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The Many Lives of a COVID College Student

In which Greta muses about this term: the overlap of home and school and her place in the world.

In which Greta muses about this term: the overlap of home and school and her place in the world.

To state the obvious, this has been a very weird term. Remote classes, mandatory S/Cr/NC grading, not to mention a global pandemic. But I think one of the strangest things for me has been doing college from home, and the many simultaneous lives that I have therefore been living.

To clarify, I am much less busy now than I would be on campus. I have less work, no PE classes, fewer club meetings, and my furthest commute is no longer Goodhue to Weitz but my bed to my living room. Yet the mental energy I’ve expended this term has left me exhausted, and I think I know why.

When I am physically at school, there is only one person I have to be: my college self. The studious and creative and outgoing human I am around my friends, my professors, my boss. But now, between online classes, I am also my home self — the goofy oldest child in a family of five. Throw in the person I am around my high school friends, embarking with them on socially distant outside adventures, and I’ve got a lot to keep track of. THEN I started work at my old job this past weekend, and now I’m my pizza-making line-cook self too? I think I’m going to explode.

This, I’ve found, is what our new world is like. Physical space seems irrelevant now, as most social interactions happen from our computer, within our homes. For the first time since college started, I can be doing home and doing school simultaneously, and it’s a lot. Take Memorial Day: my family was all off work, getting ice cream and having a backyard barbecue, and I was in the next room over, going to class! Whatever to do? Wherever you are, if you’re feeling overwhelmed and unsure of your place in the world right now, you’re not alone.

And yet, to look on the bright side, I’ve found that this new simultaneous life is rich with possibility. When I jump from a walk with  home friends to a Zoom lunch with college friends, I am struck with joy at being able to see them both. This summer, I am starting an online writing group with friends from all over — I don’t think I ever would have thought of that before. These sorts of non-spatial connections have been possible for a long time, but our new situation has made them self-evident.

Or take my classes. Quarantine has seen a reprise of the age-old grade school dinner question: what did you learn today? And I enjoy answering it, because it turns out my parents are actually smart human beings. (Crazy, right?) I’ve enjoyed discussing with them everything from Foucault to pink baby clothing, and hearing my classmates mention how they’ve asked their parents about the AIDS crisis or Jewish traditions. Learning at home is not the same as the rich intellectual environment of Carleton, for sure, but it’s sparked conversations as meaningful as they are unexpected.

Then there are professors who are purposefully working home life into their classes. In my Intro to Anthropology class, our final project is to write an ethnography of the pandemic as we experience and observe it. I’m writing mine about the role of food, incorporating observations of everything from weekly grocery shopping trips to that restaurant job. I wrote a satire piece for the Carletonian about how we’re all in Off Campus Studies programs which give are giving us deep cultural insights. I meant it as a joke, but like all comedy, it contains a kernel of truth.

I don’t know where I am going with this piece. It is the last full week of Spring Term 2020, and I am exhausted by my many lives in many worlds. I have come from a full day of Zoom classes, Panopto piano lessons, even an online poetry reading. A part of me is sick of it — ready for the relative simplicity of summer, and hoping beyond hope that somehow, it will be safe to return to the singular world of Carleton campus in the fall.

And then there is a part of me which is amazed, in awe, that even a kernel of Spring 2020 has worked at all.

Greta is a proud Vermonter who nevertheless wishes she could be at Carleton instead of sheltering in place. She’s making it through the pandemic by writing constantly, playing piano, and spending time outdoors. Then eating lots of ice cream. She wants to learn everything, but is particularly interested in Sociology/Anthropology, American Studies and, of course, English. Meet the other bloggers!