WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Commentary: Zooming Through the Semester

Nov 11, 2020

While thousands of college students around the country are gearing up to come home for winter break, I'm settling into the idea of two more months in my family's house. You heard me right. Another two months.

I’ve been isolating in my parent’s home since I returned from Germany on the 10th of April. I was looking forward to stretching my wings a bit this past August as my sister and I prepared for university. Unfortunately, we had to forego the move-in day and instead had orientation online with dozens of other students who were unable to come to campus this semester.

This was a difficult decision for us as first year students. I know that I wanted to be a part of the community on campus, but my parents, like so many others in the United States at the time, were unsure if it would be safe. We decided--although not altogether in mutual agreement--to move to be fully remote students for this semester and make the transition to in person next semester. And then we took on the monumental task of preparing for something we had never dealt with before-- Zoom classes.

My college offered remote opportunities for students not on campus and also for those who were in quarantine on or around campus. Navigating discussion based classes on a new platform like Zoom was challenging at first, but after a couple weeks of trying out new techniques for speaking, all of my classes were going relatively smoothly.

That isn’t to say I haven’t had issues with my classes. Zoom fatigue is a real thing. I can remember after the first full week of class my eyes and head and back hurt so much from sitting in one position for hours at a time. Whether I was in class or working on homework, I was pretty much glued to my computer. To beat this slump, I developed a routine. I would go to class, do some work for a couple of hours, then try and go outside and walk my dogs. If you frequent the square in Macomb, chances are you’ve probably seen my sister and me riding our bikes in the later months of summer. It was because I was able to remove myself from the difficulties at school, by biking around town or walking my dogs for example, that I felt like I had more control over my current situation. 

Though the Zoom fatigue is still something I fall victim to, I know how to stop myself from getting too overwhelmed. Although nothing can prepare you for how overwhelming life can get in uncertain times, sometimes uncertainty is necessary. Sometimes you need to just trust your gut and do what you think is best, even if it wasn’t the best idea in the end.

My parents' concern over COVID outbreaks on campus, while valid, have been refuted. My university instituted strict testing guidelines and codes of conduct which most students followed.  Unlike other college campuses that opened up and then quickly shut down again, my college is quite small and so far the most outbreaks we’ve had were 7 cases in the entirety of the semester. The president of the university sends out what he likes to call Community Updates every Thursday evening, wherein he explains what is going well, what isn’t, and how he and his advisors are working to make Denison a safer place in the time of this pandemic. These updates get sent out to everyone, no matter what your status is as a student. These updates give me a connection to the campus, even if I am not there physically and, more importantly, they give my parents peace of mind to know that things will be handled well when the new semester starts and my sister and I make our transition onto campus in the spring.

This isn’t the way I imagined my first semester would be, and while it may seem like right now is the worst time to be a student, I know that this semester will not define the remaining seven semesters in my undergraduate years. I remain optimistic about the months ahead, challenging though they may be.

The added stress of a pandemic and a presidential election did very little to calm my already frayed nerves, but it did show me that I am capable of getting through even the most challenging times. I am and can be resilient. I know when to take a break and go outside and also when to double down and power through the last few paragraphs of a paper. Despite my remote status, I am making friends who live on campus and who are excited to see me next semester. I feel like I’m doing okay.

Doing anything online, away from friends, too close to family is indeed very challenging, but it won’t last forever. All you can do right now is Zoom through it.

Willow McIlvaine-Newsad is a Macomb resident and a student at Denison University in Ohio.

The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of Western Illinois University or Tri States Public Radio. Diverse viewpoints are welcomed and encouraged.