University life and lessons learned

First year in University is almost over. We started out with masks and debates over vaccination and now we’ve evolved into a resilient society of people who have conquered this pandemic that has changed all of our lives. Well, I’m not sure if we’ve completely conquered the pandemic. Let’s just say we’re smarter.

It feels odd to be maskless. While I feel I can breathe more easily, there is a fear of the unknown lurking in my head that makes me want to tug my black disposable mask over my mouth and nose and leave it there, just in case…just in case.

A lesson I have learned comes from what the wise Master Yoda said.

Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

How true is that! And that is why education is so vital.

We’ve seen fear manifest into devastating acts of violence and hatred in these last few years. We’ve seen a rise in the division of societies and the hopeless marriage of politics and religion. And amidst all of that, I started a brand new phase of my life as a University student living away from home. Other than the academic aspect which is the usual lecture-lab-assignment cycle, I’ve made a bunch of new friends from diverse cultures and learned how to eat pretty much anything as long as I take my daily dose of Omeoprezole. I have learned to appreciate my home and family more than I did ever before and realized how blessed I am to have them in my life. I’ve learned how to manage my money and juggle my schedule. I’ve learned to prioritize and differentiate between the important and the urgent. I have learned a great deal about how people behave and how to set my boundaries. I have learned that I need to grow up and own my life before it owns me!

Mask or no mask, our personal health impacts community health. And before we expect anything from our community, we must fulfill our responsibility towards it first.

A global pandemic: from the eyes of a 17 year old

When I was 11, we visited Savannah, Georgia for my dad’s interview. One evening, we went for a stroll and stumbled upon a beautiful graveyard. As we were walking through it and paying our respects, we noticed hundreds of graves of little children and adults who had one thing in common: they all died of influenza during the Flu Pandemic between 1918-20. That sent shivers up my spine and we had a long discussion on pandemics that night. My parents had never experienced one though they did mention the Ebola outbreak and the Swine Flu from a few years before, and I went to sleep that night feeling safe but with a heavy heart for those who died years ago.

Fast forward to 2020.

My junior year.

It had started off great, contrary to popular belief that junior year is the worst. For example, people told me there was a lot of academic work involved, but it was quite enjoyable for me because I feel I learned a lot. Socially, my year was the most wonderful it had ever been. I had co-written a play and acted in it as well as participating in the school’s musical. I made a lot of memories that will forever hold a special place in my heart.

I didn’t know that the last week of the musical would be the last time I would see many of the people I spent so many hours with. I remember shopping at Walmart with my mother the night of March 16. She had gotten an email from the school district that the schools were closed for the week and that we would be returning the following Monday. Sadly, we never went back to school that Monday, and have been quarantined due to the Coronavirus ever since.

Initially, I was very hopeful. I had hope that we would return to school and everything would be normal again. When the chances of things being normal started to diminish, I began to grow fearful and anxious. I was finally happy, settled, and enjoying everything my junior year had to offer and then it was taken from my grasp. Along with the fear of unavailability of basic products like toilet paper and hand sanitizers, I was unmotivated to take care of myself and truly reflect and understand the negative thoughts swarming around in my head, so I escaped that by doing schoolwork. There were many times where I had tried to make exercising a daily task and had tried to go on walks regularly, but it was not nearly enough to satisfy me, and I was beginning to give up. My extroverted side thrives off of social interaction. Before quarantine, I hung out with my friends often and found immense joy in doing so. It’s not that I had taken those moments for granted, but I truly did not understand how precious they were until I could no longer experience them anymore. Every day felt the same. I was bored, there was nothing to look forward to, and I had no idea what to expect.

By July I had developed a routine. I was no longer in denial that the virus was real. Well, I knew the virus was real, I just couldn’t believe it was happening. It had felt like something out of a movie. I had learned how to keep myself busy. I slept a little longer than usual most days, which was followed by working out, baking, cooking meals, going on walks, and especially talking to friends on the phone. I stopped feeling sorry for myself because that wasn’t going to change the situation. I made a decision to accept the present and make the most of it. Think about it, years down the road, our COVID19 experience will become valuable history. I once read that there are certain things in life that we can control and there are some things we cannot control. We cannot control the coronavirus at my level or the global pandemic or the government regulations and the medical management. I can, however, control my reaction to the circumstances created by it.

One of my masks.

We are now back in school, virtually in most cases. I am now in my senior year and life in the pandemic has brought masks to be as common as socks in a store. I now own several colors and styles of masks and wear them as naturally as the rest of my clothing!

As of today, my city is still in Phase 1 but many retail stores have opened to the public with restrictions. I have many tasks this year: classes, college tours and applications, scholarship applications and writing a personal statement! I also have a part-time job at Starbucks which I love. Life goes on, and I am blessed with health and opportunities. As I review news items every now and then and read articles on the impact of COVID19 around the world, I understand the enormity of it and how peoples’ lives have changed because of it! Many people have died, many are suffering due to underlying health issues or lack of proper medical care. Many have lost jobs as industries have shut down or downsized. There are countries with huge populations and controlling the spread of Coronavirus has been challenging for them. 

As I sit in my comfortable room this cozy Fall morning, I am grateful for the things I have learned through this shutdown. I am grateful for my family, my home, my resources, my health and last but not the least,  for the ability to use technology for education, information and communication. 

Just like everything else, this too shall pass and we will emerge stronger than ever before.