Personal Reflections on 2020

Finsbury Park – March 2020

Like most people, my year was filled with emotional ups and downs. But oddly, I think I peaked in 2020: I experienced great personal, academic, and professional success – all amid a global pandemic that does not seem to stop. It does feel great to admit it: I am extremely proud of my accomplishments. However, I don’t want this blog post to read as a humblebrag – it is merely a personal reflection of my year, possibly the most eventful of my life.  

I rang in 2020 at a gay club in Budapest, taking a selfie with a local drag queen. I was there to spend new year’s eve with my childhood friend from Colombia who was visiting Europe for the first time. I hadn’t seen him since 2016, and we had never met each other’s boyfriends – so it was delightful. We reminisced about our childhood years, hidden queerness, accomplishments, and personal journeys of completing advanced degrees despite obstacles, like being first generation college students, economic hardship, etc. We also looked forward to my wedding that was planned for August 2020 in Valencia.

Budapest Drag
New Year’s Eve in Budapest – Jan 2020

I was also there to celebrate the fact that I was submitting my PhD dissertation in January. I brought a printed copy of my thesis to Budapest because I optimistically thought I would have enough time to re-read it before submitting. (I didn’t.) I did however manage to review and submit it once I returned to London. The PhD journey was not easy, so I decided to take some time off to relax.

My partner had a business trip to Paris planned for January so I decided to tag along. It was at a hotel room in Paris that I found out about Coronavirus on Twitter. It was also there where I found out that my grandmother had passed away. Upon returning to London, I booked a flight to LAX to attend her funeral. I painted a portrait of her before the flight which was displayed during the ceremony. It was a short and emotional trip, but I did manage to take a short interlude to the Grand Canyon with my mom and brother. Writing about the ease of my travels now seems like a completely different lifetime. I can’t imagine doing this much travel nowadays.

Alba De Novoa – oil on canvas

Returning to London was emotionally draining. Someone in my family became suicidal after my grandmother’s death, I argued with family about politics and religion, I still had to prepare for my thesis defense, and the news about the virus was only getting worse.

I cried a lot in February and March. I was nervous, excited, and sad – all at once. The news about COVID-19 was not getting any better, and it seemed clear that my thesis defense would have to be online. It was also becoming increasingly clear that me and my partner’s wedding would have to be postponed. He was still optimistic – I was definitely not. Despite my pessimism, we bought a lot of fun clothes for our summer wedding (which did not happen, of course) and I managed to get ready for my thesis defense (which happened online, of course).

I became a doctor in psychology at age 30 in mid-March. This was one of the happiest moments of the year – of my life! And while I didn’t get to celebrate in person with my family and friends, I got to see them all via Zoom (my first time using this platform!). It felt great; it was exhilarating! I managed to get a book contract with Routledge to turn my thesis into a monograph for their Gender and Sexualities in Psychology book series – which I am currently working on, albeit slowly.

PhD dissertation

The glory didn’t last that long, unfortunately. I started applying for jobs almost immediately – and to no avail. I spent three months applying to jobs both inside and outside academia. I only got two interviews (both outside academia), but I didn’t get either. The glory turned into doom, and my employment situation became iffy. To top it all off, my partner, who was dependent on my student visa, was promised a visa from his employer that would cover both of us – but they were moving slowly, which made my mental health worse.

I ended up teaching two online courses in New York in June, which was a nice distraction from the pandemic and from the fact that, after three months of unemployment, I still had not landed a full-time job in the UK. I was losing hope, especially as many family members and friends – and a huge percentage of the world population – were losing their jobs, becoming ill, and feeling hopeless as well. The wedding ceremony was officially postponed until November –  and the reception was postponed until summer 2021. My mental health deteriorated significantly.

In a happy turn of events, I got two job interviews (and subsequently offers) the week of my 31st birthday in July! I had the surreal opportunity of declining a job amid a global pandemic, which felt great because the contract on offer was not ideal: maternity cover, precarious wage, distance from London, etc. The job I accepted was as Lecturer in Psychology in a city merely an hour away from London via train. My partner’s visa finally worked out, allowing me to work in the UK. We decided it would be nice to move closer to the train station (for my eventual commute) so we managed to secure a flat with a garden – a nice bonus during the pandemic! This was the moment I peaked.

I started this position in September. I helped start an LGBTQ+ staff network within the university, proposed a course on gender and sexuality, and worked to form a link between this university and the university where I teach in New York. I also became member of the INQYR UK network and am helping on a project called AutonoME, which examines how neurodivergent gender minority youth experience online spaces. Ultimately, 2020 was a great year for my academic and professional development.

University front

Teaching blended face-to-face and online classes was challenging, however. When I taught online, I never saw my students because no one turned on their cameras. I joked with some students and colleagues that we were in a ‘Zoom void’ – where we spoke to no one and our voices went nowhere. When I taught face-to-face, I had to commute to the school, which was never pleasant – there are always one or two people not abiding to the mask rules on the train. And there was always the odd student who also doesn’t abide to the mask requirements for whatever reason; but most did, thankfully. However, not being able to see half of my student’s faces was also a challenge in terms of face/name recognition and engagement. It’s definitely easy to hide behind a face mask. In spite of the commute and potential exposure, I did enjoy teaching face-to-face, as it was definitely more engaging than teaching to a sea of black, voiceless boxes.

Then I got COVID-19. I had been tested at school because it was offered to all staff and students, even if asymptomatic. Testing positive was shocking and nerve-racking, as every single negative thought I experienced in February and March resurfaced. My partner and I thankfully remained asymptomatic. And I didn’t return to face-to-face for the last few weeks of the semester. This was one of the most difficult parts of 2020, but I regained perspective once my partner and I finished our isolation periods.

We were finally married on 19 December 2020, a day before London went into Tier 4 (essentially a regional lockdown). We had a small ceremony with four guests, two acting as witnesses, and the other two acting as photographer and Zoom host. We wore the bright and colorful outfit we had bought back in March, which made us very happy. The ceremony was brief, but cheerful. Despite the December rain, getting married amid this horrible time in history felt like a glimpse of hope. This was another high point of the year, as I got to marry the love of my life.

Wedding – December 2020

I’m feeling somewhat optimistic lately. It might be that I have become comfortable (adapted) with my current circumstances – new job, new flat, new husband, etc. I still worry, of course. But less so than I did in May when the world seemed to be ending and I felt like nothing good would ever happen again. 2020 was not what I expected – and obviously not what I wanted – but it is at least almost over. All things considered, 2020 was a good year for me, even if I may feel a bit guilty saying that.

I am not convinced that 2021 will be better, unfortunately. But in the words of June (a YouTube chef that kept me and my husband entertained in some dark moments): “Lower your expectations to increase your happiness in life.” I think I’ll do just that next year.