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View of the Mckeldin mall at University of Maryland
Original photo by Dillon Frank

A Reflection of My First Semester at the University of Maryland During a Pandemic

It was Aug. 26, 2020. I saw the big University of Maryland sign, and it suddenly hit me that I was starting a new chapter of my life. After saying goodbye to my parents, I was eager and ready to be independent and experience meeting new people in a new and diverse environment. 

Feeling a bit overconfident, I got lost on my third day on campus. I had to use Apple Maps to get me from my dorm to the Target a mile away.

It didn’t take long until I made my second mistake. As an avid seltzer drinker, I know a good seltzer sale when I see one. When Target had three cases of LaCroix for $10, I knew I had to purchase some of my favorite flavors. What I didn’t take into consideration was how heavy those three cases would become during my mile-long walk back to north campus in the near-ninety-degree weather. Needless to say, I took a lot of breaks. 

That experience made my arrogant sense of directions, and readiness for college in general, fly out the window. I thought I was failing already. It felt like this one moment was an omen for how this already uncertain semester was going to pan out. I was worried I would continue to feel lost and alone in this foreign landscape.

When my friend and I got back to our dorm, a few girls from our floor invited us to paint rocks in the lounge, and I reconsidered my previously gloomy outlook. I was able to meet all the girls on my floor and was happy to feel like we had a little community in the chaos that is being at college during a pandemic. Coming into college, I was worried that the dedensified dorms would make it harder to make friends, but I have since learned that while it might take a little more effort, there are definitely people out there looking for friendship. 

On my first day of classes, I was a nervous wreck. As much as my rigorous high school tried to prepare me for college, I still felt unprepared for Zoom University. While I finished the second half of my senior year online, starting off college that way was strange. At least in my senior year, I already knew all my teachers and classmates well. This was like being thrown in the deep end with a ton of strangers who I hardly ever saw, much less got to know. 

people on zoom call
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

Despite my anxiety, I slowly got the hang of things and began transitioning to my new online class schedule. Not having any in-person classes left me with a lot of down time. Since I wasn’t walking to class, I took it upon myself to explore campus on my down time. I found my own niche study spots both outside and inside, spent time at the gym and participated in fun cycling classes. I tried to get to know as many people as I could by talking to people on my floor and introducing myself to new people wherever and whenever I could. These little moments were my solace for my mental health and gave me the experiences I had hoped I would gain in college.

I enjoyed both the traditional college experiences and the ones that were coronavirus-unique. I tried the famous Marathon Deli fries, and I can now say I understand the hype. Because of the COVID-19 guest policies, freshmen gathered at McKeldin Mall on the weekends to meet new people, and I had a blast attending some nights. I walked around the fountain, sang along to music and got to see a diverse turnout of people that might not have been seen at a typical frat party. One of my favorite nights on the mall was on Halloween. Everyone went all out with their costumes, and people were running around asking others: “What are you?” It was a unique moment where people who already didn’t recognize one another because of our masks went around and got to know people in a new way.

Since I am from New Jersey and had only gone to Washington D.C. one time before, it was also really exciting to explore the area when possible. I visited the National Mall, the capitol building, the monuments and ARTECHOUSE. I also tried take-out from Founding Farmers — a restaurant in D.C.  While I’m sure I didn’t get the opportunity to experience D.C. in all its glory, it was still cool to have gone so many times because there wasn’t much else to do on campus. 

Supreme Court Building
Photo by Claire Anderson from Unsplash

I enjoyed attending the Women’s March and honoring Ruth Bader Ginsburg in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. I will never forget those moments of solidarity among other strong and independent women. Coming from a small suburb and never having gone to a real march or movement before, I loved having the chance to be there for these important moments in history. Seeing so many others fighting there with me filled my heart up.

College in a pandemic is hard. We all experienced it and struggled with it. There were times I spent crying to my friends and family, scared and sad about all the things I wish I could have been doing. I was lonely and discouraged from seeing so many others at the University of Maryland and other universities making great friends when I felt like I didn’t have that. I was overwhelmed by the massive changes in my life and didn’t know where to turn, but having a support system through FaceTime calls helped to lift my spirits when I needed it most. I learned to accept the cards I was dealt, and I clearly didn’t fold. I held strong throughout the semester and learned to go with the flow and make the most of what I have.

The clubs I joined and the prospect of the future helped me persevere as well. Joining Her Campus made me feel like I had a badass group of female warriors in my corner. Contributing to The Diamondback — the university’s independent student newspaper — made me more confident in my major and career path. I am also planning on going through sorority recruitment in the spring and am looking forward to the new connections I hope to gain through that experience. 

Although it might have been forced, I learned a lot about myself. Having made it through this crazy semester, I’m excited for what the rest of my college years hold.

Parker Leipzig is a freshman journalism major at the University of Maryland. She is specifically interested pursuing a path in investigative and data journalism. Outside of school, she plays tennis and loves to watch movies and comedy specials, specifically John Mulaney ones, with friends.
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