Hindsight is 2020: Starting College in a Global Pandemic

On March 14th, 2020, I was on an Amtrak train headed from Philadelphia to Providence. Usually, the train is bustling with life, to the point where you’d think that finding a seat is impossible and your arms start to shake from the weight of the luggage you are hauling home (or maybe that’s just me—I tend to pack heavy). However, this time the train was nearly empty, desolate. When I finally did see people, they sat across the aisle from me and proceeded to clean every surface in sight with a bottle of hand sanitizer. This was only a small glimpse into what the next two years (and counting) would be like.

Just a week prior to this, I was at home and on spring break. Just four days prior to this, I was in my philosophy class passing around a huge bottle of hand sanitizer—the first line of defense. Just two days prior to this, I had turned 19, a sort of irrelevant birthday in the moment, but still the first one I had celebrated at Villanova University. I remember being homesick, but when I stepped off that train, it was the first time that I was not excited to be home. When my parents picked me up, there seemed to be a mutual understanding that I was not supposed to be there. Previously, I had only returned for holidays or breaks under the pretense of fun or relaxation awaiting me, but this time I had no expectations.

My friends and I celebrating my 19th birthday during our freshman year of college.

At that point, nobody knew how long we would be home—our administration projected that we might be able to return to campus by April 14th, a prediction we now look back on and laugh about. The reality is, when I stepped foot in my house that night after a six-hour train ride, it would be a long time before I would be able to step out of it without the lingering, irrational yet somewhat rational thought that just saying “hi” to a neighbor might result in exposure to an incredibly infectious and devastating disease.

At college, I was independent. I felt like I had a purpose, a place to be—whether it was at class, in the library doing work, or hanging out with friends. I had a somewhat consistent routine in place, and even if it was not always smooth sailing, I was enjoying being at college. When I was at home, I was back to being dependent on my parents, back in my small town, and back to my room that—per my own design—was cluttered and not as organized as my dorm. It all felt unreal, and it all happened so fast.

Villanova COVID-19 Timeline, March 2020

With companies switching to remote work and universities transferring classes onto Zoom, there were suddenly four people in my house all trying to get their work done. Things did not always go perfectly, but everyone tried their best to stay out of each other’s way, be mindful of our responsibilities, and keep things lighthearted. Of course, my dad’s version of this was to throw a snowball at me while I was on a Zoom call for class, but I have since forgiven him.  

The first month after being sent home was, in one word, wild. People were stockpiling items like we were entering an apocalypse, nobody quite understood what was going on, and the death toll kept climbing exponentially. It was a difficult time to be a college student, but more broadly, a human being.

Bleak as the times were, I think there was one important lesson to be learned, and that was the importance of being flexible. People across the globe had to redefine their definition of “normalcy” and adjust to a new world, one faced with a global health issue. As much as students like myself did not want to go to college online or at home, and as much as professors likely did not want to teach in these ways, we all nonetheless worked together to make the best of the situation. Life can change so drastically in just one instant that we need to lean into those changes, reevaluate our routines, and rethink the way that we do things to better serve our needs. Most importantly, we need to be flexible with others, and understand that we are all just trying to do our best to get by.

I guess if I had to pick another lesson, I would say that if you have the option of attending class every day in your pajamas, definitely take it. Or, find small ways to treat yourself each day, such as visiting Pavement Coffeehouse at one of its locations in Boston and using this coupon: 

By: Katie Reed

Katie Reed is a senior at Villanova University studying English and Communication. She is in utter disbelief that she just admitted to being a senior. She loves to read and hopes to enter a career in the editing and publishing industry. She is also patiently waiting for Volume II of Stranger Things 4 to come out on Netflix. 

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