Canadian COD film student returns home during pandemic


International film student Gail Pischak wearing a homemade mask at the Palm Springs International Airport.

Estefania Moreira, Local Editor

College of the Desert film student Gail Pischak shared her personal story about leaving to Canada for her safety during the Coronavirus pandemic. The outbreak brought panic not just for Pischak, but many Canadians who were staying in the Coachella Valley.

Last month the Canadian government gave all Canadian citizens until March 16 to get back to the country. On March 25, Canada closed its borders to everyone except essential services and Canadians.

Pischak was able to return to her hometown in time but had to stay in quarantine for 14 days. She lives in White Rock, British Columbia Canada, an ocean community about 45 minutes south of Vancouver. 

The city is on total lock-down like the rest of Canada. “We are only permitted to go out for groceries and a walk. As an incoming international traveler, I can now be fined and thrown into jail if I go outside for any reason,” said Pischak. 

As a COD student, Pischak’s first week back to Canada was very difficult. She spent three to four hours a day trying to figure out the online classes transition. Not only was this an issue, but also the uncertainty about what her situation would be in her Canadian home, “I had no emotional stamina for assignments. As the news got worse, so did my emotional well-being.”

Pischak continued by explaining her journey back to her home country, this is her story:

I had been watching the news over the past two weeks and when COD announced shutting down and going online I began to think I may have to return to Canada. I never believed it would happen and when things went from bad to worse, I realized I had to open the door on returning to Canada.

On the morning of Friday, March 13 I went to buy groceries to stock up and wait out the virus in my condo in Palm Springs.  I saw the panic going on in the grocery store and it was that moment, I became afraid up to that point. I watched as an observer naively thinking that I would not be affected.

I came home and started making calls with my friends and former business colleagues in Canada. After this sobering reality check, I had a good cry because I still didn’t want to leave. I booked a return ticket for Wednesday, March 18 and then received a return call from a colleague who told me Wednesday could be too late. Canada, they thought, would announce they would be closing the borders on that Wednesday or Thursday. I panicked and started looking for an earlier flight. There were none. 

Late Saturday night March 14, I saw that West Jet had added extra flights and I was lucky enough to get a direct flight out on Monday, March 16. I quickly packed essentials only. I was still optimistic I would only have to leave for two to three weeks max. I was still so innocent and naive at that point.

On Monday, March 16, a friend came to pick me up and take me to the airport. I had decided to leave my car. I felt there wasn’t enough time to drive back and by that time I was afraid to go to a gas station or stay in a hotel on my three to four-day trip back. 

We made homemade masks from paper towels, elastics and a stapler and I was tearfully dropped off at the airport.  The atmosphere inside was electric with fear and panic. The airport was teeming with people everywhere but no one spoke. It was eerie with so many people and virtually no noise, other than the upbeat music that was blaring over the loudspeakers. It made things even more frightening.

I got through security and then tried to find a place where I could sit that was not near anyone. No luck! Every place was jammed with anxious passengers. It was business, as usual, getting on the plane with no social distancing, just long lines of people waiting to board. It was a quiet flight home. I was told to book a window seat because there was the least amount of airflow by window seats.

I arrived back in Vancouver to security personnel questioning us about whether we felt any symptoms.

We all said no. In no time flat, I was through security, walked into Canada’s second busiest airport, and it was empty. By the time I arrived, only passengers were allowed inside. I had friends who picked me up. We drove the hour back to White Rock, picked up a pizza, came back to my condo and spent two hours visiting. We were so naive and innocent just 11 days ago…the world changed overnight.

The next day, I started my 14-day quarantine and testing procedures were implemented on every incoming passenger.” 

Pischak also expressed her gratitude towards her neighbors who have been helpful during her quarantined time, “I am forever grateful to my neighbors who bought enough groceries to live on for a week. By then chicken and hamburger were no longer available. I got a package of lamb chops and some other proteins. Mid-week another friend found a package of 50/50 ground beef and pork. I was so so grateful.”

While in quarantine Pischak celebrated her birthday on Sunday, March 22, and again was overwhelmed by the kindness of the people around her, “I felt like I had won the lottery. I was never so grateful and happy. And every couple of hours I would have a knock on the door. On the other side, were beautiful gifts.”

Pischak, who will stay quarantined until April 6 said, “I am frankly nervous about what happens after that. I have no car and with social distancing, I can’t expect anyone to drive me anywhere for things I need but am putting off. Like everything else, it’s one day at a time and I’ll figure this one out too when its time. I’m not getting ahead of myself. One day at a time, with kindness and peace.”

And even though she is far away, Pischak said she will continue to work hard and finish her semester at COD strong.

She also thanks full heartily her professors and close friends, “I want to say a sincere, heartfelt thank you to my professors and especially to Cody McCabe and Laurilie Jackson.  If it weren’t for them, I would be writing about my decision to withdraw, not my decision to go home and continue. May goodness and kindness lead the way!”