Just as I was about to go back to school this year, all of my classes changed from in-person to online. It seemed pointless to go to campus if my classes would be purely remote, so I began to consider studying from home. The biggest thing holding me back from staying home was my spot in the Spanish House, since I didn’t want to throw away such an amazing opportunity. But in the end, I was offered a virtual residency, which took some of the pressure off of the decision-making.
I was already apprehensive about how different campus life would be this fall – I was worried that I wouldn’t even be able to enjoy everything I love about being on campus, like ice cream study breaks at the Cage. Would college life be so limited that it wouldn’t even be worth it? Besides, there was the looming possibility of us all getting sent home before the semester ended. So I decided to stay home, save money and wait it out.
However, I’m surprised at how different studying away from campus is turning out to be. I no longer get to experience the buzz of campus life around me as I study in Buntrock or Rolvaag. I don’t get to have dinner with my friends or attend all my favorite clubs. I now have to find another way to fulfill my work award since I can’t work at the Caf this semester.
I imagine that all of these staple St. Olaf experiences are dramatically altered for everybody this year, but I can’t even participate in a modified version of campus social life. As an introvert, this doesn’t take as much of a toll on my mental well-being, but it does make me feel isolated because I can no longer partake in the shared Ole experience of campus life.
In some ways, I feel like an outsider to an inside joke that everyone on campus shares. I don’t know the goings-on of campus except what I learn from emails. I’m missing out on the social presence at St. Olaf, a fundamental aspect of the college experience. Although I’m still a member of the Spanish House, I’m missing out on the most integral part: living in the Spanish House. As a virtual resident, I don’t get to bond with the housemates or speak Spanish with them each day, as I otherwise would have. Technically I’m still an Ole, but it doesn’t always feel like it. I feel a bit more like a college dropout bumming it at home, regardless of how untrue that may be.
Despite my relative isolation from campus, there are ways I can stay connected. I am still a member of the Spanish House, and though I may not live there, I will work with the other members to host the Conversation Tables and plan our events. I am also a St. Olaf Orientation to Academics and Resources (SOAR) Peer Coach, so I get to be a guiding presence to a group of first-years. I will try to seek out clubs with virtual meetings, and I can always keep in touch with my friends through video chat. Any remote socialization is more rewarding than complete social isolation.
Even though the fear of missing out is real, it doesn’t have to be absolute. Life goes on, even in a pandemic. We can find ways to stay connected, whether it be across social distancing or the internet. This semester I will try to stay active in campus life, and hopefully next semester I’ll choose to brave the campus bubble.
Emma Reeder ’22 is from North Little Rock, AR. Her majors are Spanish and women’s and gender studies.