For some people, online classes are a blessing. For others, they're lukewarm. For people like me, however, it's a nightmare.
Originally, Ohio University told us we would be in person this fall. We were sent emails about the "new normal" (I really hate that term), shown videos on how campus spaces were rearranged, and what protocols were put in place. We were asked to sign agreements that we would comply with the rules, as they promised us a good, albeit different, semester nonetheless. We were all so excited when we heard the news. After three months of lockdown and starting the summer worried about the future, we were beyond relieved to gain back the missing piece in our lives: real school! Spirits were high.
I was in Ohio for my big's wedding for 10 days over the summer, and visiting Athens felt like coming home. Meg and I hugged goodbye at the airport, with future plans of reuniting back here the following month. We were finally going to be in the same state again, and I was beyond excited. OU is home; my entire life is there. My church, my friends, my school, my apartment, and more. I could not have picked a better place to attend college.
In regards to my summer, I ended up having a great one, given the circumstances.
I made the best out of it and am so grateful for the spiritual and emotional growth I experienced. I "graduated" from therapy, which was a huge accomplishment after the absolute crapshoot of a year post-fall 2019 that I faced. I was able to go to church often, travel domestically, and see my long-distance friends. The future was bright and full of opportunities; I was optimistic and ready for what was to come. So, when I received an email 3 weeks before the start of classes that fall was to be entirely online, I felt like I got hit with a bomb (emotionally). My major was deemed unimportant to be one of the select few who were allowed to have classes in person, so I was forced to take 19 credit hours, work part-time and participate in student organizations all online from home.
As much as I wish I could write an inspirational story about how I "persevered through difficult times" and "found a light at the end of the tunnel" or "turned a bad situation into something good", I can't.
All I can say is that this, and fall 2019, were equally my worst semesters of college for different reasons.
I found myself missing fall 2019, even if it was awful, because at least then I was surrounded by friends who loved me and classmates who cared. They helped me get through the worst of times and were a big part of my best days in college. This time around, I was all alone. I ended up not returning to Athens and decided to hand my apartment over to a subleaser for financial reasons. It just didn't make sense to pay so much to live in a semi-ghost town when I didn't have classes in person.
So, the fall semester began at the end of August. When syllabus week rolled around, I still had high hopes. I had my doubts, but I was still on a high, so to speak, from summer. At first, it was easy. I had places to go, restrictions were very lax, and school wasn't that difficult. But, as the pace of my courses picked up and my job started, I felt like I was slowly drowning in a mountain of schoolwork that did not end until December. Almost all my friends went back to their respective universities while I sat back and scrolled through social media to see them happily begin the next chapter in their lives. They grew and flourished into better people, explored their interests, scored jobs, made connections, reunited with their friends, and made memories on campus that they'll cherish forever. I'm so happy for them. In a year full of so much grief, someone deserves to be happy and move on.
As much as I rooted for others, I just could not keep up my happy facade.
I felt myself slowly slipping away as time went on. Yes, I pulled off great grades, good physical health, letters of recommendation, and successfully balanced work with school, but I was doing terribly on the inside. I remember having a meeting with my speech science professor to just get to know each other, and something he said really made me think. "What's unhealthy about this all is that you're not truly in the right mindset for work or school unless you're in an academic setting, such as a classroom or lab. You can create a study space for yourself, but your brain truly isn't in the right focus from your bedroom, couch, kitchen, or living room. Even I'm not when it comes to teaching." And that exactly sums up online classes for me.
