Going to campus won’t fix my problems, my mom said.
I argued that it would.
Despite being a firm believer of science and witnessing COVID–19 cases rise across the country, I insisted that my family help me pack my belongings into our SUV and take a six–hour road trip to Philadelphia, just so I could sit in my dorm room for 22 hours a day.
I'd spent my first semester of college at home, and it had been a shit show. No exaggeration. Between struggling with the rigor of my classes and watching my new classmates party in off–campus apartments on Instagram, I felt even more confined in my childhood bedroom. But I coped with the overwhelming FOMO and isolation by promising myself that I would get a real college experience the following semester. I told myself to wait until January, when the loneliness would finally come to an end.
When Penn announced that it would offer on–campus housing to all undergraduates, I, against my better judgement, jumped at the opportunity. This was what I’d been suffering through all of my classes at home for. I imagined myself finally living on campus, meeting my classmates in person, making friends, and experiencing—at long last—my first year as it was supposed to be.
Now that I've been on campus for over a month, I think back to my excitement leading up to move–in day and can’t help but feel a bit regretful.
Recent weeks have felt like a recurring battle. I struggle through my classes during weekdays for the briefest bit of relief that each weekend grants. My life has become an endless cycle. Wake up, go to class, pick up lunch from 1920 Commons, study, pick up dinner from Commons, sleep, repeat. I attend class from my room. I study in my room. I eat in my room.
I roll my eyes when people tell me that I should just be more involved. Joining more clubs won’t solve my problems because I’ve tried. I've joined clubs, and I've made efforts to introduce myself to strangers. Doing that has only made me feel worse. I can’t help but think about all the in–person club activities I’m missing out on and the events, like New Student Orientation, that I will never be able to experience as a first year.
Instead of scrolling through Instagram posts from the comfort of my bedroom, I do it from my shoebox dorm room. I sit in my dorm and wonder what I’m even doing here. I was lucky enough to be perfectly fine learning at home. Was I really stupid enough—desperate enough—for the college experience that I thought moving to a different city for four months would change everything?
But in the back of my head, I know that it will get better. One day I will recall these difficult months and realize that my first–year spring semester was a small price to pay to protect myself and the people around me from a pandemic. On campus, I'm able to leave my living space without putting my family at risk, but I often feel more isolated than I ever was at home. Even at Penn, taking precautions means sacrificing the social life I anticipated when I imagined myself at college. But I would rather isolate than party off campus. That way, I can protect my small group of friends and the people I share a bathroom with in my dorm.
The loneliness of the pandemic has taught me to cherish close friendships. Two of my friends have taught me that I don’t need to do something wild, expensive, or public to have fun. Simply being around them helps me forget the unfortunate circumstances of our first year in college. I will always remember us (literally) running to get boba when we were kicked out of our dorms at night during a false fire alarm, tuning in to Spotify together while studying in the library on Sunday nights, and figuring out, after much confusion, how to actually get to Cira Green. They are the people who will make leaving Penn hard when the semester finally comes to an end.