By Ellen Loucks | Photos courtesy of Edgar I. Santos Vega, Emma Carlson, and Eliza Hayse

Although a majority of college students have returned to a geographically familiar setting since the coronavirus outbreak, the ways in which college students have grown, changed, and matured during their undergrad experience have provided them with a transformed perspective as they come home.

For Emma Carlson ’20, a Classics and Molecular Biology double-major, time has become increasingly precious. As a graduating senior, Carlson entered the quarantine period with increasing anxiety and uncertainty regarding her post-grad plans. However, she quickly realized that she could do nothing to control the situation, nor to facilitate a return to normalcy. Throughout the last month, Carlson has intentionally planned out her time to create new habits and reframe her concept of what it means to be a college student inside her home.

Photo courtesy of Emma Carlson

“It’s important to focus on what is to come and it’s cool to see growth — to look back on the ways that I’ve changed intellectually and emotionally; how my family has grown and where everyone is headed,” Carlson said. “Having life slow down has given me space to consider what productivity really means to me personally.”

Recently, after nearly seven months of waiting, Carlson finally received the news which she had been anticipating: acceptance into an MSC in Antimicrobial Resistance at the University of Sheffield through the Fulbright Scholarship.

As it has become increasingly commonplace, social media is a central means for maintaining long-distance friendships during the quarantine. Aside from popular mediums such as Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, Edgar I. Santos Vega ’20 has noticed a substantial influx in general “meme-ing.” Widely known for his meme page, currently titled “CC Memes for Blockly Quaranteens,” Santos Vega has long held the notion that creating and sharing memes online is a humorous way for people to meaningfully connect with one another. This has most evidently been shown in his benign relationship with a majority of the CC student body and especially with  incoming freshmen. Santos Vega notes that upon arriving at CC, many freshmen can already identify him as a familiar face, resulting in a multitude of deep and lasting friendships that he has experienced throughout his time at CC.

“Memes welcome people and create community,” Santos Vega said. “Since [CC cancelled in-person classes], the meme page grew by over 300 members in just two weeks, which is a greater increase in membership than when I first launched [the page]. People see the page as a safe place to honestly express their frustration and sadness, but also just to have some fun with one another from a distance.”

Although meaningful community can be manifested in active engagement with other people, meaningful community can also be manifested in understanding other people’s silences. For Eliza Hayse ’22, the abrupt change to living at home has offered her a valuable chance to reconnect with parts of her life that have been lost since going to college.

Hayse said that she is a person who thrives off of routine. After suddenly losing the normalcy of morning class, afternoon labs, and her job as a Resident Advisor, Hayse said that one of the hardest parts of losing a daily routine has been the loss of a community of people simultaneously living out the same schedule.

Photo courtesy of Eliza Hayse

“At the beginning [of quarantine], I needed time to adjust to the change and figure out when was the right [moment] and means to reach out to others,” Hayse said. “Since then, I’ve been encouraged in the ways that people have been creative in being intentional with one another — writing letters [and] sending care packages.”

“I’ve also been so grateful for this extra time with family that I thought I would never have. We recently celebrated my sister’s birthday and I was able to just talk for hours with her. I’ve also been hiking and bird watching with my dad and we’ve just had so much time to learn so many new things about one another.”

Hayse then shared what encouragement she might offer to other CC students. “It’s important to just be gentle with yourself and others,” she said. “People are experiencing collective anxiety during this time and it’s important for us all to take a step back and understand why we are reacting in the ways that we are. This [quarantine period] has important lessons for us all to learn — we need to figure out which lessons are integral to us, individually.”

However, quarantine has mandated that several international students remain on campus. Although roughly 200 students were granted on-campus stay approval at the beginning of quarantine, the number is dwindling every day as more and more students are able to find flights home. But Tianyi Bai ’21, from Zhengzhou, China, intends to remain on campus until in-session classes resume. Although she is not at home, Bai has been grateful for the opportunity to slow down from her otherwise hectic schedule.

“[During Block 7], I had a lot of time to think through cultural theories that have challenged me [in the past],” she said. “I learned the importance of taking initiative for my studies and how I could best push myself even when I wasn’t surrounded by other people. I wanted to fill what had been lost during in-person discussions — I missed being able to think about and react to fellow classmates’ ideas.”

Even so, life will continue after the coronavirus. Bai hopes to take the lessons that she learns in quarantine back to her normal life.

“I’ve learned how to just calm down and face difficulties head-on,” said Bai. “There’s very little that I can control. I had been very used to planning out my future and following through on the steps that I had outlined for myself. But times and circumstances change, and this is okay.”

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