I had tremendous difficulties staying motivated while watching someone lecture to me through a screen, trying to navigate awkward group work interactions with classmates I met for the first time in a Zoom breakout room, and getting my work done. I had professors who did not bother to show their faces and made us teach ourselves an entire course, never being available for assistance or advice. On top of having difficult courses and working 16-18 hours a week, I also participated in three student organizations, wrote articles for Odyssey, and squeezed time in for breaks. I was slowly losing my mind as the weeks went by, as the monotony is debilitating. It was the same schedule every single week. Wake up, say prayers, eat, class, work, study, rest, meetings, some self-care, sleep, church on Sundays, repeat. I would go weeks without seeing a friend and the number of friends (before meeting new people on my trips) I actually saw this semester can be counted on one hand. I was SO alone. I had no support system, nowhere to go and nobody to turn to when I was stressed or needed a break from online classes. I felt almost chained to my courses. Assignments, readings, projects, activities, recorded lectures, and homework were always open early to allow us to work ahead. So, to cope with the loneliness, stress, and anxiety, I became a workaholic. I picked up everyone's shifts at work when they needed someone to cover, even if that meant giving up the free nights I so desperately needed. I was "in school" from sunset to sunrise, up early, awake late, crying, stressing, sleep-deprived, and unhealthy. I'm in tears just writing this as I remember how awful this semester was.
I didn't know what else I could do when I couldn't see my friends, as they were all actually IN school, under lockdown, or very far away. I bottled a lot up because I didn't want to unload my problems onto my happy peers, so I just talked about how great my grades were, as that was about the only thing I had going for me. It seemed like everyone was doing well and managing, but me. So, it got to the point where I sat there and said to myself, "What's the point?" I don't feel like an OU student anymore and I don't feel any connection to campus, professors, classmates, or anything related to my college, for that matter. It's a weird dissociating experience. After all, why do you think the trend "Zoom University" has become a symbol for funny merchandise, social media bios, and more? It's because we spend day after day on this (incredibly annoying) platform. I honestly hate looking at it. Once this over, nobody ever mention the word "Zoom" to me again.
I would get through a week of classes to just cry for 45 minutes straight when it was homecoming weekend and all I wanted was to go to the homecoming parade, football game and watch the Marching 110 perform with their alumni band on the field. I wanted it all back: the pep rallies, parties, late nights out, hockey games with my friends, and more. But that was all canceled. I hate being the Debby Downer, but someone needs to talk about the trauma of having your, very expensive, student life get ripped away from you with no promises of returning anytime soon; don't even get me started on the absence of rightful tuition refunds. Like, this isn't what I signed up for and I don't enjoy wasting $21,000 per year to be an out of state student from my bedroom. It is not worth the money.
Honestly, by the time Thanksgiving came, I was half-alive.
The only thing that got me through to that point was the Kansas City trip to see my best friend. I was at the point where I felt like if I had left one day later, I would not have made it. Like, my body and brain would have physically given up on me from the immense mountain of pressure I was under to get through this semester without just withdrawing by midterms and taking a semester off. That pressure literally felt like a physical weight on my shoulders that I could not relieve, no matter what I did. So as much as a break would have been great, that would have thrown off my graduation date a semester and entrance to grad school by an entire year, so not an option. At one time, I seriously considered it because I truly did not think I could handle being so isolated in my small town with no healthy outlets. I needed a real-life, for lack of a better term, not virtual reality. If I had it my way, I'd have tossed my laptop and phone in the trash and never turned them on again (this year has made me hate technology).
What I needed was hugs from loved ones and people to tell me that things were going to be okay, I needed to see friends in person, go somewhere else, get away from home and do something other than work, school, or exercise, because everything was at home. My job, my school, my personal life, etc. It drives even the best of us crazy. Before COVID, we went to campus for class, had the library and academic buildings to study in, restaurants, bars, and coffee shops to socialize at, then our dorms or apartments to come home and relax in. Now that's not the case, as we live in an online world where our lives are in our phones and laptops. There really needs to be a separation between them, or else they begin to blend together, and that's not good. Since there was always schoolwork to be done, I felt guilty when I wasn't ahead on assignments, slightly behind, or not at (my remote) job when there was always an option to work on something. Yet, that creates an unhealthy cycle of needing to be constantly busy as a coping mechanism, creating more stress, and not giving our bodies the rest they need. The brain cannot be active 24/7. My schoolwork began invading my dreams and nightmares, which is when I knew I needed to take a step back.
