The sound of excited whispers erupted on the third floor of the Milstein Center. On March 8th, President Beilock sent an email to the Barnard community that all Barnard and Columbia classes would be canceled for the next two days. Many students rushed out of Milstein; it was quite a shocking and overwhelming moment. The hallways that were once empty were now filled with students waiting for the elevator to exit. I, myself, was excited to have a few days off. Barnard is a pretty demanding school, so if I can get a break I’ll take it. Even after everyone left I stayed in the library for a little longer, trying to complete some homework while trying to piece together what this could mean for the future. A lot of people took advantage of this break thinking it couldn’t mean anything. For example, a day after classes were closed a fairly large amount of the student body went to Futter Field to enjoy the nice weather. We were ready to enjoy our short break… or so we thought. On March 12th President Bielock announced that Barnard and Columbia classes would move to virtual learning for the rest of the semester. I wish someone would’ve told me that that’d be the last time I’d go to Milstein for who knows how long. After the announcement of online classes, students were rushed out of their dorms. Although Barnard did provide aid to students who needed help, moving out was a dramatic and difficult change. On March 18th, I moved out of my dorm, Sulzberger 508, and it was the last time I went outside. Leaving Barnard, I not only left behind my freshmen year but my freedom as well.
As if moving out of Barnard wasn’t stressful enough, I live in Borough Park/Bensonhurst, Brooklyn also known as the neighborhood with the most corona cases in Brooklyn. The sounds of sirens constantly blaring. My neighborhood feels like a ghost town, every so often you’ll see cars pass by. It wasn’t always like this there was a gradual shift. The school playground once filled with the laughter of children is now silent. There is a 7-Eleven near my house that would be crowded with all the children who would go there after school. Now there is only one man in the shop; the cashier, and even he is the only employee left working; everyone else quit due to the pandemic.
People try to stay indoors. They try to keep themselves safe. It seems like there is a dark cloud above my neighborhood, keeping away the spring and entrapping us in the misery that is this pandemic. My neighborhood seems to mask the smell of the outside world, and yet it keeps the smell of death within reach. Everything seems to be on pause and everyone talks about the increasing cases and deaths. It is strange to go outside and think that you might be endangering your family. This has left me stuck at home, not even able to go outside for a walk due to paranoia. I am all day, every day, at home. The original excitement of being home quickly diminished. Day by day the reality of the situation hit harder and harder. Conversations went from “We’ll go back to normal by April” to “Maybe May… June… August… 2021.” With an unclear future, it slowly became evident that I would be staying home indefinitely. I adore my family, but it does get overwhelming to be stuck with the same people all day and night with no personal space. I have three other siblings. My eldest sister is in college, my younger brother is in high school, and my youngest brother is in elementary school. It’s safe to say that everyone is attending online school and it’s quite a hassle finding your own space. On top of this big shift in my daily life, I believe my biggest struggle was adjusting to online classes.
On March 26th, began the journey of online classes. Anxiety crept up as I watched the clock, waiting to join the zoom meeting. My International Politics class began at 11:40, I joined at 11:41 to make sure I was not the first one in class. The moment, my professor introduced herself and asked students where they are in the world reality set in. The chat was filled with students in different states and countries, and at that moment it felt real. Everyone kept saying we were moving to online classes but it didn’t feel real until I experienced it. After that, my professor began by reviewing what we had learned in the beginning of the semester. Rather than feeling like a continuation of the spring semester it felt like a new semester began. I was now in a new environment having to adjust to new circumstances which felt a lot like the beginning of the fall semester freshman year. With the sound of siblings arguing to the terrible wi-fi connection the transition to online classes was quite strenuous. I believe the atmosphere someone is in deeply impacts their ability to learn. Being home made it very difficult to learn. Mentally being home is associated with being relaxed. Clashing home and school made me very unmotivated.
To overcome the lack of motivation I changed the environment in which I conducted my school work. After having no structure in my life for a few days I really had an internal realization that there is no predicting the future. No one knows when the Coronavirus will end, so might as well take advantage of being home. I began with creating a quiet environment to pay my fullest attention in my classes. I tried different things to see what worked best for me. For example, I learned that I have to work in a room by myself because if my family is around they want to interact with me. Also, I need to work on a desk not my bed because if I’m on my bed I’ll fall asleep.
It’s important not to rush the trial and error period. I think it’s important to take time to see what works best. For me, being in a room alone helped me focus better. For homework and other assignments, I made schedules for when and what time would be best to work. For example, working at night is best for me, so I usually work from 9pm to 12am. When creating a work schedule, I had to keep in mind my families’ schedule and my own obligations at home. I began by having a conversation with my parents explaining that online-classes are just like in-person classes, it's the same workload, stress, time-commitment, etc. Having my parents on the same page was really helpful as we were able to create a balance of what time on what days would be committed to family and school-work.
With my family's support, I created a makeshift Independent Study like the Milstein Center in my storage room. I have a desk and lamp. I have the room to myself and my family knows for example that on Friday from 6pm to 9pm no one goes into the storage room because I’m working. I am the only one who uses this space for work, but if my siblings need it for their other activities we come up with a schedule so we all can make the most out of the space.
It has been a long process to figure out what works best, but it is worth it. It is also important to take advantage of school’s resources and to reach out to professors. I’ve learned that communication is key. Being vocal about the struggles you are facing at home is vital because that way school administrators can do their best to help. For example, if you are not always able to access the internet it would be worth it to talk to your professors about flexible deadlines for your work. If you are facing any mental or emotional trauma at home take advantage of counseling the school provides. They may help ease the situation that you are in.
This pandemic has brought astronomical changes in just a few weeks. With that it's important to know that you are not alone. Take everything day by day and ask for help when needed. We will all get through this together.