When spring semester classes moved to online, I faced the choice of packing up and moving back home, 7 hours away, or staying in my college town, Columbia, Missouri for the unforeseeable future. I chose to stay, justifying my decision by pointing to my expensive apartment lease and few friends that were also staying. I also (naively) believed that my part-time campus job might allow its student employees to come back within a few weeks. This hope of a few weeks turned out to be 5 long months. In these past months, I have had a lot of time to appreciate and make new discoveries about the community I have come to call home.
You don't notice how much of the town's population is made up of college students until they're gone.
Columbia, like a lot of other college towns, seems to rotate around its college like it is the sun. According to data collected by the US Census, the ages 20-25 by far make up the majority of the population and during COVID-19, students have gradually returned to their hometowns. Downtown Columbia, once overrun with any number of college students bar-hopping or walking dogs, has become quiet. Restaurants, coffee shops, and liquor stores that could at any time be found full of young people, now have only a few, local patrons.
Columbia is home to a lot of beautiful sunsets in the summertime.
While I know sunsets don't change depending on if college is in session or people are in town, it really seems like there have been more and more photo-worthy sunsets since quarantine began. Maybe it's because when college is in session, it's much more common that I am out with friends, (sometimes) studying in the library, or getting ready for some party. It's a rare afternoon that I would take the time to pause, go outside, and watch the sunset like I have been doing much more often as of late.
What makes being in college so special is not your campus, or classes, or dorm; it's your friends.
Living in you college town after most of your friends have headed back home is really different. The number of people you can call to grab take-out with or go on a hike with is drastically smaller. FaceTime and Zoom calls become the new 'hang-out.' It's not nearly the same, but it is the new normal.
It's no longer normal to wear sweats/pajamas walking around campus.
When the only people walking on campus are alumni who never left town or professors who have stayed to continue their research alone, it feels pretty weird to wear sweats on campus the morning after a late-night zoom happy hour. It's just not the same when you're the only one hungover and looking like you just rolled out of bed.
The most unsettling place to walk through and see it empty is Greek town.
During the school year, Greek town is the one place you can walk through at any time of day or night and see swarms of fraternity brothers or sorority sisters hanging out, walking around, and partying. Seeing the lines of pristine houses desolate and quiet is unsettling in a way that you never would have expected it to be.
All those college traditions you love during the year- midnight ice cream runs, lazy brunches, and tailgate mimosas have lost their glamor when the town is empty.
As the college students left, the college culture seems to have left with it. It's not as easy to justify eating ice-cream in the middle of the night or drinking before noon when you're the only one doing it!
You actually might start to miss your college lectures.
During the year, you wouldn't be caught dead expressing that you missed going to class. But after months in quarantine, you might start to crave the normalcy that lectures brought you. You could always count on all your peers bringing their coffees to class, wearing sweats to sit in the back of the lecture hall (or the try-hards in business casual sitting up front). Dozing off during you Monday morning lecture has never looked so appealing.