Elzbieta Wolenska is a polish flutist, tutor, soloist, chamber and session musician. Elzbieta is currently the Professor of Flute at the Zhaoqing University in Guangdong, China.
First time I heard about the virus was in January during my holidays in Indonesia. In China, in January and February there is quite long break because of the Chinese New Year and winter vacation. My plan after Indonesia was to travel back to China, practice a bit and fly to Mexico for my concerts and masterclass. Everyday news about virus was spreading and getting more serious, so I made my decision to leave China as fast as possible. I was just back from Indonesia, so I packed in 1 day (summer clothes, 3 flutes, 1 concert dress, I thought I was going to be back in 1 month haha) and the next day I was on my way to Chile, where my brother lives. After a long travel I arrived early in the morning and in afternoon, Chile closed its border for people travelling from China!
Were there any differences between the situations in China, Chile or USA?
When I left China the masks where already obligatory everywhere. During February, the world was still in a normal state and people didn’t believe that the same could happen in other countries. In Chile my friends told me, it is not possible to wear masks or to be under lockdown.
I was lucky to be able to fly to Mexico to play and teach, but I didn’t think that afterwards I would have such a long break – like all other musicians. My tour in Mexico finished, so I went back to Chile. After a few days, lockdown happened, and the Earth stopped.
How did it happen that you bought land in Chile?
Before Chile started quarantine, I travelled to the South of Chile for vacation with my brother and friends. During that trip, I decided to buy some land and build a summer house in there. It is a very beautiful place, close to the National Parque which has a lot of volcanos, mountains, forests and lakes. It is a perfect place for taking a rest. My decision was very spontaneous, just like, why not having some piece of land in Chile? haha. So now you can call me "dueña" (landlady in spanish).
I feel very good in Chile, and I can imagine it is quite nice to live there. Chile is an absolutely stunning part of the world.
Did you teach online?
I had to teach online, mostly by sending videos because of the time difference (12 hours) between China and Chile. Despite all the difficulties, I found it very useful for students, a new way to learn for them.
I stayed 5 months in Chile because of the lockdown, no flights, and all borders were closed, so I waited for permission to go back to China. Because the situation in China was still difficult, after some time, I flew to Poland. Meanwhile, China closed its borders to foreigners, so going back to China was impossible.
At the end of summer vacation, the Chinese students went back to the University and started to learn in the normal way. However, I still couldn’t go back to China, so I decided to fly to Iceland and teach one month there, as a replacement of my friend. The time I spent in Iceland, was another beautiful experience. Such lovely people, outstanding nature, great kids, friends, a new language and a lot of tasty fish, haha.
What did the return to China look like?
Going back to China was very difficult and it is still a very hard way to go back. The regulations are changing all the time. Before flying, which is only allowed for people with a valid residence card or with a new visa, for important matters, I had to take a COVID test and had to have it approved by Chinese Embassy. After arrival at the airport, I had to get another test, and then I was sent directly to the quarantine hotel for 2 weeks. All workers at the airport and hotel were in special protective clothing. Quarantine hotels are very well prepared, the food is delivered directly to the doors. You can only open a door to pick up the food, but you are not allowed to go out of the room. Meanwhile, 2 more tests were administered during that time period. This was October, and now it was even more complicated with longer quarantines. In some places it was 14 days at the hotel, and 7 days at your home, still others, it was even longer 14+14.
How do you teach in China now?
China's way to fight with virus was strict. It is a very well prepared government and the society follows the rules. For Asian people, it is natural to wear masks and follow regulations. That is one of the reasons, in my opinion, that the life compared to other countries, was able to go "back to normal" quite fast. However, it is still under control, and measures continue strict, as the virus hasn't finished yet.
I teach in a normal way, like before, no masks, no shields. Nearly everything is back to normal. In some places, like public transportation, or some shop,s you have to wear masks. Of course in every province, the situation looks a bit different, so I just can say about the Guangdong province, where are live. There are healthy codes that get generated to your phone when you travel.
Now we are in winter break, and the suggestion is not to travel if you don’t have to.
As for me, I look at the bright side of 2020. A lot of good things happened to me during that year. I was very lucky to have a chance to spend such a long time in Chile with my brother and friends. I had a lovely time in Poland and Iceland, teaching, and even play some concerts. I started an online collaboration for a new piece by Mike Mower. I played a virtual concert for the San Francisco Society Festival; I did some remote recordings; I also judged an online competition for young flute players from Poland. I had many hours of video calls with my friends around the world, as we had much more time for each other and we were able to rebuild some friendships.
Advice for young flute players:
1. I always love to practice because it is fun to play flute, especially scales in many different ways. Be happy and have a fun when you practice.
2. Find toys for breathing and fingers. Look for musical games. Practice without the flute is also very important.
3. Play chamber music with your siblings or friends. Always enjoy!