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Hello (again) world: EF staff take on post-quarantine life in Shanghai

Face masks. Temperature checks. Health risk tracking apps. Socially distanced happy hours. Life isn’t exactly the same as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic, but aside from these new health and safety measures, it feels surprisingly similar at EF Education First in Shanghai.

While EF’s global offices are slowly reopening and some EF students, teachers, and staff are still hunkering down at home, EF Shanghai is fully open. After lockdown restrictions eased in late February, EFers there began returning to work and resuming the everyday activities they missed most, from weekend brunches to bike rides and gym sessions.

As the first among our EF family to say hello (again) to the world, we wanted to know how they are adjusting to their new normal. How are they staying healthy? What has changed in their day-to-day lives? Do they have any words of wisdom for those of us still at home? We asked three EFers based in Shanghai to share their personal experiences of the coronavirus outbreak in China and reflections on post-quarantine life. This is what they had to say.

Pampan, Executive Assistant to the CEO & CFO, EF China

“You will get through it. You are more resilient than you know.”

Seven weeks in London wasn’t exactly what Pampan had in mind when she set off to visit her fiancé for the Chinese New Year holidays. However, as news of the COVID-19 outbreak started sending shockwaves around the world, she decided it was probably best to stay put in the UK. Several canceled flights later, she finally made it back to Shanghai just before China’s borders closed. From there, it was two weeks of solo quarantine spent Marie Kondo-ing her closet and becoming one with her couch. Needless to say, when EF Shanghai finally reopened, she had first-day-of-school-level excitement from “walking back into the office where there are people!”

Most excited for post-quarantine:

“I did terribly in quarantine because I didn’t do anything active. I just became one with laziness – the biggest bum. I was zapped of all energy. As soon as I was allowed out the door, I hopped on my bike and went to the gym. It breathed some life back into me.”

Safety precautions you’re taking:

“China has a lot of measures in place that are heavily enforced — like showing your personal health code upon entry anywhere, wearing masks 24/7 (even at the gym), and having hand sanitizer everywhere. I’m being overly cautious by keeping my time outside my apartment at a minimum.”

Biggest change to your day-to-day life:

“I’ve learned that you can’t count on everything working out for you, so be grateful for what you have and where you are now. It may not be exactly what you wanted or imagined for yourself, but it’s real. Our dreams may all be on hold right now, but they won’t always be. Maybe then, they will be even better, because we want them that much more.”

Advice to people still at home:

”You will get through it. You are more resilient than you know. Whatever challenge comes your way, you can handle it. Whatever we give up now is not lost forever — just on hold. Look forward to that day when you will be able to revive it.”

First place you’ll travel to when it’s safe:

“London, to see my fiancé again!”

Joanne, Teacher Welfare Manager, EF Kids & Teens

“I think this experience has helped us be more empathic and understanding of each other.”

If there was an award for Most Productive Quarantine, Joanne would win. Hands down. The Teacher Welfare Manager not only transitioned into her current role from afar, but she also started teaching English courses using the online platform her EF Kids & Teens colleagues developed for students and teachers during the pandemic. And did we mention she found a new apartment? Because she did that, too. In fact, aside from taking a run outside, moving out of her tiny, 30-square-meter place in Shanghai was at the top of her post-quarantine to-do list: “My lease was up the day after my quarantine finished. Very eventful first day out.”

Most excited for post-quarantine:

“I started a new role during the initial outbreak, so it was great having our first face-to-face meeting with the entire team and a welcome lunch my first day back in the office!”

Biggest change to your day-to-day life:

“Day-to-day life in Shanghai is pretty much back to normal. The office is operating as usual, gyms are open again, and brunch is a weekly occurrence. The biggest difference is needing to wear masks and needing to get my temperature checked before entering places. It’s reassuring to know that measures are still being taken to ensure our ongoing health and safety.”

Differences you notice in your office culture:

“I think this experience has helped us be more empathic and understanding of each other, which hopefully stays with us as we move forward. In addition to the many bottles of hand sanitizer around the office!”

Advice to people still at home:

“Be patient and mindful. If everyone does their part, from wearing a mask to social distancing, we can hopefully all get back to normal in the near future. Stay strong EF!”

First place you’ll travel to when it’s safe:

“Puerto Rico, for my family reunion or Bali for my friend’s wedding!”

Leanne, International Teacher Recruiter, International Teacher Recruitment

“You’re not falling behind if everyone is also paused.”

Traveling halfway around the world to become a teacher is never easy. And now, with many classrooms and international borders closed, it’s more challenging than ever. But despite the uncertainty caused by COVID-19, Leanne is there to support and inspire prospective educators through it all. As an International Teacher Recruiter, she’s tasked with finding the best talent to staff 300 schools across 60 cities — a job that never stops, even during quarantine. Now that she’s back in the office and EF schools are slowly reopening, Leanne is optimistic about welcoming her newest recruits in the fall. “Right now, I’m really trying to listen to what people are feeling. We’ve developed a good group of teachers who are still excited to come over, and my focus is getting them ready for their transition and keeping them engaged.”

Favorite EF moment during quarantine:

“Our team’s weekly Zoom meetings. We’d do trivia every meeting and all end up laughing hysterically at something.”

Most excited for post-quarantine:

“The first thing I did post-quarantine was go for a walk, get some local Chinese food, and soak up the blue skies.”

Difference you notice in your office culture:

“I think the culture has changed dramatically. I think everyone is more grateful for our community and support system while being mindful of others and their health and safety at the same time.”

Advice to people still at home:

“My advice is, although it’s tough, stay indoors. Work on all those projects you’ve been procrastinating on for months — or even years. Use this time to improve education or your skills. Try something new. And remember, right now everyone is paused. You’re not falling behind if everyone is also paused.”

First place you’ll travel to when it’s safe:

“The Cayman Islands — I’ve never been, and my parents are planning to move there soon.”

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