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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

Before I begin, I am aware that we are not fully out of the pandemic. With all the approaching variants, COVID is very much not over. However, at least in terms of education, things are starting to return to how they were in the past, with obvious key differences for safety. Although I am without a doubt thrilled to have escaped the hell of online classes, I also have mixed feelings about returning in person. Most of me is excited to finally have the chance to feel like a student again, as the past year honestly felt less like schooling and more like suffering (not that the two can’t be synonymous). That being said, I’m also extremely nervous to go back to in-person classes, partially because this would be my last year at VCU. Although obviously, COVID is still a concern, that is not why I’ve been so nervous about returning to the physical classroom. Simply said, I think I have forgotten how to interact with peers as a normal human being. Isolation really did a number not only on my social skills but also social battery. I’ve always been introverted, but there’s a difference between introversion and suddenly being unable to spend more than an hour in the presence of other people without wanting a nap. 

And so, this past week of finally returning to in-person classes has been an interested and nap-filled experience. One positive is the general feeling of being on campus, strolling through the Compass alongside a myriad of other students. Yes, we are all wearing masks, so recognizing others is a bit more difficult, but the sense of incoming midterm doom and joint hatred of 8 A.M. lectures remains the same. After almost two years of “going” to class while still sitting in my room, being amid other students on campus makes me actually feel like I actually go to VCU rather than just being a tired virtual presence. That being said, there are also struggles associated with coming back in person. 

The first struggle is small talk. It’s not that I was particularly good at it before. However, the pandemic really did a number on the quality of meaningless word vomit. I got so used to the isolation that sitting in silence, whether it be with my family or myself, became the norm. Since my goal of returning to campus also includes making new friends, this silence while sitting among my peers is not ideal. I intentionally set my schedule up so that my earliest class starts at 11 A.M. since I have never and will never be a morning person. Usually, a couple of hours as part of the waking world is sufficient in preparing me to interact with others. Unfortunately, the pandemic seems to have made me incapable of making pleasant conversation regardless of the time, and my brain and any accompanying words flounder as if it was still 5 A.M. 

I did eventually get back into the swing of things (thank god) and found myself really enjoying those around me. That lasted about three hours until I found myself wandering home in a state of total social exhaustion. Not only had I initially forgotten how to speak to strangers, but I also had a much-lowered bar for it. Over the past week, both of these things have gotten better. I can now exchange words with another person without stuttering, and the usual questions of “what year are you?” and “what are you studying?” come to mind rather than wordless static. 

Another thing I seemed to have forgotten about during our virtual year is travel time. Rolling out of bed at 10:55 A.M. for my 11 A.M. is perfectly acceptable when the only “traveling” was from my bed to desk. However, this becomes less possible when I have to move across campus to an academic building as well as get dressed and take care of general hygiene beforehand. I have an issue with chronic lateness as it is, so having been given the opportunity to be fully online, the problem has gotten sufficiently worse. On the first day of classes, I actually woke up sufficiently early and then proceeded to sit around, eating breakfast and debating over the best choice of outfit. I didn’t even realize I had clearly waited too long until I left my apartment, and it became very apparent that I would not be making it to campus in under 10 minutes. This resulted in an uncoordinated and embarrassingly reminiscent of Freshman year scramble across campus. I didn’t end up being on time, but neither did the majority of my class. Maybe they also forgot walking usually takes longer than logging into Zoom. 

Overall, I’m very glad that classes have started to be back in person, and I look forward to it continuing. That being said, my adjusting to the change hasn’t exactly been graceful. As of right now, I simply plan on practicing small talk skills to the best of my ability and actually leaving the apartment at a reasonable hour. There isn’t a ton I can do about the social exhaustion part, but I’m hoping the longer I spend around people, the less energy they will absorb, and I continue to look forward to this school year.

Emma Ostenfeld is a Senior and Psychology major/English minor at Virginia Commonwealth University.
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