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  • Dr. Gary Hill

COVID University: How One Student Learned to Embrace College from Home

The other I day caught up with a friend whose daughter, I’ll call her Anna, just started her freshman year at her dream college. Anna is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in nursing and was all set to move in with her selected roommate and a car full of clothes, bedding, and decorations for her dorm room. She knew she would not have the typical college experience this semester due to the continuing pandemic, but she was excited to start her new life, live in a new city, and make new friends. One week before her scheduled move-in date, Anna received an email from her college stating that it had decided to go completely virtual for the semester and was not allowing students to live on campus.

Anna was crushed. She had worked so hard to get into this college. She had already missed out on the end of her senior year of high school, including prom and graduation. According to her dad, Anna spent a few days being sad and angry and contemplating taking a gap year. In the end, Anna decided to stay the course and started her freshman year of college from home, in her childhood bedroom.

Many of your college and high-school-aged students are likely facing similar challenges this year. At Solutions Northshore, I treat adolescents and young adults who are struggling to make these difficult decisions and learn to live with them. What makes Anna’s story stand out to me is how quickly she was able to move from a place of anger and grief to fully embracing her situation. Anna is not just grudgingly getting through this semester, she is reaching out to other students at her university to cultivate friendships, she is joining clubs, even though they will also be meeting virtually, and she is happy that she is moving forward on her path to becoming a nurse.

I asked my friend for permission to contact Anna. I wanted to find out how she was able to turn her disappointment into enthusiasm, so that I could share her thought process and actions with other young adults who may need some help adapting to their own unique circumstances. Anna has given me to permission to share our conversation. Please use her story of resilience to encourage and motivate your own students.

Here are the questions I asked Anna, along with her insightful answers:

Q) What helped you overcome your disappointment about having to stay home for your first semester of college?

A) I wouldn’t say I have overcome it. I am still really disappointed. But I guess I realized I had no choice. I could stay sad and angry and be miserable all the time or I could try and make the best of things.

Q) What specific actions have you taken to make the best of things?

A) The first thing I did was move all of the new things I had bought for my dorm into my bedroom at home. Doing that gave my bedroom a whole new look and helped me feel like I was starting something new, instead of just sitting in my same old room that I had been sitting in all my life.

Then, I started contacting other freshmen who were going to my college. We have all kinds of group chats going [through GroupMe and WhatsApp], but I reached out personally to a few other kids in my program and in my home town. The more I chatted with others, the better I felt. It made me feel less alone, knowing that we were all in this difficult situation together.

Q) Your dad told me you considered taking a gap year, why did you decide not to do that?

A) True. I actually spent a whole day looking for jobs. I didn’t want to travel because of COVID and I didn’t have a summer internship I could just extend like some kids I know. So, I figured that if I could get some kind of job in healthcare, it might not be a complete waste of a year. Maybe I could get some experience in my field, make some money, and then get my full four years of college once this pandemic is over. But the only jobs I was qualified for were mainly administrative and they sounded really boring. Looking at those jobs only made me want to be a nurse even more. I decided that putting off my goal of becoming a nurse for a whole extra year, just so I could have a normal first year of college, was not worth it.

Q) So now that you’ve had online orientation and your first week of classes, how has it been? Are you happy with your decision?

A) Yes. Since none of the options were perfect, I am happy with my decision. This way, I am at least moving forward with my education to become a nurse. Most of my classes are synchronous, so that is helping me keep a schedule and I feel like I’m kind of getting to know some of my classmates. In some classes, we chat with each other using the Zoom chat function or our GroupMe group while the professor is lecturing, which is something we wouldn't be able to do in person.

Q) Is there any advice you can give to other students in similar situations, who haven’t yet embraced college from home?

A.) I guess I would tell them to do what they can to make the best of it.  Like, they should make sure they have a desk or table in their room or study place because, for me at least, it’s hard to get anything done sitting in bed. I would also tell them to switch up where they study so they aren’t sitting alone in their rooms all day. I like to sit outside on my patio if the weather is nice or at my kitchen table if my family is not being too noisy just to get a change of scenery.

And speaking of my kitchen table, I would also point out that it’s not so bad having someone make dinner for you every night, like my mom does for me. I can spend all my time getting used to college classes and the huge amount of homework without having to worry about what I’m going to eat, where I am going to eat, or who I’m going to eat with.

Also, while I realize it might be harder for kids who don’t know what they want to do after college, focusing on my end goal of becoming a nurse helps me stay motivated. I have to learn a bunch of stuff before I can start clinicals [working in medical facilities with patients]. That is what I am doing now – taking my course requirements so that, hopefully, by next year when my clinicals start, we will have a vaccine and I will be on campus, ready to work with real patients and meet all my classmates in person!

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