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Surviving Freshman Year… In a Pandemic

As my freshman year of college comes to an end, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the past year, what has happened, and who I am as I come out of it on the other end.

The combination of excitement and anxiety that came with starting college in a pandemic made me a weird ball of emotions as fall semester grew closer. I was so grateful that I had the opportunity to be on campus when so many of my friends at other schools were going to be completely remote. I knew that things would be different, but I was hopeful that I could get a semi-normal college experience. And in some ways I did. When the weather was warm I was able to explore campus and play socially-distant frisbee. But there were certainly aspects of it that were more difficult than I thought they might be. It was so easy to lose motivation for my classes, as they were mostly online. It was a bigger adjustment than I hoped it would be. 

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I’m a pretty social person. But even in completely normal circumstances, it takes me a little while to form close friendships. So making friends in a pandemic was a learning curve for sure. I would say hi to people in the hallway or talk in group chats, but it was sometimes hard to go beyond that. There were periods where it felt like I would never meet anyone new. Of course that wasn’t true, but it was so easy to fall into that headspace. There would be days, especially in the winter months, where I would get up, do my classes, do work for the rest of the day, and that would be it. It did get better as time went on, but I really had to trust the process and try to gain some perspective.

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Throughout all of this, I’ve learned what keeps me going when I’m not feeling so hopeful. My support systems have absolutely been the most important part of my life. My friends across campus that always made sure to invite me to study dates or Target runs, calls with my family, and FaceTiming my long distance friends whenever I needed a pick-me-up all reminded me of the good in my life. Even the smallest interactions-- small talk in the dining hall or someone making a joke in a breakout room-- began to mean everything to me. I realized just how important and healing simple human interaction is to my well-being. 

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Even with the difficulties, I recognize that I have been extremely lucky and privileged throughout this pandemic. I’ve been lucky enough to not experience the tragedy of losing someone to COVID. I’ve been privileged enough to have access to healthcare and testing and to have been able to stay home when it was safest to do so. I don’t always like the insistence on having to find the good in everything, because sometimes things just aren’t great. But even keeping that in mind, I’m grateful for the people in my life, for the opportunity to be on campus, and for the things I’ve learned about my communities and myself over the past year. Here’s to even more self-exploration, taking the good with the bad, and to (fingers crossed) being able to smile at a friendly stranger again sometime soon.

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Gina Jagminas

Illinois '24

Hi! I'm Gina, and I'm a freshman at UIUC. I'm undeclared currently, but looking to go into History or Economics. You can find me hanging out with friends, trying new foods, or watching movies with any free time I have.
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