Columns from Quarantine: Model UN was a path to finding herself, COVID-19 proved to be ultimate roadblock

Opinion columnist Rachel DuRose, pictured with fellow Model U.N. member Aditya Agarwal, details the experience of losing her sense of stability across multiple areas of her life amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Courtesy of Rachel DuRose)

By Rachel Durose

May 8th, 2020, 3:30p.m.

The coronavirus pandemic has drastically upended life in the most unforeseeable of ways. At UCLA, our community is remarkably united by similar feelings of loss, confusion and concern, but also by light, hope and perspective that the pandemic has brought to the forefront. In “Columns From Quarantine,” Daily Bruin staffers and community submissions highlight the personal stories that mark this unprecedented moment. If you have a quarantine story to tell, you can submit it here or email [email protected]

(Andrea Grigsby/Illustrations Director)
(Andrea Grigsby/Illustrations Director)

Being the secretary-general of Los Angeles Model United Nations XV wasn’t something I ever thought I would achieve when I first came to UCLA, but it was something that ended up defining my college experience.

LAMUN XV is a collegiate Model United Nations conference – a simulated proceeding of the actual United Nations and its varying cabinets and councils. UCLA’s conference, LA Model U.N., was the highest-ranked on the West Coast by Best Delegate, with more than 400 delegates from across the world and an 80-person staff. I was the leader of the 15th installment of LA Model U.N., which was set to be hosted April 23 to 26.

Obviously, LAMUN XV didn’t end up happening.

But let’s go way back to before I became the secretary-general, before I knew what LA Model U.N. was, let alone was devastated by its cancellation, back to when I was a freshman at UCLA.

I had the usual new student hiccups – not knowing where classrooms were and missing my mom, stepdad and sister.

I eventually faced more than a hiccup – my father was dying. Since I was the only family member in Los Angeles, I spent fall quarter taking an UberPool between Rieber Hall and the intensive care unit of Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center in Burbank to visit a man, who until September, I didn’t even have a memory of living with.

The only thing that salvaged my abysmal first year was Model U.N.

The friends I made and the distraction of traveling to conferences was exactly what I needed. But while Model U.N. was my comfort, I didn’t feel like I was good at it.

Therefore, I was shocked when I made the executive board as the director of logistics at the end of my freshman year.

Slowly, during my sophomore year, as my father miraculously recovered, as I became better at Model U.N. and solidified my friend group, I recovered as well. I spent that year doing what most students do their first year at UCLA: finding myself and a major.

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Despite the fact that I was eligible to run for secretary-general of LA Model U.N., I wasn’t even considering it until a friend suggested it one day. I was touched that someone I looked up to believed in me and even more touched when I won the election last year.

I planned LA Model U.N. meticulously for nearly a year. With the help of an executive team, I selected and managed a more than 80 person staff, negotiated hotel contracts worth tens of thousands of dollars, edited more than a dozen detailed policy guides and supervised months of preparation and logistics.

I had a strong vision, and for the first time since coming to UCLA, I felt strong myself.

Then COVID-19 came.

When we made the decision to cancel the conference, I felt everything but strong. I knew that my 400-person conference in the scope of a pandemic was a small price to pay to flatten the curve. But no matter how many times I reminded myself of that, I didn’t end up feeling any better.

While my LA Model U.N. experience was not perfect, and I often hated Model U.N. as much as I loved it, it was a source of stability in my life. And that was gone all of a sudden.

My conference was over, school was online and my friends were packing up and going home.

Home?

Well, I was born in Los Angeles, grew up in Orlando, Florida, and about a month before the world we knew collapsed, my mom moved to Brooklyn, New York.

I suddenly had to consider multiple scenarios and predicaments.

Do I fly through at least two major airports to go to New York, an epicenter of this virus, where my 60-year old stepfather and mother, the latter a cancer survivor, live in a small apartment? No, I don’t want to risk becoming infected while traveling and then not be able to isolate myself from them. Do I fly to my grandparents’ house in North Carolina where my father now lives? No, his health is precarious at best and my grandparents are well over 70. Do I stay with my sister and her boyfriend in her Philadelphia studio with one bed and a bean bag chair? No.

Plus, I still have an apartment in Westwood with $800 rent due and no market for subleasing.

I decided to stay in Westwood, because for some of us, the choice had already been made.

Westwood’s now empty streets, compounded with my inability to escape to anywhere else, make this place feel like anything but home.

Now, my anxieties over my student loans and my parents’ and my own unemployment are what keep me up at night instead of the nearby parties.

No conference, no family around to give me a hug and no job.

I acknowledge that grieving for experiences rather than lost loved ones during a time like this is a privilege, but it doesn’t erase the hurt. And for me, there’s a looming feeling that when this all ends, I’ll be going right back to square one like at the start of my freshman year, when someone I loved was actually sick.

But we have to remember that this is a different world now. No, I won’t ever get my conference and I’ll always be jealous of those students who got to go home, but I am grateful.

Grateful that the friends I made in Model U.N. didn’t disappear with LA Model U.N. and have supported me through my financial and academic stress. Grateful that I can FaceTime them, my sister, my mom, my dad and my boyfriend.

But more than that, I am grateful that for once, it’s okay for us to be sad right now.

We have all lost something or someone during this time, and our individual sadnesses do not minimize or detract from each other’s losses. So instead, we can all be there for each other, the way the community I found at UCLA has been there for me.

Rachel DuRose is a third-year public affairs and political science student from Orlando, Florida, and is an Opinion columnist for the Daily Bruin.

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