Arina Karkhanis CC'21

People looking at the sea

Exhuming Stories: New Narratives of Pandemic through the Collaboratory

Arina Karkhanis CC'21

"The Collaboratory illustrated the enduring importance of cross-cultural collaboration in moments of economic and political destabilization."

Since COVID-19’s outbreak, I had been mapping the coronavirus outbreak through oral histories of my community — using infectious disease as a litmus test for the strength of scientific education, health care services, and political institutions worldwide. As a student from Switzerland with my family sprawled across Japan and India, I was fascinated by how cultural values dictate the governance and civic response to a new world order. Yet, the imperative of social distancing and the strains on international travel meant I had to experience these paradigm shifts alone. As I patiently waited to reunite with my family overseas, I felt a noticeable lack of community and camaraderie.

The Global Columbia Collaboratory presented the perfect opportunity to leverage digital connection and creativity to collaborate with my peers. Within just a week of joining the Collaboratory, I entered a virtual hub in which participants shared their most intimate reflections on COVID-19’s disparate impact on their communities. We even deconstructed the pandemic through an academic lens, as we engaged in panels with leading experts on supply chain disruption, interconnectivity and economics during pandemic.

With select funding, my group was able to launch Columbia Int Fic: an interactive fiction collective that creates an immersive storytelling experience for our users. Our first story series spotlighted the varied iterations of COVID-19 worldwide— from ICU surgeons in Philly to activists in South Korea. From weekly Zoom calls to endless Slack channels, our brainstorming slowly began to crystallize. I was incredibly fortunate to work with a brilliant group of coders, writers, and animators whose diverse skillsets and backgrounds became the foundation for our project.

Ultimately, the Collaboratory had illustrated the enduring importance of cross-cultural collaboration in moments of economic and political destabilization. Despite its worldwide coverage, COVID-19’s effects cannot be distilled into demographic maps and data points alone. The Collaboratory helped make visible the nuances in individual stories and local struggles that are often buried.