Take a look at the featured image of the eBags Pro Slim Laptop Backpack. After lots of research, I decided to snatch one of these almost a year ago when it was on discount. Seemed like the perfect backpack for carrying my belongings around campus, but I never ended up needing to open it. How ironic it is that on the package it says “your journey starts here.” I had it all planned out how I was going to begin college in California, but for obvious reasons, those plans were thwarted. Every quarter of the school year for me took place remotely on the first floor of my parents’ house. I did not want this experience, but it had to be endured, for I never considered a gap year or any such detour to be an option.
At the time of writing, sophomore year begins in under one hundred days. Time’s arrow certainly has continued to move on, even though I hardly have a clue of what campus is like and don’t understand the traditions or acronyms that students throw around in conversation. Indeed, I completed a year of school in college, but it does not feel so. I have not even the sensation that I go to college at all. It’s not easy to see that backpack when I wake up every morning. It’s not easy to have reminders like that all the time of what once was. Not only because of the twist of fate away from the relief and elation of seeing life events fall into place when I was admitted to my university in December 2019, but also the acknowledgment that I was creating an opportunity for myself to reset after high school and discover activities or hobbies in life that I truly enjoy, such as traveling and creative writing.
The other day, I was at the Panera Bread near home with my mother, and I remembered how the last time I was there, it was February 2020, and I was at a table by the window working on a new iOS arcade game on my laptop, having no idea what was in store. I still thought it was my year. What horrible timing, but I know that you aren’t reading this post to hear me sulk endlessly. Let’s revisit some of the highlights of spring quarter.
Of the three courses that I enrolled in, my journalism seminar COMM 104W was the most invaluable experience. I am so appreciative to have had the opportunity to participate. My professor was evidently savvy from the start and was clearly passionate about teaching his students the lessons that he has picked up from his career. Seemed that he was always willing to make himself available to help us with stories or whatever we were grappling with. Furthermore, since he has many connections in the journalism industry, he brought in a breadth of top-level speakers on a number of topics, such as law, diversity, and ethics. Not to mention, he was very compassionate and understanding of students during the pandemic and was amendable to easing expectations when the going got rough. I can’t wait to take another class with him.
When I computed my final Fourier transform on June 4 and handed in my exam for my class Differential Equations with Linear Algebra, the relief I felt was slight but nonzero nevertheless. Washed up at shore, so to speak, I knew that that weekend was but an anomalous moment of silence between two crucial commitments. That Monday, I began orientation at The Texas Tribune for my summer engineering fellowship. So far, it’s been going well, I think, despite the tough turnaround. I try not to think about the turnaround too much. It’s an opportunity that I’m tremendously grateful to have. Sometimes I imagine that I walked into an active wind tunnel with chocolate chip cookies flying through the air. There are a lot of delicious baked goods coming at me, and I’m trying to use my body to catch as many as I can, but I can’t get them all. That said, I think their standard of work-life balance is far healthier than what I’d expected going in. Not to mention, there’s so much positive energy, and every single staff member that I’ve met thus far has been supportive or helpful in some way.
Speaking of work-life balance, I’m reminded of a memory back from fall 2020. I was on a videoconference with one of my editors at the school newspaper, chatting casually. “Do you have any fun plans for the weekend?” she asked me. I started to laugh. “What’s that laugh?” she said. “Well,” I said between chuckles, “there is no such thing as fun anymore. It’s 2020.” That was then, and this is a different year. My optimism has taken a beating, so I suppose I’m trying to protect it when I refuse to believe that the beginning of my second year in college will be what I had initially hoped to get the last time around. But there is fun to be had now, both now in Chicago where I’m living, as well as California, I assume. Take, for example, how I reconvened with a close friend the other day in Lincoln Park. The Uber ride there was nice, and the sensation of anticipation that I got in my body was almost a foreign feeling. It had been almost exactly a year since we’d seen each other’s full physical forms. I got there a few minutes before her, so I roamed around the area until I suddenly saw her across the street, waving at me. She came over to where I was standing and approached me. “Oh, my gosh!” she said. “Can I hug you?” I laughed and said, “I mean, yeah.” It really was great to see her, though. To have a real physical human interaction was something vastly different from what I have been experiencing. It’s hard to describe how monumental that moment was because it will likely seem so mundane to anyone who may read this in the future and won’t have lived through this pandemic.
There were awkward moments as well. We’re all rusty. For me, I didn’t have a continual mirror to tell whether there was a leaf in my hair or something. Moreover, it was a challenge to figure out what to do with my limbs while idle. I couldn’t just stand there upright like a wooden plank, right? The stimulation and novelty overwhelmed me and confused my emotional state by the time I had returned home that night. The contrast between that day and my typical day is not the prettiest to think about, but I’m hoping that very soon I’ll be able to develop autonomy and lasting meaningful relationships in my life that induce comfort and cultivate a mutual sense of purpose and commitment.