The pandemic brought about difficult changes for everyone. At worst, it led to death and major economic complications. At best, it led to being stuck at home for months, with no clear end in sight. As students were forced to evacuate campus and go home, they had to reinvent their daily routines, letting go of their usually packed schedules.
Albeit under unfortunate circumstances, many students were granted something they usually don’t have—a lot of free time. During the school year, students are usually running around to classes, club meetings, or work shifts. During the summer, many have internships, take summer courses, or travel. But what are they doing now that social distancing protocols continue to be in place?
Sophia Velasquez (C ‘21) remembers what she was thinking after finals season this May. She had left a busy semester—she was the manager for Penn Student Agencies Bartending, a member of the Phi Chi Theta business fraternity, and part of the Wharton Alliance—and for the first time, she felt like she didn’t know what to do.
Despite having plans for summer break, her online job had not begun yet and left her with ample time on her hands. “Honestly, at the beginning of the summer I had nothing going on, and so for a while I kinda felt like at a loss for what to do. My online internship didn’t get canceled, so there was just a period of time when I was trying to figure out how to spend my time in quarantine,” she says. “Ever since coming to Penn, I've never had that opportunity to just sit down and reflect, and be like, 'Wow what am I going to do with all of this free time I have?'”
Those couple of weeks were challenging at first, but she soon realized it was the perfect time to spend more time with her family. She bonded with her younger sister by doing activities such as skateboarding and learning how to bake bread. When her internship started, however, she felt her schedule begin to fill up once again.
Sophia is doing a remote internship with the brewing company Anheuser-Busch, as she continues to pursue her interest in the bartending industry. Even though the internship is supposed to be thirty hours a week in terms of workload, she notes that it has been overwhelming to learn how to navigate working from home and looking at a screen all day. Despite challenges, she mentions that it has been a positive experience.
In addition to her internship with the company, Sophia was notified that she was elected to be president of Penn Student Agencies by the PSA Board of Directors.
“I’m super honored that PSA has given me the opportunity to work from home even at this time, but now it’s kind of like an internship and a half, so I feel like I’m back to juggling my time, which is the same way I felt when I was going to Penn full time, so that’s where I am right now,” she says.
Even though her workload has definitely increased these last couple of weeks, she makes sure to continue to spend time with her family and relax. Given all the changes that have been going on in the United States, specifically regarding protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, Sophia has been reading up on the subject.
“Usually when I’ll get done with work for the day I’ll take whatever book I’m reading and go outside and read for an hour in the sun, and so I think it’s fun because I’m not, one, staring at a screen like I do normally, and two, I actually get some sunlight in for the day, so that’s how I usually unwind right after work,” Sophia says. “I thought it was important to educate myself and take this time to try to learn more about biases and just political theory, and stuff like that, so I can better understand things that are happening.”
Jeff Zucker (C ‘21) had a similar experience. He went from attending rigorous tennis practices, mentoring students through Classroom Champions, and running a new CPR–training program for student–athletes, to doing remote work and being stuck at home.
Jeff also mentions that the first couple of days after finals were challenging. He wasn’t sure what his summer was going to look like, and staying at home by himself wasn’t ideal. Given that both of his parents are doctors and his brother is on the EMT squad, they continued to work as he had to stay home. However, he soon found ways to populate his schedule again.
“I’m not doing anything that extravagant. I’m studying for the MCAT, which I would have been doing regardless of COVID-19, so I do think that makes me fairly busy. I mean, it’s a full time job almost,” he says.
Even though studying for the MCAT is challenging in and of itself, he has found additional activities to keep him motivated, mentioning that it’s always important to find something to be motivated for, even though things may be uncertain at the moment.
Some of the activities in his schedule include daily tennis practice, teaching tennis, and holding MCAT study sessions with peers (all socially distant, of course). In addition to these, he has managed to continue engaging in some of the activities that he does during the school year.
Namely, he has continued working on the CPR–training program he began last year—which made him the recipient of the Sol Feinstone Undergraduate Award. The goal of this program is to give CPR training to all student–athletes in order to prepare them for emergency situations during practices or games. COVID-19, however, has imposed new challenges upon the program.
“By the end of last year, we had already signed up all the freshmen, so they should’ve been trained, but school got cut short. So now we have to figure out a way to train three grades in social distancing times, which is going to be really crazy,” he says.
Jeff has also continued to support Classroom Champions, a program for inner–city youth, as a mentor. He mentions that the experience has been interesting, given that they have been working more closely with the teachers than they usually do because of remote learning.
“We were seeing how we could support the teachers now, so it was a reversed role, because it’s harder for them to motivate students now. So the biggest thing I felt was being able to remind people that there’s still a community even if it’s virtual, and being able to tap into that community is a skill that you almost need to learn with work from home and school from home,” he says.
As students continue to live in the new reality of social distancing, they are finding new ways to spend their time. Even though schedules may continue to be busy, it seems like people are no longer doing things because they have to be done. Instead of freaking out over deadlines or doing certain things because they would look good on a resume, this summer has been an opportunity for people to do things for themselves—which may look different for every person. Whether you’re seeking professional opportunities, spending time for yourself, watching TikTok like there’s no tomorrow, or reinventing yourself completely, this summer is the perfect moment to do so.