Zooming out is not just a break; it is an opportunity to see the big picture of our endeavors. (Hustler Staff/Emery Little)
Zooming out is not just a break; it is an opportunity to see the big picture of our endeavors. (Hustler Staff/Emery Little)

Through the Laptop Screen: Zooming Out

This extended winter break provided an overdue break from a semester spent on Zoom. For me, break was an opportunity to “zoom out” and see a clearer picture of myself.

January 12, 2021

(Photo courtesy Riddhi Singhania)

When Zoom becomes your classroom, dance studio, playground and even a dining hall, it is difficult to recognize the world when you finally “zoom out” and look beyond your 13-inch laptop screen. Throughout Fall 2020, my first semester at Vanderbilt, I experienced college through this two-dimensional screen. I know Vanderbilt in no other way. Now that we have taken a break from the online hustle, I want to Zoom back to Vanderbilt.

Instead of spending many nights repacking my bags, bidding socially-distanced goodbyes or taking “see ya soon” pictures for Instagram stories, I ended my first semester just by pressing the “leave” button in the Zoom meeting at the end of my last class. In fact, I immediately felt the urge to join the class again and say a nice goodbye to everyone. I wanted to talk more and tell my virtual friends that I had thoroughly enjoyed the semester as much as they did. 

After my classes ended, I browsed through Anchor Link for events during the break, but it seemed that everyone had had enough of Zoom—still, I was craving more. I also wanted a break, but not at the cost of the interaction. My GroupMe had fewer and fewer messages each day, and my once colorful Google Calendar was now almost entirely plain white. Now that my only connection with Vandy seemed to be turned off, I felt a constant dread of missing out on important information.

When the break first started, I quickly understood that zooming out was challenging: while planning my days seemed impossible when there were no Zoom meetings scheduled for me, the sudden absence of Zoom interaction altogether also forced me to “zoom out” and see the big-picture. 

Without the Zoom classes dictating my schedule, it felt strange when I sat down to do anything that wasn’t Zoom related. Whether it was reading a book or painting, it felt like I had too much time for everything. Throughout the semester, I had focused on how I was seen and how I engaged in my virtual reality through a little box on Zoom, so I did not know how to act once I was no longer stuck in that little box when the fall term ended. I struggled to be productive without any classes, assignments or exams to focus on.

As a result, I decided to lessen my no-work anxiety by traveling to South India with my family, biking with my father, playing games with my sister and having long talks with my mother. Additionally, coming from a different faith, I generally do not “celebrate” Christmas. But, just to feel connected with what my classmates were doing while they zoomed out, I bought and decorated a Christmas tree for the first time, and I truly enjoyed it. With this time, I realized that being a remote student didn’t have to mean that I had to be locked up in a room. Although being online for hours at a time is necessary and inevitable, I should not neglect the significance of what is around me. And, doing activities away from my laptop screen gave me satisfaction during the break. 

I currently live in India, which is 11.5 hours ahead of Central Time, so I felt compelled to organize my schedule with sleeping, eating and studying according to Central Time since classes began on Aug. 24. Though I was at home, my family missed me as if I had actually “left” for college. However, transitioning from a virtual to a real life again, my body and mind realized how I had missed my family and these in-person experiences.

Of course, one cannot spend six weeks sleeping, traveling and celebrating. So after a while of zooming out, I felt a need to return to my laptop screen. This time, I looked for opportunities and experiences other than those I have known at Vandy. Since this break offered a perfect time to invest in interests unrelated to my declared major, I started a few psychology and philosophy courses. I also worked to expand my LinkedIn connections, attended a travel sketching workshop and recently started Nike workouts while exploring mindfulness through Headspace as well to incorporate a little more self-care into my everyday life.

As the spring semester draws nearer, I cannot wait to reconnect with the people I know, make new connections and brush up on the online skills I taught myself last semester. Whether it’s the RESET series organized by Residential Colleges, the informative sessions by the Global Education Office, Writing Studio and Career Center or engaging in the student organizations I had participated in last semester, I try to attend all the sessions that I can fit in my day. After all, this is how I have engaged with Vandy so far. I feel a boost of excitement when I think of these opportunities as well as my new classes (whether that would be remote or in-person is yet to be decided). Nevertheless, as I “zoom into” these events, I will now try to keep a “zoomed out” idea of how I can develop myself as a real—not just virtual—person next semester, and perhaps the summer too.

This break has not only made me realize the importance of zooming out, but it has also helped me understand how I can explore my surroundings and be productive while not being overly reliant on online classes and meetings. Adjusting to living in the “real world” has been strenuous for the last few weeks, especially when I was trying to plan my time for a holiday break that seemed too long.

Regardless, I must emphasize the need to take a second to “zoom out” and make the blurred picture clear and be aware of how we are spending our time while understanding the importance of the “real world.” It is worthwhile to reset and feel organized and confident for the next learning experience. So, with the handful of days left of this much needed and much deserved break, let us work out how we “zoom out” and plan our way to “zoom into” the next semester with full zest.

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