COVID-19, but there were no people there.

My foster family, which already feels like my family, hasn’t changed in the pandemic, except we wash our hands more. They are still supportive and caring because they don’t want me to be mentally affected. They got me Disney Channel, a study light, and beautiful summer dresses. My foster mom is getting emotional about my leaving when I turn 18 next month. She tells me she’s going to miss me.

Hard to Focus on School at Home

My high school officially closed March 16, and on March 19, I went to school to get a computer so I could study online. I get my homework from Google Classroom via email. When I’m done with my work, I submit it and send a message to let my teacher know I finished. I ask a question if I don’t understand something. There is no video chat with any teachers, but some are reaching out via email.

Studying at home is hard. I have trouble focusing on what I’m doing when I’m stuck in one place. I need to be outside to get some fresh air and come back to the building.

While I’m studying, I get phone calls from friends and family members from the DRC as well as calls about my immigration case and future home. I can’t avoid their calls or they will worry, and I need to talk to people to deal with the stress of the quarantine. Still, I need self-discipline to be able to concentrate on my assignments.

I’ll take the call and put my work off if I need to rest. I also take breaks from schoolwork by doing dishes. I’m working well in social studies and English, but keeping up with math is a little hard. I’m trying my best to work on IXL to get a good understanding. Sometimes I worked on Khan Academy’s videos. I studied English back in Congo, but it is not my first language.

I’m not sure how teachers could make this easier; I’m just trying to push myself to do it. A lot of other students are not really interested in working online, but we don’t have a choice. It’s to prevent us all from getting coronavirus.

How My Agency Helps

I talk to my immigration attorney on the phone or by video chat.

My agency is using Kahoot!, a website that offers quizzes and trivia competitions, to teach us things we need to know about living in the United States. Today, our skillbuilder Emmie put my friend Mohammed and me in a competition in Google Hangout to answer questions in Kahoot!. They included:

“What age can you get a driver’s license?”

“What is a lease?”

“At what age can a person get married in NYC?”

“How old do you have to be to buy a house?”

Learning the answers to these questions from Emmie was really useful for immigrants like us.

The Worst for Extroverts

As an extroverted person, I get bored staying home. I miss the activities I used to do, such as attending church, art group at my agency, writing for Represent at the Youth Communication newsroom in Manhattan, and going to the gym.

We are doing Zumba and yoga on video hangouts with the skill leaders from my foster care agency, Amy and Amanda. I have been enjoying the online activities even though I miss going out.

Everything is online or over the phone. I’m doing my therapy sessions online. I don’t like it as much. I don’t feel like I have my therapist’s full attention. When we talk in person, we are more present and interact without interruption. There is eye contact and the person is paying attention, but online there is interruption. l need that human connection and that full attention for my mental well-being.

I’m still striving to adapt to the situation. The thing that helps me get through these times the most is to be patient with myself. I play music that cools me down or do meditation on mindfulness. Those help me feel calm and relaxed.

I also try to keep focused on my future. Back in the DRC, I planned to go to college, so I’m learning all I can about college here so I can go whenever this all ends. I asked my skill builder Emmie today, “If I want to be a mental health counselor, what field should I choose to study?” She told me to start with a social work or psychology degree at a community college.

As a future counselor, I try to think of ways to help children feel better in this scary pandemic. Letting them call or video chat with older relatives can help them feel reassured about loved ones. It’s also important to remember that many symptoms of COVID-19 can be treated. Kids usually don’t get as sick as adults.

I’d say to a child, “I know you’re feeling anxious about catching coronavirus, but if you wash your hands and wear a mask, and stay home as much as you can, that’s how we take care of members of our community.”

Moving On in a Pandemic

I have been anxious not just about coronavirus, but about getting my immigration papers and a place to live by next month. I just found out that I will move in with a foster mother in Philadelphia. She is also an immigrant, a single mother with three adult children.

I was afraid I would be sent to a group home, so this is a big relief. I will miss my current foster parents, but I’m so grateful that my agency found me a placement.

After my caseworker gave me the good news, I came out of my room and saw my foster father. I said, “Dad, I have been admitted to a foster family.”

He congratulated me, and so did my foster mother, though she seemed sad that I’m leaving. I’m sad too, because I love them. On the other hand, the rules say I have to leave.

I look at my life now like a baby. A baby goes from sitting to crawling to walking. Since I got to the U.S., I have been moved place to place, state to state. I hope that Philadelphia is my last stop for a while, so I can start to settle down and accomplish my goals. I want to walk on my own.

As a future counselor, I try to think of ways to help children feel better in this scary pandemic.