A Williams Lake woman living in South Korea is beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold across the globe.
Victoria Booth, 24, arrived in South Korea for a new teaching job one week before the virus hit the country in February.
She said the private school she was hired to teach English at in Daegu is now scheduled to re-open on April 6, 2020.
“The day after I landed on Feb. 16, I went to work and shadowed for a week and then all the schools were shut down,” Booth told the Tribune.
Daegu, with a population of 2.4 million, is where the majority of the country’s cases of COVID-19 have occurred, she added.
Victoria wears a mask whenever she goes out, but explained that the mask culture already existed because of the ‘yellow-dust’ pollution.
“It’s socially obligatory to wear masks, I’ve had a few people give them to me,” she said.
“Korea took a different approach compared to China, self-isolation was voluntary. In saying this, though, everyone for a period stayed inside.”
There were constant reminders to wash hands, use hand sanitizer and residents routinely received emergency system texts with updates on where to get masks, what health centre to go to and where to get tested.
She was not tested, but said the schools and hospitals are very meticulous about hygiene.
“Tests are covered here and are very accessible, so if you have any type of symptoms you can get your results pretty quickly.”
Victoria grew up in Williams Lake. She attended Mountview elementary school, graduated from Williams Lake Secondary School and went on to Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, graduating with a bachelor of arts in psychology and history.
After graduation from TRU last year she was hired to work at the Emerald Centre in Kamloops which is a homeless shelter operated by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
When asked what inspired her to apply to work in South Korea, Victoria said she wanted to experience a place that was completely different.
“I’ve always loved learning about different cultures. The differences between Eastern and Western thought fascinates me as well.”
She has made friends with the other teachers there and lives in a flat provided by the school.
One teacher has taken her to different Korean restaurants and Victoria has found the food is ‘unbelievable.’
“I met a lovely group of women — one is actually from Halifax and the rest are from the States. They have showed me around and helped me navigate the language barrier. I am grateful for them, I didn’t know anyone before coming here.”
For her mom, Sheila Kalelest Booth, it has been tough having her daughter across the world but she’s proud and happy for her.
“It is scary, but I’m glad she did it because I think she would have beat herself up if she had not gone,” Sheila said from the family home in Williams Lake.
Originally Victoria was supposed to go and work in China, but that fell through, Sheila said.
“When she got the job offer in South Korea it all felt surreal. To have this virus in the world right now has made it hard and when she first got there I panicked and thought she needed to come home, but now I think we are in more chaos here in Canada.”
Sheila said Victoria told her she never witnessed any hoarding in stores of any sort.
“My understanding is they were very well-organized in South Korea.”
Proud of Victoria’s accomplishments, Sheila said even as a little girl her daughter always had a thirst to learn and do research.
With a chuckle she described how Victoria did a science project once looking at the impact of energy drinks, using her brother, Keith, and cousin, Wes, as subjects.
“She measured out amounts of six different energy drinks and gave them to the boys. They were running around the house like crazy and didn’t feel very well afterwards.”
Victoria always had a drive to move forward and not get stuck, she added.
“She wanted to make her grandparents proud of her all on her own. I miss her. We talk on the phone, but I try not to call her too often,” Sheila added.
If you know someone from the Cariboo-Chilcotin who is living away during this time that would like to share their story, please e-mail email@example.com.