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Riddhi Singhania compares her 13 inch image of Kirkland Hall to the real building in-person. (Hustler Staff/Riddhi Singhania)

Through the Laptop Screen: 2D to 3D

I made the decision to come to campus in a frenzy. However, the sudden transition from 2D to 3D has given me a new set of perspectives.

(Photo courtesy Riddhi Singhania)

Change is good, but sudden changes don’t always seem like the best idea at first. 

On Jan. 21,  I impulsively decided to “walk through my laptop screen,” and start attending classes in-person after a semester of remote learning. I quickly found myself packing my clothes, flying across 11 time-zones from India to Nashville and settling into my dorm at Commons —all in just three days.

Personally, being remote was easy for me, even though I had to live according to Nashville-time in India. Having the support of my family, not worrying about food and laundry and not feeling forced to make new friends or go out everyday, I was happy in my own coffee-powered world inside my room. So when I finally decided to move to Nashville and leave my home for over three months, my mind was racing until the morning I left. This spur of the moment decision made me nervous because such decisions are usually difficult for me, at least in the beginning.

Such changes are rough since it seems that the world has turned upside down too quickly to be able to prepare for it. And, the fact of not being able to see my family for at least three months made me sad. How could such a rash and last minute decision be a rational decision? In August, staying in India seemed to be the better choice for me because I felt safer at home during the pandemic and was able to spend more time with my family, who I am extremely close to. But the thought that I want to stay home because I am “not ready” to attend college kept nagging me. I wanted to prove that I could take care of myself. Over the winter break, I was seeking permission to come on-campus for the Spring a month late, because the vaccine roll-out seemed quite fast in India, so it appeared that I could get mine. But because the request was declined last minute, and the vaccine distribution wasn’t as predictable, I decided to head to the U.S. —I knew that if I chose to stay remote for the spring too, I would not see Vandy for my entire freshman year. 

Luckily, my dad could travel with me and help me move-in. My parents were supportive of any decision I made, so I didn’t know if they really wanted me to be on-campus. Whatever their preference might have been, my decision to study on campus has altered all of our daily routines: I have to plan my schedule each day, make decisions about what and where to eat and make sure to get enough sleep so that I actually wake up to my alarm. My parents miss me when they have their meals, and my younger sister, who is used to taking my support in her studies, has to adjust to studying on her own. 

Nevertheless, this experience is certainly helping me to learn to take care of myself and be confident about the little choices I make every day. Of course, there are times I miss my family and the very fact of living so far away seems unnatural. Speaking to them on the phone is one of the best parts of my day. I would also say my life on-campus has sort of transitioned to a life “through the phone screen.”

But my life on-campus is definitely beyond my phone’s screen too. And when I reached here, my anxiety about in-person studies doubled imagining how I would be interacting with the people I’ve already known but only virtually. Having successfully spent a whole semester on a 13-inch screen, I felt like I’d mastered Zoom interaction, but I was intimidated to meet my classmates in-person. However, I soon realized that everyone was just as nervous as me when it came to meeting new people. Additionally, with masks on, one doesn’t feel forced to go up to people and say “hi” or even recognize who is walking beside them.

I have realized that, though meeting people on Zoom always excites me, noticing that people can recognize me out of the little Zoom box with my name at the bottom is even more thrilling. I have had a lot of fun making new friends through different house events, choreographing for the Diwali Showcase and interacting with other people during in-person classes and practices. Additionally, I’ve enjoyed walking to different places on campus to eat food, and I was impressed by the dining tents. My in-person lab class is stressful, but a productive experience nonetheless.

In just one month of the “spring” semester, I have seen all the seasons of a year. Back home, our lowest temperature for February matches Nashville’s hottest. During this last month, I definitely experienced a “weather shock” with all of the snow, but it made for some fun memories with my friends when we made snowmen. 

Even if I am on campus, I am still an international, first-year and a remote student when I attend a couple of my online classes. Though it might seem that my laptop has taken a secondary place when I talk of being in-person, it is still the most important thing I have here after my passport. In fact, the transition to in-person learning would have been far more difficult as an international student if I were not remote last semester. While I was at home and talking with students on-campus, I learned of the problems people faced, and I found out about the locations of facilities on campus.

So far, getting to know Vanderbilt (and its squirrels) in person has been the highlight of the pandemic for me. As I continue my process of remembering the paths around campus, I will work on how to implement my learning from when I was zooming out over the break. Afterall, I will have to put in some effort to be certain that my last-minute decision pays off. And, while doing this, I will make sure to enjoy my first year of college, in-person, but also sometimes through the laptop screen.