Reflections on being back on campus

As I sat outside of an empty classroom, waiting for my professor to arrive and my first class of fall 2021 to start, I looked around to see other students doing the same — some wearing masks and some not. I felt inclined to take mine off, seeing how many people were comfortable not wearing one, but I decided not to. A year and a half of mask-wearing made it feel like it was part of me. Nonetheless, I was still excited to be back in an environment where I could see and interact with new people. This realization made my back-to-school experience feel surreal, nerve-wracking, and refreshing all at once.

I graduated from high school in spring 2020 in the midst of the pandemic and started at DMACC in the fall. My first year was spent in my own room with my laptop and notebooks piled indiscriminately on my desk. Instead of going to a physical classroom every day, I clicked a button to attend. After the lecture was over, I’d think about what was next on the list: starting homework or opening YouTube to see what was new from my subscriptions. Work and play blurred together as I tried to figure out how to be efficient with my time despite a Monday feeling no different from a Saturday.

Essays and weekly discussion boards made up most of my work. Group work was few and far between, but even then, it mainly consisted of a couple off-hand conversations. When almost all your classmates are blank profile pictures, there’s little incentive to reach out.

I struggled most staying motivated. Whenever homework came, I couldn’t tell which class needed the most attention so I felt too overwhelmed to even know where to start. Every time I tried to relax, I always felt guilty that I wasn’t being productive, resulting in late-nighters to work on lingering assignments. Alongside the usual pressures of college, this cycle of fatigue and stress made the daily grind almost hopeless.

Back on campus, when my professor arrived and unlocked the door, everybody stood up and made their way inside. There was a shuffling of chairs and footsteps as people looked for seats.

Finding a spot near the front, I still felt like stowing away the mask to look more welcoming to my new classmates. Seeing the mixed crowd of bare faces and masks as I briefly scanned the room, I realized it was beside the point. I felt a sense of relief knowing I was back in familiar surroundings, away from the lonely, makeshift workplace that was my desk back home.

In this new school year where everyone seems to be starting out fresh in our “new normal,” I feel rejuvenated to be back in an environment where I can see people once again. It’s a big adjustment coming off from a virtual year, but it’s a pleasant and much-needed change I welcome with open arms.

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