This past year has been a challenge for us all—navigating a pandemic so isolating, nerve-wracking and labyrinthine it seems impossible to capture its essence in words while still in the midst of it. Instead of writing about an experience we’ve all endured, I thought it more important to try and build some semblance of the community we have temporarily lost at UP this year, especially the Freshman who have not yet been able to partake in the full college experience. Instead of welcoming the Freshman cohort to campus in typical fashion, more removed and distanced forms of communication will have to do for the time being, with conversation through Zoom being a decent compromise. I had the pleasure of speaking to Freshman English majors Janea Melido and Mia Tierney about their specific interests in the humanities, how they’re coping with online classes, and what they’ve been up to with all of this free time dropped in our laps for the better part of this year. The following is the transcript of our chat, lightly edited for the sake of trimming repetition.
How has school been so far? How do you feel about starting college at a distance?
Janea: It’s definitely different, and kind of overwhelming. Everything is pretty much homework, so it ends up feeling like a lot more work than it actually is.
Mia: I feel the same way. I wish I was on campus, but all my classes are pretty small so I still feel like I’m getting to know my professors and some of my classmates.
Are you planning on coming to campus next semester?
Janea: I’m considering it because I’ve made a lot of friends and I want to see them face to face, but I’m waiting it out to see what COVID cases end up being like.
Mia: The one thing I’m struggling with is that it’ll be hard to see everyone hanging out on campus if I decide to stay home, but I don’t know how safe I’ll feel. I’m kind of waiting it out too. I think there’s going to be a big spike.
What specifically draws you to English? What are your specific interests within the field?
Janea: When I was applying to colleges I had no idea what I wanted to major in, and obviously I was looking through the lists at things I could potentially go into—and nothing felt right except English for me. It was as if I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. Even now, I don’t really know what I want to do after college, but I really like writing and want to incorporate that into whatever I do in the future.
Mia: I went into applications as a communications major and after a while I was like, “Why am I majoring in communication?” My interest was in topics that being an English major would cover, that would lead me to my career aspirations more than being a communications major would be. So, I changed and I’m really happy so far.
How’s Zoom? Are you having fatigue with it yet?
Mia: It’s so bad.
Janea: Definitely, because after class you just leave, but you’re still on your computer because that’s where all your work is.
Mia: It’s so much harder to communicate over Zoom too, it feels like it’s more work just to talk to people.
Are you looking forward to being on campus, or are you ok with online schooling now? Is it more of a matter of when it’s safe to go back?
Janea: At the very beginning, when we found out we weren’t going on to campus at all, I was really bummed out—I was looking forward to meeting my roommate. But, as we got settled into school I’ve been kind of indifferent to it. I thought about what it would be like to go back, but I wouldn’t be super bothered if we stayed home the rest of the year because I’m used to it. I kind of got over the initial disappointment I had when I found out we weren’t going to be on campus.
Mia: Ya that’s kind of the way I feel, it was disappointing at first, because I was looking forward to being on campus and meeting everyone. I just feel I would be a lot more stressed on campus. Everything’s just so out of my control, and I have a routine at home. I’d also be fine with the rest of the year online. I just would hope that by next year I could be on campus.
Have you been able to stay focused with everything going on? For me it’s been tough, especially the last few weeks where your phone is buzzing every five seconds with some ridiculous news headline.
Janea: It’s definitely been hard to focus on school because it doesn’t feel like school usually does. I think for me it’s been more of learning to prioritize things—I want to focus on everything at once because there’s a lot to do, but obviously you can’t multitask everything like that.
Mia: That’s the same way it is for me. One thing that’s helped me is that I make myself wake up at 8AM every day and try and get as much done as I can before my first class. Because once my classes are over I feel so drained. That’s when I’m just the most unproductive. So, I try and get as much as I can done in the morning, but it’s still really hard to focus.
What have you been up to during quarantine? Read any good books?
Janea: I tried to do some reading. I feel like ever since high school my attention span has gone down, but quarantine definitely was a good way to get back into the process of just sitting down and reading a book. I asked my Lit. teacher for a couple recommendations and he gave me a long list. The books I really liked were The Catcher in the Rye ( J.D. Salinger), Siddhartha (Herman Hesse) and 1984 (George Orwell). So that’s what I read over quarantine.
Mia: For me, I read Enders Game, which I’ve been meaning to read and it was so much better than I thought it would be. Also, I’m reading this book called The Map of Salt and Stars. It’s a dual story, so part of it is focused on this Syrian girl who becomes a refugee and the other part is set in the past about a girl who dresses as a guy to become an apprentice to a mapmaker.
This brief conversation was refreshing and inspiring—a reminder that though many aspects of the world are on pause, students are readily adapting to the new circumstances of distance learning, warts and all. While the Freshman cohort are separated at the moment, I’m confident the eventual return to campus will see them continue the long tradition of the Liberal Arts education with enthusiasm, each bringing their own strengths and specific interests to help consolidate and rekindle a strong sense of community at UP.