As students everywhere are entering the spring semester, I can’t help but reminisce about this time last year. The excitement of going into the second semester of my freshman year, only for those feelings to be chipped away by each event of 2020, little by little like Michelangelo creating David out of a block of marble. All of these things piled up and eventually came to a head only a few days before we were supposed to leave for Spring Break. Along with most colleges across the country, the University of Maine decided that students were not to return to campus after break. This meant that to conclude an already rough semester, students were to go home and finish it entirely online. This trend of online learning has only increased due to COVID-19’s ever-present stronghold grip on the world, and I predict that it will stay this way until the vaccine for the virus is widely accessible. After a year of hybrid courses, Zoom meetings, and taking exams from the comfort of my bed, I figured I had to have learned something about myself, the world, or education itself that I could take from all of this! Through some introspection and deep deliberations with my friends, I came up with five lessons being a student in a pandemic has taught me:
- Independence & Time Management
It’s a widely-known belief that young adults get their first taste of true independence when they go off to college, in the way that there is no one to tell them how to spend their time, energy, or money. However, there were barriers in this independence that didn’t make the dorm life a free-for-all. In-class schedules gave structure to students’ weeks because they were physically required to be in them, and the RA’s on each dorm floor always kept the partying to a minimum once it was quiet hours. Once quarantine hit, all of these faux ideas of independence went out the window in exchange for true, unadulterated free will. Attending Zoom classes let me practice time management by allowing me to cook breakfast and put a full face of makeup on simultaneously, listening to my lecture like it’s a podcast. Most of the time, the only thing my professor can see on their sides of the screen is a box that says my name and the occasional sound of my voice when I turn my mic on. On my end, I’m on my second coat of nail polish during a DIY manicure without a care in the world! If Zoom classes have taught students anything, it’s that waiting for class to end to eat, use the bathroom, or even sleep is now a thing of the past!
- The Importance of Your Environment (And Changing It)
I know I was not the only one teetering on the brink of insanity after having to quarantine in my house for months. After all of that and finally being able to come back to the spots I know and love on campus, I have come to realize how essential a good environment is in relation to the ways people focus and think. It was a different feeling when I had to walk to class, sit in a classroom or lecture hall, and listen to and engage with the professor right in front of me than when I just have to open up my laptop, lay in bed, and listen to a Zoom lecture. The classroom environment takes away the accessibility of distractions like cell phones or television, while personal and intimate environments like a bedroom only seem to exacerbate their availability. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been in a Zoom class and realized you somehow blacked out for five minutes and haven’t been paying attention with your Instagram feed opened and scrolled halfway through — Yeah, me too. To combat this comatose learning state I was feeling all of quarantine, I’m taking advantage of Fogler Library and the Memorial Union on campus to be environments that are different from my dorm where I can devote my focus to my work. Remember: don’t eat where you shit, and don’t try to study where you sleep and mindlessly scroll TikTok, they just don’t mesh together.
- I’m My Best Tutor, Sometimes
Like mentioned before, the independence I felt as a student during the pandemic was immeasurable. A lot of the time, even though there were a professor and peers behind my computer screen, it still felt like I was learning and taking a class entirely on my own. Some online classes I had were completely asynchronous, meaning that lectures were pre-recorded, assignments and readings were pre-assigned and there was little to no live communication between students and professors. This detached way of learning put me under the impression that everything I would need for the class was provided to me, not to mention the free-range access to Google I had. If I had a question, I thought I would be able to seek out the answer and figure it out myself. This gave me great results when I was able to answer my own questions since I’m a firm believer that if you understand a subject enough to teach it, even to yourself, then you actually learned and processed the information. However, as good as this method worked when it did work, when I wasn’t able to understand something, it was a disaster. These times made me forget my preconceived belief that asynchronous means you should never contact the professor or reach out to other students in the class. It’s important to realize that even though we might all be taking a class alone, we’re all taking it alone together!
- Work/Play Balance Is Crucial, Pandemic or Not!
I was very envious of those I saw in my usual prowls of social media platforms who had the motivation to use the time in quarantine to be productive, whether it was working out or completely immersing themselves in their work. When I tried to follow in their footsteps, I had trouble staying devoted to the cause of putting my all into typing on my computer. Somehow, it felt like I was getting burnt out with online classes quicker than when I was at school. Weirdly, you have more motivation to do schoolwork when you do anything more notable and exciting than laying in bed in the same pair of sweatpants you wore for a week prior. I noticed that these feelings of academic burnout and dissatisfaction in myself and the work I was producing were amplified when I tried to dedicate my time to nothing else but school. So, even though I was stuck in quarantine, I tried to find more stimulating activities to fill my time when I didn’t have work to do. I found that when I did things like painting, reading and writing for pleasure, and baking, my negative and resentful feelings towards myself and schoolwork diminished. It became so clear to me that even though I didn’t have the same balance of school work/social life that I did at school, finding that balance while at home was just as crucial for me.
- It’s Not For Everyone (And That’s Okay!)
Being at home for an extended period of time, combined with our recent winter break, I was able to catch up with a lot of my friends from my hometown and high school. What I found, especially over the summer and this past winter, was that many of my friends who completed their freshman year decided to take time off either this past semester or this current one. I have friends who completely pulled out of in-person classes and plan on completing this whole academic year online. Overall, it was clear that this pandemic has affected every single person differently, especially when it came to attending college. In a Census study in August 2020, it was reported that 16,697,349 students reported a change in their secondary-education plans due to the pandemic (Table 6 under Education Tables). Not only was education disrupted, but according to Pew Research Center, 25% of adults in America say that either they or a household member experienced a job loss or got laid off because of COVID-19, with young adults and lower-income adults being the demographic hit the hardest with layoffs due to the pandemic. Many students depend on having a job while they go to school to support themselves and/or their families. Not to mention the limitations that come with online learning such as unstable home Internet connection or access to a laptop can be hard to overcome, especially in unseen times like these. COVID-19 caused a spike in unemployment for thousands of Americans, and combined with the lack of any recent stimulus checks from the federal government, it would be insensitive to criticize anyone deciding to place their higher education on pause. College and achieving higher education will always be there for people to come back to, so if these unprecedented times resulted in a shift in priorities, do not feel as though your whole life has been put off-course.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but wherever you are, you’re exactly where you need to be.