Life in the Time of Coronavirus Part 1: My Life During Lockdown, the Sleeping New York City, and Online Graduation

My graduation photo at Central Park, New York City

Coronavirus pandemic has brought adversities for everyone, including Ayu Ariyanti, an MPA graduate from New York University. During Indonesia Mengglobal’s anniversary month themed “Celebrating Resilience”, Ayu will tell her story about the bitter realities she had to face during the pandemic, and how the experience has shaped her. In this first part of her story, Ayu will share how it felt like to be living in NYC that once was the epicenter of the CoVid-19 outbreak, and how she eventually found ways to endure the difficult times.


Life in the time of Coronavirus. I know that when I read that title it sounds like a romance story. But I can assure you it’s not. Imagine you are in your last semester of graduate school, feeling excited that you won’t have to stay up late for papers anymore, soon will be attending your graduation ceremony at Yankee Stadium, and getting your dream job with endless possibilities. Then one day COVID-19 makes its grand entrance in New York City. 

On the day before the lockdown

It was like any other day during my last semester of graduate school at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service (NYU). I had a lot of exciting things coming my way. I was about to start my internship at a nonprofit called Synergos and have my spring break vacation. In the afternoon, my phone received four emails. One said that COVID-19 had reached New York City. The second one told me that NYU would be moving to a virtual classroom for the remainder of the semester. The third email said that Synergos had moved to remote working and closed their office. Lastly, NYU had suspended all international travels and grounded all domestic ones. My adventure in New York City had changed within a snap of a finger.

Me on Lockdown

As someone who prefers to study at the library and spend my time off outside of my apartment with friends, the lockdown was particularly hard for me, starting with my classes. Since I took several intensive format classes that were held every two weeks but lasted nearly 5 hours per session, the virtual classroom was physically draining. I suffered from migraines and exhaustion nearly throughout the semester because I had to spend all day staring at a monitor. 

Washington Square Park pre-pandemic
Washington Square Park pre-pandemic

My internship at Synergos had also become very unique. I had never set foot in Synergos’ office for the entire nine months of my internship. In the beginning, I was very disappointed. The opportunity to network with my supervisors and fellow interns in person went out the window. But since my options were limited, I decided to make the best of it despite the difficult circumstances. It was strange that I never met my boss face to face, but in the end, we connected virtually so much that we knew each other very well. I ended my internship with a pocketful of new networks and knowledge.

One of the biggest causes of my pandemic anxiety was the fact that New York City had become the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic. To make it worse, the hospital in the neighborhood I lived in, Queens, had the highest rate of COVID-19 patients in the city, so the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic was only a few blocks away from where I lived. Besides, when I moved to New York City, one of my hobbies was to walk around the city, to absorb the energy of one of the most exciting cities in the world. However, when the pandemic hit, I was afraid to even leave my apartment to just walk around my block.

Yet, the most difficult thing during the pandemic was being away from my friends. All of a sudden, I couldn’t meet my friends in Manhattan or hug them like I used to. To cope with the loneliness, my friends and I, dubbed the “Social Justice League”, organized routine Zoom calls and Netflix parties. These meetings helped us to mentally endure the lockdown while still being able to have fun with each other. We spoke about our struggles, made fun of each other (something that we usually do), or just had lots of laughter with each other.

The Social Justice League: (top left to right) Jonathan Masci, Ayu Ariyanti, Brittany Mazzurco Muscato, Alison Lee
The Social Justice League: (top left to right) Jonathan Masci, Ayu Ariyanti, Brittany Mazzurco Muscato, Alison Lee

The City That Never Sleeps was Taking a Nap

New York City itself had changed dramatically during the pandemic. The city, dubbed “the city that never sleeps,” suddenly turned into a ghost town after people huddled in the safety of their homes in the epicenter of the pandemic. I remember walking in a nearly empty Grand Central Station, a complete contrast from the heart of New York City that was usually filled with New Yorkers and tourists where it was hard to not bump into people.

A nearly empty Grand Central Station during the pandemic
A nearly empty Grand Central Station during the pandemic

I remember when I went to The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s stairs, which were made famous by the TV show Gossip Girl when Serena van der Woodsen and Blair Waldorf used to hang out there. Back in 2019, I took a photo on the stairs with hundreds of people in the background; during COVID-19, there was no one behind me when I took a photo from the same spot.

The Met: pre-pandemic (left) versus during pandemic (right)
The Met: pre-pandemic (left) versus during pandemic (right)

Online Graduation

Not in a million years would I have thought my graduation ceremony, an event that many students await eagerly, would be done virtually. I was looking forward to both NYU Wagner’s graduation ceremony and NYU’s all-university ceremony at Yankee Stadium. After I submitted my final paper, NYU informed the students that the graduation would be done virtually. That email broke my heart. I was looking forward to wearing my NYU violet graduation gown while my family watched me. What made it harder was I had to tell my family that they couldn’t come to New York City (especially since they were ready to order their plane tickets), but instead would have to watch my graduation ceremony through their laptop.

My friends and family during my online graduation
My friends and family during my online graduation


I’m not going to lie, living in a global pandemic during my studies (and later job searching) was one of the most stressful and difficult experiences of my life. Even after one year the pandemic doesn’t seem like it will end anytime soon. Although it has ended in New York City, it’s still happening in Jakarta. Looking back on the past year, I have changed. The pandemic gave me a trial by fire in adapting to difficult circumstances and I built my perseverance through these hard times. In Part 2 of my article, I’m going to describe my job search experiences during COVID-19 and give the readers some advice from my experiences during these past years. Stay Tuned!


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