Come November, I managed to go on a day pilgrimage to Holy Trinity Monastery, which was very spiritually reviving. I reunited with friends who are in seminary there, saw a lot of familiar faces from St. Herman's Conference and others who came to visit from my home parish. I highly recommend everyone to take at least one monastery trip a year. It really does wonders to set our minds on God and get away from the corruption of the world, even for a little bit. As for Thanksgiving break, I went to visit Marf (who is truly my biggest supporter in life) in Kansas City. And let me say, when we finally ran up and hugged each other at the airport, I felt like I could actually breathe freely for the first time in a long while. That trip truly exceeded my expectations. Despite the restrictions, we managed to do something new and go somewhere different every single day and have an adventure while doing so. (But not without a couple L's along the way) I met so many new people, including Marf's hometown and college friends. I was welcomed in as part of the Glazyrine family, had the most entertaining, hilarious, and quite-literally fulfilling Russian Thanksgiving ever, fell in love with KU, and explored more of its college town, Lawrence. We made an appearance for our return to Sandbar, thanks to the owner convincing us to come in for drinks at 3 p.m. (it's 5 o'clock somewhere, right?) I appeared in my first ever two podcast episodes (shoutout to the WYPS podcast crew for welcoming me in so warmly!) laughed at my terrible bowling skills, and had an actual lit first time at hibachi. I felt genuinely happy and laughed to tears for the first time in I don't even remember how long, along with a sense of purpose, worth, and belonging. It was truly healing. If I had it my way, I'd move to Kansas City and stay there, if not for just the sake of being next-door neighbors with Marf so we'd never have to say goodbye. I even switched my flight for an extra day together when United offered me to (and it was so worth it). It was truly the life-changing experience I needed to give me motivation for finals. To my best friend, I owe you so much. Thank you for always going above and beyond for me.
I've now finished final exams and fall semester 2020 of Zoom University is officially over.
So, before I wrap this up, there are people I want to thank and things I want to express my gratitude for: I truly applaud the instructors I had in my CSD courses who did their absolute best to provide a quality education for us. They acknowledged that nothing could ever replace being in the classroom together and shared our pain. I appreciate their efforts to be as present as possible more than I can say and I know it's a difficult situation on every end. This is not the year any of us expected. At the end of the day, they stepped up to the challenge of teaching upper-level courses remotely for the first time, made me work, and get A's. To CHAARG at OU, it is so comforting to know that we all felt the same way about this semester and could be honest + open about our struggles. Weekly workouts, socials, and small groups were truly uplifting. This organization as a whole and group of women mean the world to me. Thank you for reminding me that I was not alone. To all the friends and family near and far who helped me get through this semester with my sanity intact, you know who you are. I couldn't have done it without you all.
As for what I've learned, I would say two things: our ultimate goal in this life is to achieve the Kingdom of Heaven.
As long as we continue to strive towards God, attend church, fast, and pray, we will always have joy through the love of Christ. My faith has always grounded me and given me a reason behind the madness of the world. I would be lost without it, and am so blessed that I have the right to practice and go to services regularly in a time where many are not so lucky. This year has made me so much more grateful for the blessings I have. And second, when our lives go a different direction than we planned or are not going the way we please, I think that we should do everything we can to change our situation. Book a trip somewhere, take a break, move, seek help, whatever it may be. I found that just leaving for a day trip, grabbing coffee to hang out with a friend, going on vacation, reuniting with my best friend, and just getting a change of scenery does wonders. At the end of the day, if we were meant to stay in one place, we'd have roots, not feet. And if you're one of the lucky ones who got their guaranteed return to campus in the fall and/or spring, count your blessings, and don't you ever take it for granted. Too many people, including me, would give up almost everything to be in your place.
So here's to getting a great GPA, surviving 2020 with my sanity, and managing to succeed in a time of adversity.
While I'm not exactly where I want to be right now, there is time to improve. And in case you haven't heard, I'll be taking the 5th year to finish my double major and add a certificate in ASL! I already signed a lease thanks to a friend from CHAARG offering me to live with her and her roommates. So, here's to new friends and a do-over. I felt that this was not how I wanted to end my undergraduate career, and there were still more opportunities for me to take for 2021-2022. I think it'll be the second chance I need to make up for lost time in 2020 and be a strong competitor for graduate school.