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COLUMN: Reflecting on my first semester of college in a pandemic



Well, my first semester of college is ending.

I looked up recently and realized it was December. Classes are ending. Textbooks are being closed. I’ve sent “thank you” emails to my professors. I’ve turned in those lingering assignments and I’ve studied for final exams.

You don’t need me to tell you that this semester has been unlike anything we’ve seen. By now, that idea is pretty trite. But I have no idea what else to say, really.

I’m still having trouble processing all of it.

Four months ago, I was preparing to leave home to embark on my first semester of college. As much as I would love to say I was ecstatic, I was pretty much the exact opposite. In fact, when I was moving into my sister’s Bloomington apartment on a humid August day, I had a panic attack.

It’s scary to admit that to an audience, but it’s true: I had a panic attack about attending college. It wasn’t just about going to college, though – it was about being a freshman going to college during a pandemic.

There’s nothing like it. That’s what made it so hard.

I have no prior experience with school during a time like this, just like everyone else. I’m fully aware that we’re about nine months into this pandemic, but there was something about leaving home on that August day that made me feel sad, scared and unsafe in my new not-so-permanent home. It’s as if I hadn’t connected the dots that yes, I would be leaving home in August, and yes, I would be living in a place that wasn’t home during a major health crisis.

It hit me at the most unfortunate time: move-in day.

The whole experience was so unnerving that I moved back home in October. After my only in-person class ended, I packed up my belongings and left Bloomington.

And I think, now that I’m really taking a deep look at this past semester, that’s one of the most heartbreaking parts of it all.

Bloomington doesn’t feel like home.

I so desperately want Bloomington to feel like home. I want to know what my favorite restaurant is here. I want to know where I’ll love to study in the coming years. I want to know what it’s like to go sit in a lecture with tons of people. I want to know where I’ll meet all my new college friends on weekends to hang out.

The truth is, so much of that just couldn’t happen this semester. I didn’t explore Bloomington’s restaurant scene. I mostly studied where I lived. I went to Zoom lectures. And, even though it’s a little embarrassing to admit, I didn’t really make a whole lot of friends.

That was my story for this semester. It’s indisputably factual, but it’s a hard one to swallow.

This whole year has been hard to swallow. A huge part of me just wants to go on a walk in the woods and not turn around for a while. I want to leave so much of this behind.

But I can’t do that. And neither can you.

Another truth of my story is that while yes, it’s sad, there are people who have it far worse than I do. There are people suffering from COVID-19. There are people being evicted from their homes. There are people going hungry. There are people who couldn’t attend college this semester.

But just because others are going through problems that could be seen as far more painful than your own doesn’t mean the pain you feel is diminished. That’s a lesson I’m still trying to learn. Part of the difficulty in this semester is the guilt I have felt – and I know others have felt – for being sad. For being in seemingly endless pain.

For having no idea how to really cope with it all.

But maybe we’re all in indefinite pain right now. Maybe we need to stop comparing each other’s pains. Maybe, at the end of the day, we’re all just aching right now.

Maybe it’s okay that I’m aching. At least I know I’m not alone. And I know that, one day, things will be better.

I know that, one day, I’ll sit in a lecture hall full of people. I know that I’ll make more friends. I know that I’ll know the shops and restaurants of my college town like the back of my hand.

And I know that, one day, Bloomington will feel like home.

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