Brankin: The lost year and a half

Entering my final year of college after more than a year of online learning feels beyond strange.

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Tara Brankin

On March 6, 2020, I left campus for spring break. The day prior, everyone in my media effects class was buzzing about the rapidly spreading coronavirus pandemic that had entered the United States in February. I was not the only one who wasn’t comprehending the gravity of the situation. I remember laughing with my peers about how if everyone washed their hands, we would all be fine. It was “just like the flu.” It wouldn’t be a big deal. In fact, we all thought it couldn’t be worse than swine flu, which several of my classmates and their family members had contracted back in 2009. However, a few days later, we all got the email that we would not be returning to school for a few weeks. Those weeks turned into months, and before I knew it, I was finishing my third year of college.

That media effects lecture was the last class I had in person. The remainder of that spring semester was chaotic, with professors and students trying to figure out the best way to teach and learn via Zoom, respectively. By the time finals rolled around, I felt like I really hadn’t accomplished anything in terms of learning. I was attending lectures in my childhood bedroom instead of walking to class. I hadn’t interacted with my peers or professors face-to-face in weeks. Projects I had been working on all semester had to be dramatically altered to accommodate virtual instruction. No part of my day-to-day routine made me feel like a college student.

Fast forward over a year later, and I’ll be returning to in-person classes this fall. I really don’t think I have fully wrapped my head around that yet. While my third year proceeded somewhat smoothly in terms of actually retaining information, and I received good grades because of it, it still wasn’t the same as sitting in a lecture hall with the amazing professors teaching me. I am extremely lucky that I will experience a semblance of normalcy this year, but it is still going to feel insanely surreal. Pre-Covid, I would have expected entering my final year of college to feel different. I thought I would feel more adult, more accomplished. Obviously, attending classes in your apartment and being deprived of all in-person events for an entire school year is not what college is supposed to be. While I am not an extremely extroverted person, I desperately missed in-person classes, and the pandemic drastically altered my expectations surrounding collegiate learning and social interactions.

Despite the adjustment this semester will be, I am looking forward to going back to in-person classes. I am looking forward to interacting with my brilliant professors and my amazing peers at the journalism school. “Zoom university,” what many called online instruction, ended up not being as awful as anticipated, but I am glad it’s over. Even if I have to wear a mask during lectures, it will be a huge improvement to sitting in my apartment alone every day. I also am looking forward to walking to class in the fall, when the campus is at its most beautiful. I feel so lucky that I can attend the University of Minnesota, and finally, after over a year of staring at a computer screen all day, I will be able to fully appreciate it again.