As someone with a notoriously terrible sense of direction, being back on Grounds has been … difficult, to put it lightly. I have never been the sort of person who can navigate unfamiliar territory without a GPS, and returning to an in-person format is a humiliating reminder of this. Need directions to Rice Hall? There’s a 50 percent chance I could point you in the general direction. McLeod Hall? That number drops significantly. Fayerweather Hall? The AFC? Anywhere on the Range? I wouldn’t be able to help you if my life literally depended on it.
You would think that, after several weeks of walking on Grounds and stumbling my way into classrooms, I would be well-adjusted to my surroundings — and you would be dead wrong. Sadly, my ability to get lost defies all logic and knows no bounds. Even returning to locations that I have already visited a few times before proves to be a long and arduous journey. Outside of the buildings where I have classes and the occasional library or two, I have been totally reliant on my friends to get me around Grounds, often following their lead when we happen to be walking together.
Needless to say, Google Maps has been my best friend during this strange transitional period. During the first week of classes, my eyes never strayed from my phone screen. I have nearly walked into walls, trees and direct traffic on multiple occasions because of this. Now, I feel comfortable enough to walk without phone in hand — at least when heading to class or the select few places I tend to visit — but in moments of doubt, I would still rather turn to a navigational app than trust my own senses.
And I have irrefutable proof that my poor sense of direction is not lost on others. Since moving back to Charlottesville, I have been approached by complete strangers on different occasions, both of whom asked if I needed help getting to a certain building. Both times, I had been aimlessly wandering back and forth, glued to Google Maps in a futile attempt to find my way. If it had only happened once, I might have been able to brush it off. But twice? These instances only seem to solidify my theory that my distress is visible and on display for all to see. I am still convinced that those two good Samaritans thought they were helping a panicked first year — not a third year who, by all accounts, should have her bearings at the University by now.
In a very lukewarm defense of my perpetual disorientation, I spent the entirety of my second year away from Charlottesville. For the fall and spring semesters, I was back in Northern Virginia with my family, taking classes online and staying in my childhood home for days at a time. When I emerged from my social distancing bubble and began going out again, my navigational memory had been mostly wiped. Returning to Grounds, I truly did feel like a first year again. I seemed to have forgotten where everything was — even simple locations on the premises.
But in a way, I seem to be lost in both a physical and mental sense. Attending classes in person has been a big shift away from meetings on Zoom where I could lounge in bed and be as antisocial as I pleased. When classes were online, I didn’t have to worry about waking up in time to catch the bus, or how long it would take me to walk from building to building. Now, beyond merely locating lecture halls, being on Grounds means balancing club and social events with classwork, finding time to be with friends and still getting enough sleep at the end of the day. It can be exhausting at times. Since COVID-19 disrupted our regular routines, I’ve lost touch with not only navigating physical distances, but also navigating University life as a whole.
Still, not all hope is lost. Coming back to Grounds has symbolized a lot of things for me — an attempt to mimic normalcy, for one, but also a chance to breathe in all the experiences I had missed as a second year. There were things I really missed about being at the University — and surprisingly, getting lost was one of them.
I feel far more confident in my ability to tackle my workload since returning, and I am more excited than ever to be back in person. The fact that I live off Grounds and have an off-Grounds job has forced me to familiarize myself with the bus system, and I have become fairly competent at getting from point A to point B in a pinch. More often than not, I find myself grateful for another semester of in-person classes and the usual academic stress — even if that means getting a little lost now and again. So if you’re like me, embrace the feeling of not quite knowing your way — whether physically, academically or otherwise. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.
Samantha Cynn is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.