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Surviving UPRM Fall Semester in the Middle of a Pandemic

? Have you been wondering about how this semester will work out in the middle of all the turmoil happening in the island of Puerto Rico?

? Especially, knowing that not only the pandemic is responsible of our worst nightmares, but other factors such as earthquakes. And to top it off, hurricane season's peak is already here. Since last year, we have been mentally struggling with the instability that the intense earthquakes brought at the end of 2019. 

? Adding another layer of complexity, we have been experiencing the recent intermittent lockdowns that the pandemic brought since March, which have significantly changed our eating and sleeping habits, while disrupting our work schedule. As for the tip of the iceberg, now the new online semester has already started and we still don't know from where to begin to get a hang of all these changes, including the continuous struggle we all have with our mental health.

?However, the following 8 tips will ease your studies and keep you proactive towards possible unprecedented situations for the rest of our fall semester while keeping your game strong and still be mentally focused

1. ? Apply to scholarships around September to obtain free money (here is a short list to scholarships available to all majors)

a. Hispanic Association of Colleges & Institutions (HACU) Scholarships – HACU is the only national educational association that represents Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) and their programs are dedicated to Hispanic heritage students and bring them higher education opportunities. Right now, a new scholarship called Denny's Hungry for Education in which they are granting $2,000 is open for both five (5) graduate and undergraduate students from all majors (Go and apply now!).

b. UPR Fondo Dotal Scholarships – These scholarships come from our own UPR System and other donors. It is mostly a huge investment account that it sole purpose is to promote academic and research                 activities by granting opportunities to UPR students. Also, they hold an extended list of other federal, in-state and even private scholarships for you to apply. As for to get a hold of these opportunities you will                 need to keep an eye to the page from time to time to really see the updates. However, another way is to pay close attention to the UPRM Cartero's emails that have keywords such as “VPAE” or “Fondo Dotal” in           their subjects.

c. Santander Scholarships – Santander Bank offers a whole library of their own funded scholarships among other opportunities, in which you can filter them by choosing whether you are a sub graduate or                    graduate student and choosing Puerto Rico and UPR. Once you have it settled you can filter it even more by choosing between internships, awards, courses (even online), study abroad, research and study.                Finally, this will help you diversify your experiences and even have the opportunity of traveling abroad after the pandemic hopefully ends.

d. Scholarships.com (By ethnicity) - This is a more general way to find new college scholarships by hitting the scholarship search button on the top right bar. To easily allocate scholarships by country that you                can apply in general, choose the filter by ethnicity and then, choose Puerto Rico. However, there is a downside to this type of scholarships database. Unfortunately, as a Puerto Rican or part of Latino heritage,              you must reside in the states to receive most of the opportunities listed. Moreover, it is worth mentioning it if you plan to study in the states for your masters or doctorate in the future.

Last but not least, here's a general tip for you: Always check our UPRM's "cartero" emails and filter or use the search bar to type all those keywords that start with "beca", scholarship, "internado", internship, coop or any other words related.

2. ? Save money in cash in case your power runs out at your home or apartment due to hurricane season, future earthquakes or just because of our island's unstable power grid. A good amount to start saving is around $300 - $500 dollars in cash to cover basic necessities such as food, gas for your car and some spare change for laundry services if you are staying far from home or renting an apartment without washing machines or dryers near the place. Finally, keep it near to your emergency backpack which in case you haven't made it yet, you should, to save you another headache.

3. ? Create a quiet, safe, and comfy space to put your laptop, PC and school materials accessible to you. You will be passing most of the time studying in a designated spot of your liking at your home. Therefore, it is important to establish an inspiration and tranquil space for you to concentrate and happily be productive. Choose a spot in your house with a good natural lightning, near a window where you can see at least some nature or have some plants, which can contribute in purifying your air (Nasa, Interior Landscape Plants for Indoor Air Pollution Abatement, 2013) and increase your well-being by a 47%, creativity by 45% and your productivity by 38% according to a study held by the University of Exeter in 2013 (Office plants boost well-being at work, 2013). Lastly, don't forget to buy or prepare a seat that is comfortable enough to spend hours in it. You can prepare it by putting some pillows on your back and in your seat.  In case of having a limited budget another good option can be purchasing chairs at a near thrift shop or online. Finally, choose or buy a portable table with enough space for you to switch in different parts of your home . This way your routine won't be dull during the week or months to come and your semester can be ensured to finalize in a less dreadful way.

4.? Start your day with at least 30 minutes of exercises. As time and assignments accumulate, you will feel less motivated to begin. Therefore, it is better to start as early as you can and in the day to build the habit of an exercise routine. You can conveniently do them indoors or near your home. This, to improve your anxiety and stress levels, while keeping you motivated and refreshed to kickstart your day. Believe me, your body will resent you less and your sleep will improve too.

