Being isolated from family and friends is difficult for anyone—especially as a freshman in college. Most college freshmen have just become legal adults. Now freed from the constraints of the scheduled life of high school, we seek to make new connections in this next chapter of life.
Unfortunately, our new reality, due to the pandemic, has added barriers between us as we distance ourselves physically in the pursuit of public health safety. As a freshman, this is my first year living alone, and the ache for social contact is almost unbearable. Like you, when I heard that Arcadia was moving fully online for the fall semester, I was devastated. How would I handle digital learning in college when I had such a bad experience with it in high school?
Pre-quarantine, I was a social butterfly who was deeply involved in my school and community. If you think of an extracurricular activity, I was probably in it. For example, Homecoming week was insane: I would stay up late in the night with Student Council setting up for tailgate, the next day working said event as a representative of three different clubs (running between all three to keep the games going), and then just hours later performing in the game itself by marching onto the field with a drum on my shoulders.
People would dub me a buzzing bee who zipped around with zany energy. However, I did not mind this hectic lifestyle; being around others who put their heart into what they did was so inspiring. I just love spending my time working with others, and having this attitude helped me make new connections. But when we all had to leave our jobs, classes, and clubs in March, I had never felt so lonely in my life.
This was supposed to be our year, the Class of 2020’s best year so far. Instead, many of us graduated from our homes listening to our valedictorians speak on our computers, televisions, and phones. Uncertainty of the future canvassed the summer, and finding out that my freshman year of college would be a continuation of the end of my senior year pushed me further into those negative feelings. I thrive off the energy of the people around me and never shied from expressing myself and how I felt. As an extroverted person, I especially found working online challenging. The screen of my laptop was both a physical and social barrier between my classmates and me—for the first time in my life, I felt out of my element trying to communicate with other people. The awkward silences of people waiting for someone to speak, technical malfunctions, and lack of connections between classmates make me feel as if I am trapped in a plastic bubble.
In the midst of this pandemic, I am more like a caterpillar in its chrysalis. I barely go out, I get my groceries delivered, and I take school remotely. But even though I may be alone in my home, I am not alone in my situation or feelings. I take comfort in knowing we are all in this together, and while bridging this digital barrier between us is a process, it is happening. Video calls, online gaming sessions, and watch parties with friends have made isolation easier.
Reach out to people, even just to say hi; I dare you. Don’t allow yourself to stew in your feelings—it will just continue to sap away your energy. I had to make the conscious decision to take control of what little I could in this crazy world that seems to be quite out of control. It is so easy to allow yourself to cocoon in blankets and binge Netflix, but the effort it takes to pick up the phone is also just as easy.
It did not feel that way at first—in fact, the act of contacting anyone during quarantine filled me with so much anxiety. Will they even pick up? What do I say? What if something happened to them or their family? But would you rather let those questions remain unanswered, never knowing how the people you care about are doing? I don’t, and I think you don’t either.
I faced those questions when I decided to contact a friend of mine I had not seen since the beginning of sophomore year. She had to move away to the other side of the district, and I had not heard from her in almost three years. But when I got up the courage to call her during the pandemic, it felt like no time had passed at all as we laughed and cried about all that had happened since we had last spoken. The anxiety I had felt washed away so easily; I was surprised. Now we talk weekly, and I can’t imagine how I would be right now if I kept on staying bundled in my cocoon. If this pandemic has taught me anything, it is to never take for granted the time you have to do, to experience, to live. You cannot wait for things to happen, because life won’t wait for you.
In regards to online learning at Arcadia, it is much better than what I went through in high school. I am still learning how to cope with remote schooling, but I am glad the teachers here are also putting in the effort to make it more relaxed and similar to the experience we would have in person. It makes me, in turn, put in the effort to do my best despite our situation.
And to the people reading this, I say go outside and get some vitamin D in your system. These barriers between us are only as powerful as we make them, so let’s chip away at them, one conversation at a time. And one day, we will be able to fly free amongst each other again.