This semester was more successful than I had anticipated. I figured we would be sent home two weeks after moving in like students at James Madison University who were temporarily sent home due to a large increase in COVID-19 cases on campus. But we weren’t.
When the five-person restriction was placed on gatherings in September, I thought it was a clear indication that we were going to be sent home. My roommates and I rarely left our apartment and were taking all the necessary precautions, so it never seemed to present a real issue for us. However, it was still concerning.
I have yet to have a normal semester on Grounds — I studied abroad last fall and went home last spring when the University transitioned to an online format. This was the first fall semester I could spend on Grounds. It was beautiful to see the leaves on the trees change colors, feel the cool breeze as the seasons changed and hear the leaves crunch beneath my feet — something I hadn’t experienced before.
But there were also days when being on Grounds felt bleak. A typically overcast autumn day paired with very few students walking around made Grounds feel lifeless and dull on occasion.
Similarly, there was the disconnect of being on Grounds but not being able to participate in any of the normal fall traditions or activities like Rotunda Sing or Lighting of the Lawn. Although these activities were held virtually, experiencing them in person is undeniably different. Regardless, my on-Grounds experience — although unconventional given the “unprecedented circumstances” — was unique and I have come to have a fond appreciation for it.
Since the semester was condensed, there was less time to learn the same amount of content that would have otherwise been taught over a longer period of time. At times, online classes could make my school work feel optional when it very much was not. Especially with asynchronous classes, where it’s up to the student to watch the lectures and keep up with material on their own, it was rather easy to fall behind. Paired with the heavy toll a pandemic can take on students' mental health with an increase in anxiety and depression, it was an understandably difficult semester for most.
However, I felt even more engaged while being on Grounds despite the online format. I have become better-equipped to do school work in an education-focused environment. Being surrounded by other students who are also studying and taking a full course load generates a similar work ethic from me.
It’s difficult to cope with physical distance. I live in Florida, and when we were sent home in the spring to quarantine, I found it incredibly isolating to be 804 miles away from Grounds. I felt removed from what had become my home at the University and from the people who made Grounds feel like home. It was hard to focus and find motivation, so I learned that being on Grounds and close to my friends made all the difference in my academic experience at the University.
I know it’s difficult to take a full course load online and at home, so to all the students who stayed home this semester, I just want to say that I am proud of you.
I studied for my finals at home this semester, and the environment was vastly different compared to being on Grounds. Finals season on its own is stressful, especially when you consider the sheer amount of work that is still left to do. It was challenging to study for finals when I learned all of this material in a drastically different setting — in the end, Grounds is simply a more conducive learning environment for me. As much as I appreciated being at home and with my family, I didn’t associate my academic life with my home life. I honestly felt like I should have been on break, so it became increasingly difficult to focus.
However, it’s important to find a balance between your school and home life. I genuinely enjoy being at home with my family. I have a great appreciation for my home in Florida with my family and my home on Grounds with my friends — both are fundamental aspects of my identity and my life.
As I reflect and reminisce on the semester, I’m filled with a deep gratitude for being able to live on Grounds this semester, reunite with my closest friends and most importantly, remain safe and healthy.
Yasmin Teixeira is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.