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Letting Go of the "College Experience" Is Helping Me Experience More in CollegeJules Weed
When COVID-19 arrived at my university, it fundamentally changed my college experience. All my classes moved to being entirely online, the internship I was applying for got canceled, and many of my friends from college left and went back to their hometowns.
Another school year is about to begin, and we're still in the midst of the pandemic.
I'm not the only one going through this, of course. This isn't the college experience anyone anticipated, but what's different from one person to the next is how we've responded. While I've watched some of my peers ignore the advice of public health experts and others go almost too much in the other direction and let the virus ruin their life, I will let the pandemic become a part of my college experience — because I have to — but I will not let it define it.
I knew from day one of the stay-at-home order that I couldn't let the coronavirus overtake my life. This started with a commitment to myself that every morning I would get ready for the day even if I had no plans to leave my apartment. I've stayed true to my word over the past few months. Although following a daily routine seems like a small action, it's provided structure even on days when it seemed as if there was no reason to even leave my apartment.
I also knew that I needed to find something in the day to look forward to, especially on those "no reason to leave the apartment" days. My roommate and I found that we both enjoyed watching Jeopardy and were equally skilled at the game. We began to watch episodes daily and would try to answer the questions and keep score. This gave us both something to look forward to and provided us with a chance to exercise our minds.
To further exercise my mind and use up some of my newfound free time, I took a LinkedIn Learning class on coding in Python. I'd always wanted to learn how to do that, and it was nice to be able to add another valuable skill to my resume.
I've also found that physical exercise is important. For the first month of the pandemic, I didn't see a reason to even go for a walk. This led to me constantly feeling tired and at times put me in an unpleasant mood. As I began to get moving more, I felt better in general. I wasn't anticipating a summer where my primary athletic activity was playing golf, but as golf has proven to be a very safe activity, I have played a lot. I have transitioned from someone who it's embarrassing to play golf with (especially the time when I hit a random guy with my ball) to someone who seems to know what they're doing.
Another aspect that helped me maintain structure in my life was my supportive family. I remained in my apartment (rather than moving back in with my parents) when school went online which in a way disconnected me from my family. As I live close to my parents’ house, I used to go home for dinner occasionally, but I no longer felt safe doing this.
Instead of losing touch with my family because I couldn't see them in person, we began to Zoom weekly. Although it's not the same as seeing them person, it proved to be a close second. Now, since we know more about the spread of the virus, I've been going home occasionally and seeing my parents from a distance on our back deck.
Supportive friends have also been crucial in terms of success during the virus. When the pandemic started, my friends and I would hang out on Zoom either just talking, watching a movie or even celebrating a birthday. Simply seeing my friends provided a few hours of safe escape from the ever-present fear of the virus.
Throughout the course of the pandemic, my friends and I have continued to adapt, and we've been meeting outside in a distant way recently. While we can’t safely do some of the things we used to do (watching movies indoors, going line dancing, hanging out in a friend’s basement), we haven't let this get in the way of spending time together. Whether it's hanging out in a park, going on a bike ride or hiking, it feels as if nothing has actually changed. We still get to socialize and in a way that's safer in the current environment.
So, those are my friends from high school. Unfortunately, the majority of the newer friends I've made since starting college are taking a different approach to their social lives. They don't feel it's necessary to change their actions because they're not part of an at-risk demographic. I also understand that if I get the virus, I'll almost certainly survive and probably not need to go to the hospital, but I believe strongly in social distancing because I would hate to spread the virus into my community at large which is full of people at a higher risk.
I've tried to talk about this with my college friends, and the most effective way I've come up with is to relate it to driving drunk. I ask if they think it's okay to drive drunk. Typically, the answer is no, so I ask them why. If they say it's wrong because it's illegal, I try to guide them into acknowledging that it's really wrong because they're putting themselves and others at risk. Then I connect this back to COVID-19 and help them see that the only difference between driving drunk and acting irresponsibly and spreading coronavirus is that they may never know that they harmed someone if they did it with COVID-19. While this may not change behaviors, it's a good starting point in discussing the virus with someone who behaves in a way that puts others at risk.
While my friends from college don't mind seeing each other in a close, indoor environment, I'm still not comfortable with that. When I hang out with them, we always do something outdoors and socially distanced. This sometimes puts me in an awkward position because I feel as if they're only doing a certain activity to accommodate me. While I appreciate their respect for me, my sense that they just don't understand the situation makes it uncomfortable. They'll tell me to be optimistic, and I tell them to be realistic —because we really need to be both.
Fall semester at my university starts soon, and students are moving onto campus. There will be COVID testing and lots of new rules. I feel prepared to stay safe and be successful as I continue to live through the pandemic. Some people who know me attribute this to my introverted personality, but I attribute it to accepting reality and adapting to the needs of this reality. I'd prefer to go back to my life prior to the pandemic, but right now, the coronavirus is very real, and I'm living proof that this doesn't mean that my college experience is ruined.
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