Thales Grilo


February 2020

Foreword: My honest condolences to all afflicted by the COVID-19, and the relatives of these people. It is a tragedy I hope ceases soon, without any further damage. I decided for this post to focus on my personal experience and how the epidemic changed my plans for the rest of the year

This is a story about how I almost realized a long-time dream of moving abroad but instead found myself without a job or a proper home, and how I still don’t know if that’s a bad thing. Of all the crazy shit I’ve been through, this month might take the cake.


So the University of Brasilia (UnB) offers an exchange program every term (INT), and I chose to enroll this time around. The program covers tuition costs, but do not account for accommodation, food, health or any other fees that may incur. Regardless, it is still a very good choice: a couple of friends moved to Portugal, Canada and the Czech Republic through this same program and are enjoying it a lot.

I always dreamed of living and working abroad. Maybe it’s because everything music or tech-related costs 4 times more buying locally, developers make 4 times more money elsewhere, and culture, health, education and infrastructure are constantly undermined here, but I’m not sure.

I’ve also always wanted to know the far east, and that’s the reason I chose South Korea from the available destinations. I was even learning a bit of Hangul at the time, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I made sure to keep everything transparent with Ribon, from the very beginning.

The Timeline

August 2019: I sign up for the program. I applied for Yeungnam University (YU), in Gyeongsanbuk-do, Daegu, South Korea, listed among the partner institutions. At the time I knew very little about the country, but was already willing to dive in and get to know it first-hand.

September 2019: I am nominated for the exchange (by UnB). After nomination, all students were summoned to an instructive talk on how to conduct the process from then on. This preceded a long waiting period until we received further communication from the universities.

January 2020: I receive the letter of acceptance (from Yeungnam University). This was a huge moment, I ran down the hallways to meet Bru at the library, read it with her, and figured out how to get the requested student visa. Later that month, I decided on the dates, bought the tickets, and planned a trip with Bru to São Paulo for our final days together this semester - from there, I’d move on to Seoul and finally Daegu.

In late January, news about the novel Coronavirus start spreading, and people start questioning my decision to move to South Korea, myself included. I talked to a couple doctors, in special Dr. Marcos Franco, a close friend, a nationally known Sanitary Doctor and father of a lifelong friend, João Pedro “Cookie” Rinehart.

Aside from a lot of valuable data on the topic, Dr. Franco recommended me not to withdraw from the program because of that, on the premise that:

  1. South Korea has one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world, so I can expect good support should anything happen to me.
  2. The virus should not be lethal to an adult without a lowered immunity - it mostly threatens infants and old people.
  3. Brazil will likely face the virus within the time I’d be away, making staying home a poor strategy to avoid it.

February 11th, 2020: I get the visa. A few hiccups, but the overall process was straightforward. That same day, YU decides to delay its semester for two weeks, in order to prevent the virus from spreading. By now, our goobye trip was planned for February 21st.

February 19th, 2020: I quit my job. This was no surprise: I made them aware of the possibility from the moment of nomination (around four months in anticipation). I also book my hostel on Seoul for the days I would be there.

February 20th, 2020 (THE day): COVID-19 Epidemic strikes Daegu. The number of affected people rampages, and as a result, YU suspends the program for this term. I wake up to an e-mail from the president of the institution, Mr. Gil Soo SUR, informing this through an official letter. I can’t explain what a felt, but I just couldn’t believe that was real. I was leaving my city the next morning, with everything I needed for the next 4 months or more.

A personal trip

The news struck me so bad it got me sick. The stress dropped my immunity - I acquired gastritis and spent the night vomiting and shaking with a fever. This was 2 days before my birthday.

Me and Bru still had a trip scheduled though. What was meant to be a goodbye trip became a moment for us to cherish together on the bittersweet news that I’m staying a bit longer, and enjoying ourselves without worrying too much about the next step otherwise I could actually die from stress

We boarded a flight to São Paulo on the following day. I leave most of the luggage behind, knowing it would be pointless to take them at this point. Two days later was my birthday and our 1-month anniversary (our story goes way back but whatever I’ll roll with that)

It was very difficult not to spoil everything with negativity at that moment, but it was a great trip after all. We ate some of the best food ever (thank you Mr. Ailton), and even enjoyed a bit of the brazilian carnval!

What Now?

Now it’s back to reality, right. I had my mind set on trying again next semester, but honestly, that’s not a possibility anymore. My family puts a lot of pressure on me towards finishing graduation, and I get how important that is for them as well. There is a possibility of graduating this year, so I think I’ll let any offshore plans to 2021.

For now, I’ll focus on:

  1. Pushing as hard as I can at UnB towards finishing the course and starting my thesis.
  2. Looking for post-grad scholarships abroad (specially the more generous ones)
  3. Looking for jobs, specially abroad.
  4. Loving, and trying not to overwork myself to death

It may not be as bad as it seems, though. I still have many reasons to be happy right now, and actually, there might be good things in store. I think I should start gratitude journaling soon.