WHITE: It’s time to reflect on this past year: The good and the ugly

I still haven’t had a normal year of college.

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Alexa White

It just so happened that these unprecedented times fell smack dab in the middle of my first spring semester on Vanderbilt’s campus. (Hustler Staff/Alexa White)

Alexa White, Staff Writer

We have heard it everywhere this past year: unprecedented times. But what made them unprecedented? 

For a lot of people, the past months marked new challenges and tragedies. For others, this year also came with new perspectives and a chance for reflection. It has now been over twelve months since the US has been affected by COVID-19, and I believe that it is time for reflection on all of the impacts that this pandemic has had on my college experience. 

It just so happened that these unprecedented times fell smack dab in the middle of my first spring semester on Vanderbilt’s campus. 

In Spring 2020, I was one of the lucky ones. I was spending spring break on a wonderful trip to Costa Rica led by Dr. Catherine McTamaney for my Early Childhood Education class. Of course, we were supposed to go to Italy to tour the first Montessori school. Sadly for us, some mysterious virus switched our destination less than a week before spring break. 

While we were on that trip, and especially as soon as we got back, things escalated very quickly. Within a few days after arriving back to campus, we were sent home for a few weeks. Then those weeks turned quickly into staying home for the rest of the semester. 

Even after seeing the drastic measures the university had taken, I went through the spring thinking that this would all clear up by the summer. Then, I went through summer thinking that we would all be back on campus living our normal lives. Then I went through the fall semester thinking that things had to be normal for the spring semester. 

Boy was I wrong.

This year was nothing like freshman year at all. When I arrived back on campus in the fall of 2020, I was a first-year student all over again. For starters, I moved to Zeppos; the dorm furthest from my dorm freshman year. However, the biggest difference was going to school in the middle of a pandemic. 

I decided to scrap almost every ounce of knowledge that I had about campus. The dining halls served different food than they did last year, Munchie Marts had a completely different variety of items and spaces that I used to frequent on campus were closed or looked incredibly different than they did a year ago. Like every other upperclassman that thought they knew how things worked, I had to relearn the most basic college habits. I relearned how to order food, where to sit so I wouldn’t spread or contract the virus and where to study. I found new ways to interact with my friends that didn’t involve close contact. I learned how to keep myself motivated as I sat in front of my screen for my three-hour education classes, and I learned what self-care meant in the face of a pandemic. 

That being said, for as much time as I spent getting to know how the ‘new’ campus operated, I also got the chance to explore new places that I never had before the pandemic.

Because I had online classes, I could sit outside during class or find a new study room to use. I found new walking routes around Nashville instead of attending live music events like I did my first year on campus. These silver linings were what got me through all of these huge changes. 

A lot of things shifted for me academically due to these cultural and social changes as well. I found myself spending long hours behind a computer screen rather than interacting in person with my peers. I missed out on a lot of informal academic discussion that is so beneficial to learning. 

Being an education major, I also lost out on the opportunity to observe teachers in a physical classroom due to COVID-19 guidelines at the University School Nashville. Still, I learned so much about being a teacher in strange circumstances through observing virtually. I also took note of the things my professors were doing that made learning through a global pandemic more manageable for students. 

A lot of the scaffolding that I relied on previously was gone this year. I found myself, along with all my peers, adapting to a schedule with fewer breaks and fewer chances to see family throughout the semester. School this time around was associated with a new level of stress that many of my peers and I had not experienced before.

Though I have not been as strongly impacted by the pandemic as many others, I will always feel like I missed out on a lot this year. There is a sense of normalcy that will soon return that I have longed for this entire pandemic. 

Among the challenges and additional stressors, there were pockets of joy this year at Vanderbilt. I found myself noticing and appreciating a lot of small things on campus that I had taken for granted the first time around. Things like early morning walks to class or to the Rec, getting to sit outside and eat with friends, going out to Taste of Nashville restaurants, finding the perfect study spot in the sun, informal conversations after class and simply going to class in person all look slightly different this year. 

However, like many people, I do think that I grew tremendously because of all the time for self-reflection and all the space that was created to rethink my patterns and habits. Even though this year was far from normal, there were many silver linings I found within this ‘unprecedented’ time. 

I also encourage you to reflect on all the changes you have noticed in your life in the past year, good and bad. Here’s to hoping it keeps getting easier to find the silver linings.