CAMDEN, NJ — In mid-May Tianna Jones expected the vistas outside her window to be that of Paris — the narrow corridors of the famous French city, its renowned palaces and museums, and the Eiffel Tower.
Instead, more than halfway through spring would find her — like many around the world — stuck at home due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. East Camden, for that matter, is considered a “hot spot” for the virus in a South Jersey city with the most cases by far in its municipality.
Despite its destination, her trip to Europe was not of the leisurely sort. Having spent a little over a week in Havana, Cuba, as part of her nursing program at Rutgers University in Camden, her next stop was Paris in May — with a third set for Puerto Rico later in the summer.
“We visited Havana nursing homes and clinics, and sat with physicians to learn about nutrition practices,” Jones told TAPinto Camden. “We made the trip to learn about what other countries are successful at doing that we in the U.S. are not...how in some cases we’re not living as long for example.”
That was March 2019. Fast-forward a year and instead of taking another step toward learning about the correlations of populations and health, Jones would be receiving a flight refund from her school. Add to that being let go at her retail job the very same month, and she found herself seeking psychological help from the university.
“All the pressure, all the anxiety hit me at once,” Jones recalls. “I wanted to cry. The job, the fear of getting sick but mostly losing the chance to go to a place and gain knowledge I could use for a lifetime.”
The next blow came in losing the chance to walk the stage — as her school like many in the Garden State resorted to virtual graduations to avoid crows amid the risk of coronavirus spread.
The Camden-native majored in health science with a minor in psychology, earning a 3.6 GPA.
“I graduated from Camden County College a couple of years back but the Rutgers ceremony was something else for me. If it wasn’t for a few professors and mentors, I don’t think I would’ve made it this far,” Jones said.
Never one to learn with online courses and never having taken one prior to being forced to, Jones found the transition difficult.
“I found my anxiety go up when I had to start logging in,” she said. “It just doesn’t compare to in-person, the setting made it harder for me to learn, especially for something so hands-on like nursing. My professor and a few classmates helped me push through but it was by no means easy.”
Jones says her next goal is to study neuroscience.
“I’ve already dabbled in learning about the brain in certain classes but wanted to take it on more seriously in graduate school,” she said. “I won’t let anything stop me from going into the medical field.”
Exhausted by the abundance of COVID-19 coverage, she says she has focused on taking away lessons from the experience — such as observing how some Camden are not particularly proactive when it comes to their health.
“Not necessarily the virus in all cases,” she said. “Something as simple as regular check-ups, or all the ways you can better prepare to give birth in the best way. There’s some much knowledge when it comes to these things that I think people around here could take advantage of.”
Despite the appeal of Paris, she was most looking forward to the Puerto Rico trip, she said.
“I hope it still happens, whether school reschedules it or I go on my own,” she said. “There're so many people who are vulnerable there because of the recent earthquakes. Thousands, whose story is being overlooked because of COVID-19. I really look forward to helping these causes in any way I can.”
Jones said her birthday this year on Thursday will be bittersweet, as it will be yet another celebratory moment weighed down by the state of the world.
“I know I have had some serious blessings through all of this,” she said. “So I think about that when I’m considering the pros and cons. I’ve had the chance to bond with my family in a way I couldn’t have before, and I know that’s important to remember.”