5. ? Keep an agenda and organize the assignments and exams due dates. There is nothing better than to foresee what is coming to your near future, with the sole purpose of being proactive, not reactive (meaning to be responsive in a stressful and sensible way towards an unprecedented situation). However, nature itself always gives cues before big events happen and if you closely pay attention to it, you will see that the first signal for this semester was the syllabus given for each of your classes. Therefore, keeping an agenda or a calendar where you include  the details of each syllabus will help you visualize the path to be taken through the end of your semester which is crucial. Furthermore, the agenda will become your golden compass in deciding how to distribute your workload throughout the semester and when to start without rushing in at the end of each deadline. 

Finally, we are humans and we all need some extra time to think things through.  Locking some spaces in your agenda will give you flexibility and maintain you to be on top of your virtual class game.

6. ⏳ Allow yourself to take breaks and stretch out between classes. This action is pretty simple and straightforward, but this not only will help you bring some circulating blood to your pale face. Aside from promoting circulation to your body, it will give your eyes the rest they need after looking at a screen for long periods of time. On the other hand, stretching your body will help you improve posture between meetings and shake off drowsiness and confusion from all the overwhelming amounts of information you will probably receive during classes. In addition, if you designed different spots to put your working materials and rotate as mentioned in step 3, then these actions are the following step between your area rotations. Lastly, for the timing of your breaks, I suggest between 10 to 15 minutes if you're taking classes that last more than 50 minutes. If not, and you're working through assignments, a good technique to use is the Pomodoro’s. To execute it, you will need to define and focus on the attainable task that needs to be done, set a timer and work for 25 to 30 mins, take a break of 2 or 3 minutes and repeat the session three more times and at the fourth session take a longer break, according to Forbes (The Pomodoro Technique Explained, 2020, Collins). Finally, just remember that for this technique be effective you need to take notes of the time in a piece of paper to monitor the changes and turn off all distractions, such as calls, text, social media (you can put your cell phone on airplane mode, on silence or in the “Do not disturb” setting).    

7. ? Distribute your time by creating a study plan or work itinerary. The difference between a study plan or work itinerary (from step 5) versus an agenda is  the personal level. An itinerary includes everything you do during a day (eating, sleeping, free and working time), but an agenda only includes the different events and due dates that will be happening each day through the month. Thus, the study plan will focus on helping you attain simple tasks each day to get to the goal or objective which is to complete the sum of all tasks on a specific date. 

Keep in mind that work itineraries and agendas are subject to change so do not feel discouraged if at the end of the semester it looks totally different. It is a part of our ever-changing nature. However, if you update them both, you’ll feel at ease looking at a potential path to meet your goal and avoid workload or last minute studies, which most of the time becomes counterproductive. 

8. ? Plan ahead and cook meal preps. This last tactic will save you time, money, energy, and even electric power. Planning for meals might sound crazy, especially if you like fresh food, but these sacrifices can hold you accountable and efficient if you're living alone. The biggest advantage you will take with this practice is that you will never go hungry again in the middle of your classes and you can avoid counting calories for your diet, because you already chose the adequate quantity of healthy food and homemade snacks as intake for the whole week. Therefore, meal preparation should be considered to last for a week, if not your food will get spoiled, and your frustration will take its place.  

Finally, these overall tactics will elevate your strategic thinking and planning, while helping you manage your feelings towards unexpected events that might unwrap through the semester. Moreover, it is crucial to keep in mind that we as humans need to rest and be forgiving with ourselves and that pressuring ourselves too much will not resolve the problems, but could even further deteriorate your mental and physical health. Thus, if you feel in need to talk about your personal struggles, feel free to contact our campus health professionals under the Consulting and Psychological Services Department or “Departamento de Consejería y Servicios Psicológicos” (DCSP) in which they offer free services to our UPRM students. Lastly, in the worst case scenario, our Her Campus members will be available to help you in any way they can to find a suitable solution to your needs, because we know your mental health matters too.

Ivonnemary Rivera González is a Puerto Rican millennial with a Chemical Engineering background and currently pursuing an MBA in Finances. She also started her Financial Podcast during the Pandemic to help the Hispanic Community manage, learn and feel comfortable towards topics about money which are talked in Spanish. Her Podcast, called The Pink Dollar in the Room can be followed as tpdr.pr in Instagram which is a safe place to talk about money insecurities. Currently, Millenials and Centennials just like you, are invited to talk about their issues and even financial tips while sharing it with the community. If you are interested in being interviewed by Ivonnemary, please feel free to reach her through Instagram or via email at tpdr.pr@gmail.com.
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