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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Personal Essay: COVID-19 stole my college experience, but I am taking it back

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Bianka Heather/THE REVIEW
Mia Gallo feels that she has lost an essential part of her college experience, and this loss will take time to heal.

Associate Mosaic Editor

I feel incredibly unlucky with my place in the graduating class of 2023. I lost almost half of my freshman year to the COVID-19 pandemic. Then, my sophomore year was a blur of online classes, executive orders with limits on indoor gatherings and boredom. Now here I am, back on campus for the first time in 18 months and I feel robbed, to put it lightly. COVID-19 took so much of my college experience and now here I am, a junior, desperately trying to make as many memories as I can to make up for lost time. 

I walk past large groups of freshmen and jealousy brews within me for a multitude of reasons. I am envious knowing that they will not be sent home early from the new friends they have made. I’m jealous that they will get to experience events like UDance in person at some point in their college careers, and undoubtedly more often than I have. I’m jealous that they will get to attend parties without a suspension looming over them. 

Last year was an incredibly isolating time of my life. Although I was in Newark, living in an off-campus apartment all year, the lack of in-person classes and human interaction was rather depressing. I did live with my best friend, but we shared a tiny room — so tiny that we could only fit one desk, and my dresser had to reside in the hallway. Taking all of my classes from that shoebox-sized room coupled with not leaving my apartment some days except to go to the gym or work, was a recipe for isolation. 

As the daylight hours grew shorter, the weather grew colder and the seasonal depression began to set in, these feelings of loneliness only got worse. I found myself going home much more often than I would have in normal circumstances. I longed for the year to end, a very complicated feeling when you are paying astronomical out-of-state tuition. I knew I was not in this boat alone, which made things a bit easier to endure. My best friend and I will shiver when we drive past our apartment from last year because of the less than pleasant feelings we experienced there. 

I know this was a common phenomenon among college students. According to the University of Michigan Medical School’s Department of Psychiatry, the COVID-19 pandemic increased rates of loneliness, stress, anxiety and depression among all Americans, but especially college students. It stated that college students already experience increased rates of anxiety and depression compared to the rest of the population. This fact coupled with the necessary social isolation to flatten the COVID-19 curve that left students removed from their on-campus routines, students felt less connected to their peers, clubs and activities, contributing to these feelings of loneliness. 

However, this year has begun to turn these rather pessimistic feelings I have been having about my stolen college experience around. I have made it my mission to make as many memories as possible in the time I have left. College is such a unique experience and time of life in-between your childhood and adulthood, and beginning to romanticize even the little things has helped me to feel better about the time lost. I will make a coffee and read a book on my balcony and pretend I am Rory Gilmore from “Gilmore Girls.”

I have also vowed to do more this year. I want to spend my money and energy on doing things rather than purchasing frivolous items. I’ve always struggled with spontaneity because I am painfully Type A and always need a plan for everything. This quality, more often than not, leads to me not doing what I wanted due to a lack of a concrete plan. However, in my attempts to live life to the fullest while I have the fewest number of responsibilities I will for the rest of my life, I have been trying to throw caution to the wind. 

A few weeks ago, my best friend and I ran home from class, got ready in 30 minutes and booked it to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia for a Harry Styles concert that we did not have tickets to. We then proceeded to wait in line at the box office for two hours and ended up with fourth row seats for face value prices an hour and a half before the show started. The adrenaline rush I experienced was unlike anything else I have ever felt. Ever since I have felt even more inspired to live the rest of my college years to the fullest no matter what (unless of course we are hit with another unforeseen global health crisis).

I am grateful that my college experience is slowly returning to normal, yet I cannot help but mourn the time we all, as college students, lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, I am looking forward to continuing to experience as much as I can cram into these last two years.

Mia Gallo is an associate Mosaic editor for The Review. Her opinions are her own and do not represent the majority opinion of The Review’s editorial staff. She may be reached at miagallo@udel.edu.

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