Over the past year and a half, I thought a lot about life at school. The more I reflected on my time in Claremont and the longer I was away from my friends, the harder it got to concentrate on Zoom classes, and the stronger my desire to return became. However, being back, it still feels as though I’m searching for the satisfaction I spent so long craving.
As much as I, or any of my peers, would like to believe, life on campus is not suddenly perfect after 18 months away. The highly anticipated student return to Claremont brought with it a romanticized image of college.
We are constantly looking towards what’s happening next, filling our schedules with plans, but we’re repeating the same days over and over again. It’s boring. It’s exhausting. It’s also life, but it’s the lifestyle that we were separated from throughout the last 18 months.
Life on campus has changed significantly since March 2020. Students are now desperately seeking to create normalcy in a foreign environment, but the disconnect between expectations and this new reality has resulted in general unhappiness. Academically, socially and mentally, the transition back to college has been difficult, and it’s okay to struggle.
Adjusting to college academics is never easy, but the transition back to in-person classes presents several challenges. Even sitting still has become more difficult as students face struggles concentrating after an entire year of Zoom classes. Even for those who took time off, that transition back to school isn’t quick. With a drastic shift in the instructional environment, readjusting will require a learning curve for everyone.
The social scene across all five campuses have also been witness to major change. Without the ability to eat cross-campus and with restrictions on parties, there is still a large degree of physical separation. Additionally, half of the student population is new to campus. Friends have graduated. Understandably, students are starved for social connection.
While the constant engagement with other students can be exciting, this amount of social interaction is also incredibly exhausting. After a year of social distancing and brief Zoom calls, students are likely to face fatigue from nervousness, anxiety and fear because COVID-19 wired the brain to hesitate before getting close to others. With those walls suddenly broken down, readjusting to what was once normal doesn’t come easily.
Socially, students will adjust to this strange stage of life “post”-pandemic, but it will take time and, like many are experiencing now, there will be periods of discomfort. There is currently a sense of urgency in building close relationships at school. It’s important to remember that those people aren’t going anywhere. Take time to recharge your social battery by finding spaces and activities that bring relaxation.
Beyond struggles with social engagement, the return to campus has been accompanied by major internal conflict. The past year and a half brought significant personal change for many. For these students, returning to a familiar campus as a person that they did not previously identify with has impacted the transition back. Spaces that once felt comfortable may no longer hold a sense of belonging. It has been difficult finding our place back on campus, but it’s important to acknowledge that this process is not glamorous and others are experiencing the same sentiments.
5C students must understand that the pandemic generated overwhelming emotional fatigue. The past 18 months trained the brain to anticipate the worst-case scenario regarding the health of oneself and loved ones. Being back on campus, intrusive thoughts can turn a single cough into fear of having COVID-19. Unfortunately, these struggles go beyond fears for physical health. Constantly anticipating the worst can negatively impact academic performance and generally heighten anxiety.
The typical level of stress from college life has been amplified due to current circumstances. Ignoring these concerns without finding solutions to control the anxieties will only result in greater unhappiness. Students shouldn’t pretend that they are always overjoyed simply by being back on campus. Allowing oneself to get comfortable with being uncomfortable is essential to find a rhythm and relax those thoughts.
Ultimately, the college experience will never be as idealistic as society expects us to believe. Current students are living through a strange time in the world, and despite the return to campus, life is not normal. Maybe it will never be the “normal” of pre-COVID. It’s important to find reasons to be grateful to physically return to school, but it’s more important to embrace the challenges that will accompany the transition back to Claremont. It’s okay to not always be happy to be here.
Abby Loiselle PO ’23 is from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She is very much looking forward to fall break.